Reader mine, the spring season is once again upon us in the park! Soon, the park interpreters will be out on the resource giving programs, greeting the numerous visitors pouring in from near and far. Roaring lawn mowers groom the cemetery, while ticks annoy the determined explorers. The ancient rituals renew.
Some comments, often repeated by sharp-eyed guests as they encounter uniformed staff are observations as to the overall state of the park; the vast majority of them are very positive. “The monuments look great!” or “You always manage to keep the cemetery nicely trimmed.” As an interpreter, that’s usually an awkward moment for me, as I strain to point out that I did not do that hard work the visitor presently so admires; but that other individuals in our NPS team did. Lord knows, I wouldn’t want to wrestle with trees, repoint those monuments, or re-weld, polish and paint all those cannons. But here, I fiercely thank those who do. Sometimes, I fear my explanations insufficient on that score. Even though some of us might appear more “visible” to the public at large, in our own way, through our diverse gifts, we all strive to participate equitably in fulfilling the mandate of the 1916 Organic Act:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there is hereby created in the Department of the Interior a service to be called the National Park Service,… which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.
I started out in “the Service” in 1982 as a Volunteer, when I earned my first, “old-style” VIP pin.
From that date, I’ve always had an historical interest in NPS pins and badges. For this Centennial year of 2016, the NPS chose to further highlight the occasion by offering a special badge, which could be worn only for the anniversary year. Outside of Law Enforcement, which got a distinctive design of their own, four potential styles were voted on. The one I favored, a more traditional sort that combined elements of the early to mid-1900’s and the present – issue badge, was rejected.
The official Centennial badge, for non-Law Enforcement personnel, appeared much different than the standard badge (below.)
In fact, to my eye, it first looked like a giant version of the “Ranger Tie-Tack” that is worn with the winter uniform. I wasn’t all that happy with it. Nonetheless, I ordered one. When it arrived, however, I was struck with a flash not unlike General Warren’s “Moment of Recognition.” It was the ubiquitous Park Service arrowhead, first designed in the 1950’s, and decorated with a few Centennial motifs. But at its most basic, it was designed in the shape of an arrowhead, the prize Native American relic I had often hunted relentlessly as a boy.
Not only on the Centennial badge, then, but in every NPS arrowhead insignia and patch are the artistic incorporations of those words from 1916, “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein” But the real meaning lies deeper. For no more appropriate artifact than an arrowhead could possibly have been chosen. By itself, an arrowhead is naught but a sharpened rock. To be useful, it must be firmly lashed with sinew to a carefully selected piece of wood, carefully fletched at the rear to fly straight and true to accurately hit its target; in the hands of a skilled archer, with a clear eye.
What was with a real arrowhead, remains truthfully embodied in our emblem today. Many in the NPS, given the nature of their assignments, do not even wear a uniform or a badge; yet their functions for the parks are as essential today as the shaft or the feathers were in guiding the arrowheads of old. Working as a team, perhaps we’ll see another 100 years, continuing in the delicate arc between preservation and use of the precious places that are our trust. I probably won’t be here for that one. But others will, and I wish them all my best.
Ranger Bert Barnett,
Gettysburg National Military Park