If you have visited some of the Virginia State Parks this season, perhaps you have seen a few people around the park wearing a somewhat official-looking gray or white shirt with an ‘AmeriCorps’ logo on the front. Maybe you had a question, and found yourself wondering, does that person work here?
The answer would be yes! This visiting season (April through September) is the second season of the Virginia State Parks AmeriCorps Interpretive Program, after last year’s. This time around, I had the pleasure of being one of the 27 AmeriCorps Volunteers. Most Virginia State Parks have one, and I was stationed at Sky Meadows State Park, which is in my home county of Fauquier.
AmeriCorps Interpreters during orientation at Douthat State Park.
While the program technically begins in April, many of us, including me, did not arrive at our parks until early May. In mid-May we went to our AmeriCorps orientation and interpretive training at Douthat State Park. We spent five days there total, first learning the history and details of Virginia State Parks and the AmeriCorps program, then getting some in-depth training about how to be an effective Park Interpreter, learning from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. most days.
The most helpful part of the whole training was creating and delivering our first program. In groups, we created a 30 to 45 minute program from scratch one day, and then presented it in front of everyone the next morning! It was a challenge but with teamwork and focus it went well. It was quite a way to get your feet wet in the Park Interpretation world! The whole training was an exciting time, and it was also terrific to meet the many other AmeriCorps volunteers from other parks.
Back at Sky Meadows State Park, there was still more learning to do! Right away I jumped in, assisting Chief Ranger of Visitor Services Erin Brockmann with quite a few programs, including a Tyke Hike for kids, looking at some of the interesting plants and critters we find along the way, Muck Raking to determine the health of our Turner Pond by checking for macroinvertebrates, and many others.
I am very impressed by the staff’s (and volunteers!) great knowledge, from the history of the park, including the building of Mount Bleak in the 1840’s and what life was like for the man who built it, to the wildlife around the park (such as the great diversity of birds and butterflies around here). I am only beginning to soak some of the information, but every moment of it is exciting! I came into the park with a love of nature that was a bit lacking in specific knowledge, and now that lack is being filled with lots of new information. As my bird identification skills have grown in these past couple months, I have had to change my new favorite bird several times!
Smokey Bear at the Strawberry Festival.
Some of my best experiences in the park so far have been during the large events, such as when we hosted the Emmanuel Episcopal Church’s Delaplane Strawberry Festival, and the Great American Backyard Campout(see picture, above).
During the Strawberry Festival, for two days I led a hayride tour, giving an interpretive talk as the wagon passed by important features of the park. It was my first large task, but I warmed up to it quickly- the passengers were friendly, attentive, and supportive! The days were hot and long; however, and I had misjudged my voice volume- leading to losing my voice halfway through the first day! The second day I was able to tone it down to the right volume and made it all day with my voice intact. The satisfaction of informing hundreds and hundreds of people about Sky Meadows’ historical and natural resources was definitely worth it.
For details call the park at 540-592-3556, visit us online or email us. Sky Meadows State Park is located at 11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane, VA 20144-0710. The park is less than two miles south of Paris, Va., via U.S. Route 50 to Route 17 South; or seven miles north of I-66, Exit 23 on Route 17 North. The park entrance is on State Route 710.
Did you know our 35 state parks are open 365 days a year? You can also find detailed information about our trails including maps with GPS way points and video guides by clicking here and selecting the park of interest.
Overnight reservations can also be made by calling 1-800-933-PARK (7275) or by booking on line.