Booker T. Washington National Monument has been open on a limited basis during most of the pandemic. Those limits mean the visitor center at the national park is still closed, but the trails and living history exhibits are open for self-guided tours.
While their roles may have been altered by the pandemic, rangers have been hard at work preparing for the future and reaching new audiences.
“We’re being encouraged to look at how we’ve been doing things especially with this new technology that’s being used,” said Tim Sims, senior park ranger. “So we’re kind of striking out.”
The rangers are using new virtual platforms to reach students where they are, either at home or in the classroom and to other groups, including some in other states.
“We are working on our new long-range plan,” Sims said. “We are reevaluating our interpretative programs and thinking about how we can incorporate new ideas, refresh our interpretative themes based on the current relevancy of the day.”
Due to the pandemic, no school field trips have been planned this spring. “We do not anticipate having a traditional school tour season this spring,” Sims said. “We didn’t have any trips last fall or spring. What happens is teachers invite us to presentations on their media platforms.”
“We hope to work with Franklin County to develop new and enhanced existing programs with the new technology, distance learning opportunities to bring the park into the classroom,” Sims said. “What we are hoping is that these presentations will be used as a pre- or post-park visit experience because we still want the students to come out to the park and visit.”
There are all these opportunities to reach a wider audience. Park ranger Betsy Haynes will host a virtual presentation for a group in Minnesota in the coming months.
The rangers said these are positive outcomes from the pandemic, but welcoming visitors and reenacting history is where their heart lies and COVID-19 is still impacting that mission.
“We are going to do Juneteenth. It’s going to be a condensed version of what we normally do,” Sims said. “We are going to record it. It’s going to consist of a superintendent’s welcome, what Juneteenth is. We will have two gospel groups that will be prerecorded. We will have a ranger introduction and instead of having the living history event that we normally do with multiple actors we’re doing a single living history monologue written by Booker T. Washington’s mom, Jane.”
Starting this month, a tent will be set up outside the visitor center, Park Superintendent Robin Snyder said. The rangers will staff the tent and rove the park from Friday through Monday.
The park trails are open, and visitors can come, get a trail map to walk the trails, tour the historic area and see the animals that call the park home.
Volunteer gardeners have also started getting the gardens ready for planting.
“We’re planting tobacco this year so there will be a tobacco demonstration,” Sims said. “I don’t know if we are going to have our harvest event this year because we are already well into the planning time needed. It’s already kind of late to get that planned. COVID has affected our ability to plan that’s why we already know we are not having a live Juneteenth event.”
Park officials are taking a wait-and-see approach for its Christmas event, which is usually held in early December.