Beyond Fall Foliage

Behind the Scenes at our October Board Meeting & Rapidan Society Weekend in the Park

This past weekend, our Board of Trustees and members of the Rapidan Society gathered at Skyland to enjoy fall foliage and celebrate a record-breaking year of generosity, creativity, and hard work.

Q1 Board Meeting

Shenandoah greeted staff and trustees with a foggy morning on Friday, and we kicked off the meeting with coffee, pastries, and the election of new officers! For the next two years, Patti McGill Peterson will serve as Board Chair, Alison DeTuncq as Vice Chair, Walter Heeb III as Secretary, and Brett Greenfield as Treasurer.

In addition to these undisputed elections, two Trustees completed their terms of service to join the ranks of Emeriti: Ed Fuhr, former Board Chair, and Taylor Odom, previous chair of the Governance Committee and “The Voice of Banff.”

Newly elected Board Chair Patti McGill Peterson and Executive Director Jessica Cocciolone presented former Board Chair Ed Fuhr with a photo taken by Hullihen Moore to thank him for his years of board service and leadership. 

The rest of the meeting was nearly as eventful! Here’s a summary of the highlights:

  • Former Board Chair Ed Fuhr reminded trustees of their responsibilities: good faith, care, and loyalty to our park.
  • Superintendent Pat Kenney shared that,
    1. With the government shutdown avoided, Shenandoah will not miss out on the nearly $2 million in fees typically collected during the month of October – the park’s busiest month of the year.
    2. Shenandoah National Park has the 6th biggest backcountry program in the NPS.
    3. For every $1 visitors spend in the park, $10 remains in local gateway communities.
    4. The park completed $20 million in backlogged infrastructure projects this year!
  • SNPT Executive Director Jessica Cocciolone shared experiences of bringing youth into the park this past year, “grounding us back in why we’re doing all this work.”
  • Jessica also highlighted some incredible numbers from the year, announcing that we came in above our expected revenue and below our expected expenses!
  • Committees reported on wins, challenges, and new changes!
    • Development Committee chair Norm Laudermilch gave trustees a sneak peek of a new AI project he’s working on to help park visitors plan a feasible and meaningful trip to Shenandoah!
    • Impact Committee chair Walter Heeb presented a plan to get ahead on our grant cycle with the park, which will keep momentum building even in the case of a government shutdown or other unforeseen challenges.
    • Investment/Finance Committee chairs Brett Greenfield & Alison DeTuncq called for a vote on updated policies and procedures that will help us better steward funds over time while we continue to grow.
    • Governance Committee chair Rick Richmond reminded the board of updates to the By-laws and a matrix for seeking out new trustees to grow and diversify our board.
  • We celebrated massive growth in our License Plate program (almost $280,000 this year).
  • We realized that we’ve given the park $7,864,121 since our inception less than 20 years ago!
  • Ebony Jones led a discussion on the results of the Board’s Culture Survey (our staff completed this survey this past spring!), examining our organization’s readiness to take on meaningful diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice work. By the end of the discussion, we agreed that DEIJ work is a priority and that we have good plans to do the work well, and we have ample opportunities to take action and implement our plans at every level of our organization.
  • To wrap up our meeting, the committees met to discuss their FY24 strategic priorities and set timelines for their tasks so we can continue to grow and build momentum.

Then we vacated the conference hall so Delaware North could turn the room around for a beautiful evening dinner, and members of the Rapidan Society began to arrive!

Rapidan Society Weekend in the Park

We gathered on the porch and braved the chill (and a bit of rain!), during which we have it on good authority that special guest Billie McCandless taught a small group how to properly dance the Cupid Shuffle.

As we settled in for dinner, Cultural Archive intern Sarah Babcock presented her research uncovering the everyday stories of the people who have worked and lived in Shenandoah, as well as her experience learning LiDAR technology to make tours of our park’s historic buildings available for free online.

After everyone made it through a warm buffet, Superintendent Pat Kenney introduced Supervisory Fish Biologist Evan Childress, who has been surveying over 100 streams throughout the park for brook trout eDNA to get a handle on where these native fish are struggling, and where they’re thriving. Evan is also leading a Trust-funded initiative to evaluate the effects of re-liming Meadow Run, one of the streams impacted by acid rain.

Our guests had a plethora of questions for Evan and Pat about how the park is facing the challenges presented by climate change, mange disease, invasive species, and more.

We wrapped up the evening with a campfire and s’mores!

Saturday morning, we hosted our first Legacy Breakfast, during which Rhonda McIllwain, Associate Director of Gift Planning at University of Richmond, spoke to guests about the various ways to include philanthropy in estate plans, wills, beneficiary designations, and other creative types of planned gifts.

After breakfast, we split into three groups.

One group stayed in the Mountain Room to hear from Museum Intern Claire Kittell. Claire’s expertise and enthusiasm helped to bring to light the challenges and debates surrounding the cataloguing of archival and historical materials, and the presentation culminated in a fun group activity in which we practiced cataloguing museum objects.

Another group met up with Jake from Orvis to learn how to cast with a fly-fishing rod. Despite the wind, participants had some great successes landing in targets and catching fake fish, and they’re ready to hit the river when fishing opens back up in the park.

The last group hiked up the horse trail to Stony Man summit and discussed the Four Pillars that keep all of our projects aligned with our mission. To remember the pillars, the group developed an acronym: SEWS (Stewards of Shenandoah; Experience Shenandoah; Wild Shenandoah; Stories of Shenandoah)! Despite the wind threatening to steal hats and coats, the view was well worth the walk.

We all returned to the Mountain Room for lunch, which turned out to be a quiet haven in the midst of an extremely busy and crowded day at Skyland and the rest of the park!

A small group made their way to Limberlost Trail for an afternoon geology hike led by park Ranger Andrew. “Ranger Andrew did a wonderful job bringing the history of Shenandoah to life in all its complexity, while also infusing the hike with his deep knowledge of the park’s flora and fauna,” said our Annual Fund Director, Anna Patchias. “He also taught participants about the challenges the park is facing, and the ways in which we can better steward these important lands. SNPT guests and members of the general public alike had an amazing time!”

As we all traveled home, we passed long lines of cars both along Skyline Drive and at entrance stations, full of visitors excited to experience the unique beauty of Shenandoah as the leaves change. Those crowds, while a bit overwhelming, reminded us all why we do this work: so that we can protect the resources of Shenandoah for all to enjoy, both now and in the future.

If you’d like to learn more about the Rapidan Society, events, or giving levels, click here!

Support Shenandoah

Preserving national parks is made possible by people like you.
Consider supporting Shenandoah today.