December 30, 2015

Guest Column:
Where will we find the next generation of stewards of the land?


(Editor's note:  This column was originally a speech that Cyndy Holda, public affairs specialist for the Outer Banks Group of  national parks, gave to the luncheon gathering of those celebrating the 112th anniversary of powered flight on Dec. 17. We print her reflections on the past, present, and future of the National Park Service with her permission.)

Welcome to the Outer Banks, and thank you for joining us at the annual event honoring the accomplishments of Wilbur and Orville Wright on this 112th anniversary celebration  at the birthplace of flight.

My name is Cyndy Holda, and I’ve served as the public affairs specialist for the Outer Banks Group of national parks for several years. 

I grew up in Nags Head, attended the University of North Carolina in Wilmington.  My husband and I spent 26 years working in national parks in the western United States before returning to my homeland in 2004. 

I’ll be retiring from the National Park Service at the end of this month and, par for the course, (NPS aviation historian) Darrell Collins and Superintendent (David) Hallac insisted I work for my lunch today. All joking aside, they asked if I would share a few thoughts and a few stories with all of you before I go and I am happy to do so.

For a moment, let us reflect on today’s celebration -- the 112th anniversary of flight.

One hundred and twelve years ago, two very determined and tenacious brothers conquered air with the first heavier-than-air, controlled, powered flight.  Quite an accomplishment if you look back on the site’s work conditions and the “support system” they had to depend on while tackling one of the greatest feats known to mankind!  They relied on a few “local boys” who labored up the sandy Big Hill to move the glider and later the “plane” for each new trail and error “test flight” -- and the Wrights conducted hundreds of them at Kitty Hawk. Someone said if the Wrights tried to fly from the Big Hill today, they’d never get off the ground -- no lift, no loft, too many trees and buildings blocking the wind.

After enjoying the festivities this morning, let’s take just a moment to close our eyes and think of what it must have felt like for the Wright Brothers on that fateful morning, facing into the brisk winds on these then sandy dunes of Kitty Hawk.  They experimented on gliders initially, and then the rather awkward, heavier-than-air contraption, trial after trail, making adjustments to each trail and error -- and then finally came the exhilarating triumph of flight up and over these sandy shores.  Think of all the hours and hours of experiments with gliders and their in-depth study of wind and lift and resistance before they were successful in achieving controlled flight. 

One can draw many parallels from the contrasts of those early days 112 years ago to the modern times of today.  There is a Bob Dylan song with a line that says, “For the times they are a’ changing.” Changes seem to be exponential these days.  There have always been challenges with change and there always will be.

The Wright Brothers persevered and so must we, but I will come back to that topic of challenges in a moment.

Work was begun by a few brave, visionary souls in 1927 to establish what we know today as the Wright Brothers National Memorial -- that’s only 11 years after the National Park Service was formed in 1916.

Someone thought the site and the event that occurred here in 1903 was significant and important enough to the people of our nation to make it a national treasure and preserve the area for future generations to visit and enjoy.  The National Park Service was authorized to manage the site in 1933.  There have been many milestone anniversaries since then, and we appreciate each and every one of you coming today to help us keep that story of the Wright Brothers alive for the next generation. 

Challenges,  I said I’d come back to it.

Today, the challenge facing the National Park Service as we celebrate our Centennial in 2016 -- the first 100 years of being "America’s Greatest Idea" -- is how do we remain relevant to a changing, fast-paced, instant gratification society?  How do we influence the younger generation to become the next devoted stewards of the landscape?  To entrust these great and treasured places to them and hope they will fiercely love and possess the same strong desire to preserve and protect them?  How do we save our children from what many are calling “nature-deficit disorder?” 

I read a book not too long ago, entitled ”Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. It was first published in 2005 and was a national bestseller for awhile. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.  It's very thought-provoking.  How are our children spending their time and what are they doing?  The response is too often that they are totally removed from the natural world around them.

Our challenge is that we must instill in the next generation the love for the land, the faith that we can keep these national treasures.  And the National Park Service needs friends and partners to help us face the challenges ahead.

During the past year, I served on the park’s special Centennial Committee comprised of staff from all divisions and at all levels.  The park staff members have done a wonderful job compiling an impressive list of centennial activities to share with park visitors next summer to celebrate our agencies’ Centennial. But the real key is will those ideas grab the attention of today’s young folks? 

Have we found the interesting, the interactive activities that engage all of their senses?  Will we spark the interest to ensure they will want to visit and then return again and again to our national parks?  How do we find the ties that bond them to the land?  The ties that will ensure they make good and devoted stewards of what we are so richly blessed with in this part of our country -- plentiful natural and cultural resources.

I mentioned I’d share a little bit about myself. I grew up in Nags Head, and I was very lucky in that both of my parents instructed me, insisted in fact, that I “Go outside and play!” I did indeed. I had a wonderful childhood!

My father was a Manns Harbor boy who fell in love with and married a Kitty Hawk girl.  My parents had three daughters, and I was the youngest who came along in the mid-1950s and grew up  during much simpler times in Nags Head. 

I spent many happy hours roaming the beaches and sand dunes, running barefoot or riding horses bareback in those then wide open spaces, or exploring the winding channels of the salt marshes in a skiff.  The youngest of three girls, I was supposed to be my father’s last chance at having a boy. When he was faced with yet another girl, he set out immediately making me into a real "tomboy."  He gave me horses and boats to play with and took me fishing, or I watched him and a crew of men haul seine nets in from the ocean on the beaches in front of our home.  We went clamming, crabbing and duck hunting every chance we could.   

When I was very young, we lived in what would now be “central Nags Head” area, just north of the old wooden aristocracy cottages.  There were two towering pillars that I have deeply imprinted on my mind -- the pylon of the Wright Brothers Monument to the north and the iconic beacon of the Bodie Island Lighthouse to the south. They were beacons of comfort to me -- sentinels in a landscape that changed frequently.  Tall structures in an otherwise flat landscape that were always present in the background.  You have to use your imagination and understand that back in those days, just a short 50 years ago, there were no tall houses or cottages or mega-retail store roofs obstructing the view on the horizon.

I have a fond memory of scurrying around the flanks of the Wright Brothers Monument in search of Easter eggs!  There was a kind gentleman from Colington who always donated dozens and dozens of eggs to the women’s church groups, so that we little sea urchins could have a huge Easter egg hunt on that grassy Big Hill.

Growing up next to all three of these national parks there are many images imprinted on my very “being” and in my memory.  I had no trouble with “nature-deficit disorder.”  When the time came for me to make a choice of what I wanted to do “when I grew up,” it seemed a fairly easy choice for me. I was still a tomboy as I sought outside work, and I had a very wise college professor who thought I would be well-suited to pursue work with the National Park Service. He encouraged me, and I landed my first summer seasonal job in the summer of 1978. 

In the late 1970s, the National Park Service was actively seeking to employ more women who possessed skill sets for jobs that had traditionally been occupied by men.  Skill sets that I acquired just by growing up “wild” in this beautiful place, tagging along with my father and friends,  riding horses, operating boats, beachcombing and salvaging whatever washed up.  I could find my way around in the woods with a compass or by natural instincts.  My love for the national parks seemed second nature to me. They provided the relevancy to tie my young adulthood endeavors to employment with an agency whose dual mission is to preserve and protect while providing for the enjoyment of future generations. 

My life travels took me to five different states in five crown jewels of the National Park System.  I was assigned to many special details during that time, working with international visitors and dignitaries, such as former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and then U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker in the 1990 U.S./Soviet Peace Summit in the Teton mountains of Wyoming. I met former President George H.W. Bush, who fished on Jackson Lake when I was the lake patrol ranger. I rode horses in the Grand Teton backcountry with former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, and their daughter, Chelsea -- and a string of Secret Service “dudes” who were strung out behind us. I met the wonderfully seasoned and staunch wilderness advocate Mardy Murie who, with her husband, Olaus, founded the Wilderness Society and gave birth to the importance of wilderness to our wildlife populations and to humans as well for the intrinsic value of open space and wildness. 

Now, back to the challenges. How do we successfully reach that next generation?  How do we awaken their senses?  How do we ensure they experience those same or similar great outdoor adventures like the ones you and I have been so fortunate to experience -- experiences that go beyond the computer scene and virtual reality experiences of today.

How do we share the somber, almost reverent, feeling we have when we gather at the Wright Brothers National Memorial on the day that commemorates such a fascinating accomplishment?  Or the quiet, deep woods of Fort Raleigh where our ancestors, the first English colonists, tread?    Or the fresh feel of the salty onshore breeze of the Atlantic Ocean on a cool winter day like the Wright brothers felt? How do we continue to instill in our youth the pride and love of country that past generations have possessed?

My suggestion is that we have a great opportunity during our 2016 Centennial, when the emphasis is on youth and partnerships and we must take the message forward through all forms of media -- print and Internet and by word of mouth. 

And the National Park Service needs your help. We need partners to help us spread the word and work collaboratively together on joint projects to share the stories, to accentuate the positive, show the next generation the value of understanding the land beneath their feet.

I would encourage you to do your share as a park ambassador, a parent or grandparent, a philanthropist, a school teacher, a park ranger, maybe even form a more unified, stronger Friends Group to work collaboratively with and for the benefit of these three parks. 

Spend time with youth and do the things that will make that lasting impression, strengthen that tie that bonds, sparks that love of the great outdoors, and the wildlife that also call these places “home.” 

Thank you for your time this afternoon.  It was my pleasure to spend a few minutes with you and hope you will think about the challenges we face together in the years ahead as we strive to protect and preserve and to provide for the enjoyment of these treasured places.

My career with the National Park Service has molded who I am today.  What a wild ride it has been! 

I hope you and others will continue to work together to embrace the next generation, and I invite you to open the dialog with Superintendent David Hallac and park staff very soon.  Each day is a gift!  Don’t waste a minute of it.

(CyndyMann Holda retires on Dec. 31 after an association with the National Park Service that spans 30 years. She served in a variety of seasonal positions for more than 15 years and permanent positions for another 15 years in parks such as Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Crater Lake National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. In 2004, she returned to her homeland of the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the Outer Banks Group of Parks -- Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Wright Brothers National Memorial, and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. She lives in Manns Harbor and says she will continue to work with the Park Service as a volunteer, especially during the Centennial year.)


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