2023 with SNPT

As is our December tradition, we’re reflecting on the past year – all the growth and all the challenges –and we’re looking forward to what will come our way in the next 12 months.  

This year, however, I, Ember – your (mostly) friendly Communications Manager – decided to change things up a bit and write a first-person perspective on a year with the Trust, as this past October marked my first full year working for SNPT.  

As with most jobs, that first year often felt like drinking from a fire hose – learning all the required software and office expectations and getting to know my coworkers and our Trustees and donors and partners and past & ongoing projects and events and the impacts of those projects and events and the future of related projects and events and… well, you get the picture. It was a lot.  

However, unlike most jobs, everything coming out of that fire hose was good, and every single month of 2023 brought something that reminded me how meaningful this work is. Let me show you what I mean with the highlights from each month of my 2023 with SNPT:  

January Meeting & interviewing donors/volunteers Hal Hallett & Alexandra Lampros and Artist-in-Residence Sandy Kessler-Kaminski for the Spring Newsletter; Great Outdoor Provision Co. CEO Chuck Millsaps for the Banff Film Festival and an ongoing partnership towards a diverse and equitable future of public lands; and Trustee Rod Graves & his wife Isabel for the first Love Stories in Shenandoah series.  It was like looking into the Trust through 4 different windows and seeing the heart for our work in the park. 

February Advocating for Shenandoah on Capitol Hill with the National Park Foundation! We met with representatives from each congressional district touching the park and worked to build relationships in our federal government.  

March – Our 8th annual Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival completely sold out, and the event raised more than $90,000 for our park! The collective gasps and cheering throughout the films really made it feel like the community event it is, and I loved getting caught up in it. This year, 102 advance tickets have already been claimed, so if you want to join us, don’t wait to snag your ticket!

April Our 2nd annual Show Your Love for Shenandoah Volunteer Day was a smashing successdespite cold, rainy conditions, more than 125 volunteers made serious headway on backlogged projects across the park’s Central District. 

May – May actually gets 2 major highlights: 

The Shenandoah Soirée, hosted by Trustee Dr. Doug Ward & his husband Rev. Earl Johnson at their home in the Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge, brought the Rappahannock community together and raised more than $55,000 in support of our park.  

In a mountainside ceremony, we officially dedicated nearly 1,000 acres of land on Tanners Ridge to Shenandoah National Park. This felt like such an incredible win for conservation – protecting the beautiful headwaters of Naked Creek in perpetuity. 

June My communications intern and I joined Evan Childress’ fish biology crew and volunteers for their Brook Trout Survey! We collected water samples from nearly every stream in the park and filtered them for brook trout eDNA – we should have the results of that survey in the next few months! 

July SoulTrak Outdoors, GroundworkRVA, and ART 180 all visited the park to enjoy Shenandoah and tackle some much-needed volunteer work! These groups (and others like them) partner with us to plan impactful experiences in the park for young people. 

August – I attended an Oral History Day with Kevin Morgan, from Pixels & Pointers, as he and anthropologist Audrey Horning interviewed descendants of families that were relocated during the establishment of Shenandoah National Park. Hearing them recall memories and stories of life on the mountains before it became public land brought the history of the landscape alive in a way I’d only ever glimpsed before and made me think deeply about both the concept of home and how those families’ sacrifices made meaningful experiences in Shenandoah possible for millions of people.  

September The inaugural Art in the Park event was a huge hit, despite Hurricane Ophelia moving us to a rain plan! In addition, since we operate on the government’s fiscal year, September was packed full of final reports, and most of my time was taken up by finalizing our Impact Report. It was a massive undertaking, and the support I received from everyone in the office as I pulled stories together and made design choices and worked with Emily to triple check the donor list truly solidified my sense of being an integral part of the SNPT team.  

October – With the government very narrowly avoiding a shutdown that would have taken a serious toll on Shenandoah, October was one of our busiest months, so I picked THREE highlights, which all occurred within a span of 6 days: 

The Rapidan Society joined us for a chilly weekend in the park, where we heard from interns, project leads, and planned giving experts before hiking, learning to fly fish, or participating in an interactive demonstration of museum management. 

Most of our staff flew to Cleveland, Ohio for the Friends Alliance Conference, where we met with the nonprofit partners of national parks across the country to discuss the collective challenges we’re facing and learn from one another’s successes and struggles. Our very own Jessica Cocciolone participated in a well-attended panel discussion, sharing her expertise in working with engaged and successful Boards. 

We met our wonderful Graphic Designer, Netta Radice, in person for the first time when she visited Shenandoah! 

November Your support on Giving Tuesday raised more than $24,000 for our Access to the Outdoors Fund, which opens doors for more than 230 young people to experience Shenandoah! 

December – This has been a month of deep-dive planning with community partners for everything from events like Banff and Show Your Love for Shenandoah to new programs, including Trailblazers, which you’ll be hearing A LOT about in the coming months! In addition, I was able to attend another laricobius beetle release with Tom (our Media Liaison) and some of SNP’s natural resources staff! 

While I was reflecting all this, I got curious what my colleagues thought of the year, so I asked everyone at the office to share their best memories of 2023 and what they’re looking forward to in 2024. Here’s what they said:  

What’s your favorite SNPT memory of 2023? 

  • Jessica (Executive Director): “Our holiday party at Top Golf!”
  • Anna (Annual Fund Director): “Hugging stuffed bears to destress from hosting the Bears Know No Boundaries virtual event!”
  • Julie (Director of Programs & Partnerships): “Helping the ART 180 students set up camp for their stay in Shenandoah this July. They were inquisitive and their excitement was palpable.”  
  • Emily (Development Manager): “The inaugural Art in the Park event – working with SHEN staff and Delaware North to make the first event so great!” 
  • Ethan (Corporate & Foundations Development Manager):Hmmm, that’s tough. It would be either clearing water bars with the team from KPMG for Show Your Love, or learning to fly fish with Orvis during Rapidan weekend.”
  • Chelsea (Assistant to the Executive Director & Board Liaison): “My favorite memory from 2023 was when we walked Big Meadows with archeologist Carole Nash (which followed her evening presentation).  The context she gave our group on how the land has historically been used and how it has changed over time was powerful.  She was able to help me wrap my mind around the incredible span of time for which generations of people have used Shenandoah in ways that helped nourish their communities both physically and spiritually.  Walking those grounds with a group of people and picking up artifacts added a layer to that knowledge that was humbling.” 
  • Kelly (Volunteer & Events Coordinator): [Kelly is out of the office for now – I’ll update this post when she gets back online!]

What are you looking forward to in 2024? 

  • Jessica:  “I’m looking forward to launching the Trailblazers program with RTF, ACC, and other partners!”
  • Anna: “Hosting our second Art in the Park event – improving on this year’s success.”
  • Julie: “I am most excited to launch our new partnership with RTF, City of Charlottesville, ACC, CAYIP, and CAMBC. It is very rewarding to be able to collaborate amongst community stakeholders to bring a common goal to fruition.” 
  • Emily: “The first Saturday-Sunday Banff Film Festival! Also, while it’s cheesy, it’s also true: continuing to meet people who love the park and hearing about their memories/connections to it and why they love it!” 
  • Ethan: “I’m looking forward to doing more local business partnerships in 2024, such as with Starr Hill.”
  • Chelsea: “I’m really looking forward to the new partnership program happening here in Charlottesville to create a pipeline of youth more connected to Shenandoah.  I think SNPT’s DEIJ work is so necessary to support our mission and this new partnership will be an excellent leap in the right direction.” 

For our staff Christmas party last year, we went Top Golfing in Richmond, VA! Ugly Christmas sweaters were encouraged.

After moderating our virtual event with a panel of black bear experts, Anna needed to unwind with the comfort of one of our office bears!

Ethan had a fantastic time learning to cast with Orvis on a very windy October day.

Dr. Carole Nash led a memorable hike through Big Meadows, sharing the long history of Shenandoah as a gathering place. 

Thank you to each and every one of you who supported SNPT this year with your time, attention, energy, and resources – we couldn’t do this work without you! Happy Holidays from all of us here at SNPT!

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