| December 30, 2015
Where will we find the next generation of stewards of the land?
By CYNDY HOLDA
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.)