As my second book nears completion, the reason for its title “In Case I Don’t Remember” is probably obvious to those who know me best. I hope to remember all of the important and amazing experiences of my life and avoid the dreaded dementia that has all but robbed me of my wonderful Mom. That said, for the life of me I can’t remember the date of my first visit to a National Park with my family though I know I was pretty young. I know I fell in love with National Parks right from the start!! Growing up in a row house in Washington DC, I loved going to National Parks where I could run free, make as much noise as I wanted and not have to hear conversations my neighbors were having. My favorite DC Park was the C&O Canal where we rode our bikes as a family. I thought the locks were cool too, and my Mom explained how they operated so well, especially since she was raised in Foggy Bottom and was always on the Canal as a child. Having picnics and riding bikes were some of my favorite memories with my Mom and sister. At the time, I don’t think I ever paid attention to the fact that we rarely saw anyone else who looked like us during these trips. All I knew was that I had a blast, learned a lot and always hated when our visits were over. My Mom told us almost daily that we could go anywhere and do anything we wanted to in our lives.
Because my Mom didn’t drive, we either had to ride the bus to the many National Parks or Monuments in DC or went to those further away with my Aunt Diane who was absolutely a significant presence in our lives. So exposing us to the National Parks in MD, PA and NY was quite the challenging feat for my Mom, but that never stopped her. My favorite park at the time was Shenandoah National Park which of course includes Skyline Drive, a local favorite to see the fall foliage. No matter how many times we went, it never got old to me.
When Tim and I started dating, we went camping and visited National Parks but never discussed the historical importance of doing so. We just loved them!! Kim wasn’t much for the battlefields and history, but we did get her to the Grand Canyon and a few other amazing parks in Nevada and Arizona when she was a teenager. I had by then started to “notice” that we rarely if ever saw any other African-Americans. “They’re missing out!!!” I always thought to myself.
Last month I wrote a blog about being asked if black people actually go camping. That blog generated quite a few comments. I referenced an article that detailed a 2015 National Park Service initiative to attract more African-Americans to the Parks. I can honestly say that for our entire 18 day stay in Utah, we could count the African-Americans we saw on one hand. Half-way through the trip in Zion National Park Kim was so excited to see a couple of young African-American girls that she went over and introduced herself.
I felt great about the National Park initiative, and I was very happily surprised to learn on Friday as we drove to Gettysburg, PA that June 6th and 7th was the 3rd annual African-American Nature and Park Experience weekend. I had accidentally stumbled upon their Facebook page encouraging African-Americans to get out and Experience a state or National Park this weekend and then to post a photo on Facebook. The creator of the Facebook page had the same goal as the National Park Service, to create more interest in the beauty and history of National Parks among the African-American population when she established the weekend three years ago. I sincerely admire her efforts and hope to volunteer in some way next year!! Since Tim and I were already going to Gettysburg National Military Park to hike and get my Passport book stamped, I was thrilled to post my pic of our Experience on the Facebook as well. I didn’t see as many photos up as I had hoped, but it was great to see groups of African-American folks enjoying a National Park near them! I can’t wait to participate in next year’s Experience!! Even if I don’t see another African-American in a National Park between now and then, Tim and I will still be going and enjoying them!! My Mom would be thrilled that the lessons she taught us early on have not only stuck with me, but that we are also passing them on to Kendal! I was in Awe of Gettysburg, and learned more than I ever did in history class and more than I could possibly write in this blog. I’m ready for my next Experience!!
Wonderful post, Loretta. Your tender recollection of your mother’s imparting the love of the outdoors and, specifically, national parks, to your and Tim’s current adventures and memory-making is most lovely to read and upon which to reflect. Also so grand to know that you have persevered in the writing of your second book. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.
Thanks Paul! Appreciate you AND your comments!! Yep I’m persevering with book 2! Hoping to be done soon!
Loretta, I just remembered taking Nia and 2 boys to Roosevelt Island (VA). The first thing one of the boys asked as we got on the island was “Where are the swings and playgroud?” I told them that you have to make your own fun. They walked, swung on vines, and experienced nature. As we were leaving the island Greg (who had asked about the playgroud) said “Wow, I have never had so much fun!” I just smiled inside.