National Park Week kicks off with youth ranger day at Yorktown

National Park Ranger Derold "Mac" McClammy was in full guide mode on Saturday morning even before he needed to be, two hours prior to leading a Yorktown Battlefield tour.

Passing in front of a few visitors awaiting to view a short film on the historic siege, McClammy said, "You know how this turns out, right?" before ribbing someone for wearing the enemy color of red at the site of the decisive battle of the American Revolution.

McClammy gives these sorts of tours all the time, but this one fell on National Junior Ranger Day, which signaled the start of National Park Week in each of the 417 national parks.

The walking tour, for children 14 and under and their guardians, was limited to 100 youth participants. McClammy welcomed a capacity crowd on a perfect spring day during what will be a busy month around Yorktown's visitors center with a full slate of visits from area schools on the docket.

Teaching history is as much a part of McClammy and other rangers' jobs as anything else. He said their noses are often buried in books, seeking to gain new insights to pass on. Relaying the significance of Yorktown and helping cultivate the next generation of park-goers and voters were McClammy's primary goals for the annual occasion.

"So whether the park service continues to exist," McClammy said, "whether they drill for oil in Yellowstone, all depends on the generation of kids that will be on this battlefield walk."

McClammy walked hand in hand for much of the stroll with Poppy Job, an inquisitive 4-year-old Washingtonian with British parentage.

They trekked by the waterfront near Cornwallis' Cave, inclining through a meadow to Nelson Street for a tour of the Thomas Nelson House before angling back toward the visitors center past the 98-foot Yorktown Victory Monument.

The gathering required each youth to have one parent present, bringing the total number of participants to about 130. Even for the parents, the tour was a learning experience. Kevin Heath and Matthew Bax each cited the British garrison's struggle against smallpox as a segment of the siege they were unfamiliar with.

Heath arrived from Winston-Salem, N.C. with his wife, Patti, and 8-year-old son, Robert.

"He loves this sort of thing," Kevin Heath said. "We went to Gettysburg last summer and Philadelphia on a combined trip last summer. He eats it up."

The Bax family includes mom Shari,12-year-old Aaron, and 8-year-old Liam. They came all the way from Missouri, near Kansas City. And they rearranged their itinerary on Friday when learning of the ranger day walk.

"We've done lots of junior rangers (activities)," Shari Bax said, "and they genuinely love it and they learn a lot."

Matthew Bax teaches high school history and said he gained some new knowledge to take back to his students.

Although the children on the battlefield walk may not have realized it, they were in school Saturday, too. Few classrooms, in school or elsewhere, can match the haunting aura of the Colonial National Historical Park.

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
45°