Film, Fire, and the Power of the Present

If there’s one thing the people who live and work in and around Washington, DC see every day, it’s the influence of yesterday’s decisions on our lives today and the vast potential today’s decisions have to make an impact on tomorrow. That the past is not distant, and that the present will always hold the power to make change for future.

Earlier this month, we were incredibly lucky to be in a room full of people who know the power of the present moment and share a vision of a positive future for Shenandoah National Park.

We gathered at Georgetown’s Chez Billy Sud – just an hour and a half from the park’s northern entrance – for an evening of conversation, celebration, and concern for the park, all woven together in a tapestry of support for Shenandoah in our nation’s capital.

Film and fire drove much of the evening’s discussion.

Kevin Morgan, the Global Brand Head & Vice President of Tempo by Hilton, shared his experience with the scope creep that turned a family-friendly hiking challenge into a sweeping documentary about sacrifice and stewardship in Shenandoah National Park.

As he was developing the #SNP52 Hiking Challenge with his wife, daughter, and dog in the present moment, Kevin began to learn about the past of the land he was exploring. As with most places, the history is complex and layered, both ancient and stunningly recent, and many voices are needed to capture anything close to a full narrative of Shenandoah. Kevin quickly realized that this was not a story that could be condensed into tid-bits and sprinkled throughout the hiking challenge tutorial videos for future adventurers.

But he knew the story mattered, so 150 miles of hiking grew into more than 20 interviews (and counting), hundreds of hours of interviews and editing, and thousands of dollars in filming equipment.

“When I was thinking about why this matters, it occurred to me that there are distinct groups of people who really care about Shenandoah,” Kevin said. “One of those groups is standing in this room today: the people who love and care for the park and really are advocates for it. We’re trying to bring all those groups together, to tell a story around this park to drive education, stewardship, and ownership of the actual land itself.”

Superintendent Pat Kenney elaborated on what stewardship looks like right now, reassuring attendees that the fire currently spreading through Madison County and into the park is not a threat – it is, in fact, a healthy ecological process, burning through the underbrush and making way for future life in the ecosystem.

“This is not a crown fire like you see out west. But it’s a complex fire because we’ve got a mixture of public and private lands. We’ve got residences in there that we’re trying to protect,” Superintendent Kenney explained. “The National Park Service has been there since day 2 of the fire, and we have over 200 firefighters on the site.”

He added that the park brought in the Gold Team, one of the best incident management teams in the country, to help manage the fire as it approached Herbert Hoover’s historic Rapidan Camp. “Rapidan Camp is close to the fire, but we feel confident we can protect it,” he stated. “It’s a very valuable resource – it’s irreplaceable. We put structure protection in today, which means we’ve plumbed a lot of lines and put sprinklers out so we can wet that property and the structures down; we’ve cleaned the roofs off. We have a great team working on it, and as the complexity grows, having those experienced fire folks working the fire is really helpful.”

Photo credit: Leah Cawthorn

SNPT Executive Director Jessica Cocciolone tied the narrative together, briefly detailing the budgetary and capacity challenges the park faces every year and emphasizing the incredible impact that philanthropic dollars have on not only the visitor experience today, but on important scientific and historical research going on behind the scenes to help Shenandoah build resiliency for current and future challenges.

Kevin Morgan summarized it well, saying, “You being here tonight not only impacts the park itself, but impacts the things that you may not have heard about before, because for every one thing you see in the Field Guide from the Trust – or on their website – there’s ten other things that they’re doing that we never get to see.”

Thank you to our all those in the DMV area who showed up to support Shenandoah at Chez Billy Sud and engage with our park community – your presence, curiosity, encouragement, and love for Shenandoah reminds us why we do this work and reenergizes our efforts!

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