This week began with a bang on July 4. Several bangs actually, as I helped operate the cannon for the park's July 4 celebration. Sad puns aside, the artillery demonstration, musket demonstration, and nearby bake oven demonstration are the primary living history events for Valley Forge, and only happen on special occasions. They also draw large crowds, and provide a different way for park rangers and volunteers to interact with the public than during normal operation. While waiting between shots, I was given a primer on the NPS's new emphasis on facilitated dialogue. This method of interpretation relies on the interpreter to engage the public directly and solicit their input in new ways, involving them in the dialogue and relating to their experience. It steps beyond telling a story and answering visitor questions. However, it challenges the more seasoned interpreters who are often reluctant to adopt a new style. Also, it can only be applied for smaller groups (using it for 150 people simply doesn't work), and it requires a lot of preparation.
Since Tuesday was the fourth, we did cleaning on Wednesday instead. Following that we set the vault up to take pictures of our new accessions from Hopewell. We used white fabric as a background and special lights to mitigate shadows. We took two pictures for each: one with the accession number and measure, and one without (in case someone wants to use it for public display). I will need to take pictures of several weapons for my exhibit, so this was excellent practice for that. However, I expect challenges stemming from the length of 1700s firearms. I finished the day with more research and exhibit planning.
On Thursday I took a guided tour of the park with the Chief of Natural and Cultural Resources. She has played the key role in park planning for the past 15 or so years, and pointed out all the changes that have been made during that time. I also saw many parts of the park I was unaware of, and got a greater appreciation for how many natural and cultural resources the park has, and how few staff and little money the park has to steward its vast resources. I also got a view of some of the methods the park uses to deal with this problem. Often, all that can be done is to stabilize a building, leaving it without a good interior or in many cases even a floor but at least still standing. Some buildings are used for park housing, but that program generally loses money. Some buildings are leased for various uses, with specific restrictions and with all profits going back into conservation. That program brings in money for the buildings, and often lessees put their own money into restoring the building in accordance with park guidelines.
I also saw in many of the locations a huge amount of potential for interpretation of all the other history in the park, including industrial history, agricultural history, recreational history, etc., but sadly that potential will probably never be reached simply because it isn't the period of significance in the park's enabling legislation, because those stories are completely overshadowed by the story of the winter encampment, because most visitors are primarily arrive to learn the story of the winter encampment, and because the park is already maxed out in what it can afford to interpret and support anyway. The only way that potential could be reached is if the park doubled or tripled or maybe more in staff, visitation, and resources, which if possible is still in the distant future.