The following article was originally published in "IN THE WIND", the newsletter of the Maryland Park Service. It describes Ranger Rick's first ever experience at leading a campfire program.

Hilton Area Campfire Opening

Ranger Rick Holt

Conservation Aided Laura deAndrade had spent endless hours preparing the campground. The area was shipshape, the restrooms were newly painted, and a campfire area had been constructed. The campfire area, that was our pride and joy! Not so much because it was elaborate (in fact, it was rather primative and informal), but because it represented a special commitment.

With the encouragement of Interpretive Specialist John Krueger, the staff at Patapsco Valley will provide campers in the Hilton Area an opportunity to share that age old tradition, "meet the ranger for a good old fashioned campfire." A campfire program every Saturday for the entire season seemed like an awesome commitment. Nonetheless the commitment ws there and we were determined to put our best food forward.

With all the recent hub-bub about budgets and closings the phone was jumping off the hook with people wanting to know when they could come camping. We anticipated a large crowd for our first weekend. But as so often happens in this parks business, mother nature stepped in and dampened the scene at just the wrong moment. The temperatures dropped and the wind whipped.

With only five (5) sites occupied in the campground it wasn't hard to make contact with each camper and encourage them to come out for the campfire program. It seemed that most were too tired or cold to be interested. While I lit the campfire, seasonal ranger Mark Hynson went around and visited each site one more time in hopes of encouraging some of them to brave the cool evening around the campfire.

Four hardy souls slipped through the darkness to join me: two young boys about fourteen years old who were out for their first trip of the year, and two young men in their early 20's who apparently had enough alcohol in their blood that they didn't need the campfire to get a warm glow. It wasn't actually the ideal audience for my inaugural campfire program, but I was determined it would go on.

The first shock of the evening was when I looked at my ILP (instructor lesson plan) and realized I had planned a campfire sing-a-long to get the program warmed up. Four young guys singing around the campfire? You've got to be kidding! I guess I could have given up at that point, scrapped the whole program, and "played it by ear," but I was determined to go through with it.

You cannot imagine the apprehension I felt, never having led singing in my life and then to try it in such unlikely circumstances. Determination is 9/10's of the batttle in such situations.I was determined we would sing. A remarkable thing happened. We sang! Not only did we sing, but we shared a story about a remarkable little dog, and had an incredible discussion on park policy which lasted till the fire burned out.

This would not really have been so remarkable had it not come out in the discussion that some of the boys had been on the "wrong side of the law" as often as on the "right side." They had apparently had several run-ins with rangers. I seized the opportunity to present the "other side of the story," that perhaps they had never heard. It was an eye-opening experience for me and for them.

I think I realized at that, my first campfire program, just what interpretation can do. It can be difficult, but it can also be challenging, rewarding and effective. Determination is 9/10's of the game!

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