Nestled excessive on the rafters of an previous barn, Leigh Gardner sat with a bunch of children watching the sundown over the Tennessee hills.
“, I’ve by no means seen something as lovely as this in my life,” Gardner remembers a younger woman saying.
“Once you dwell within the inside metropolis, there are buildings throughout, you don’t [always] see the sundown,” she says. “So it’s one thing so simple as that, that folks don’t actually acknowledge it needs to be a proper however is known as a privilege to have the ability to see one thing like that.”
Gardner’s love of the outside started in Ladies Scouts. The Franklin, Tennessee, native spent her summer time months horseback using, canoeing, mountain climbing and studying archery. As she acquired older, the group launched Gardner to varied volunteer organizations that additionally concerned the outside. She was hooked.
Gardner’s goals have been realized when she turned a full-time park ranger at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park in Manchester, Tennessee. For the final three-and-a-half years, Gardner’s admiration of the outside and want to make it a haven for everybody continues.
Her duties cowl a full scope of disciplines.
As a park ranger, Gardner’s primary objective is to make sure the protection of the guests. As regulation enforcement, she enforces each the foundations and laws of Tennessee state parks and pure areas. The Center Tennessee State College graduate additionally leads guided excursions by Previous Stone Fort the place her sheer presence serves as an inspiration.
“After I began as a park ranger, I used to be the one Black feminine park ranger and there have been like three Black park rangers complete [in the state] and there was at the least one Hispanic ranger,” Gardner says. “Being an individual of coloration working for my Tennessee state parks, I actually really feel as if I could be that image for these children who did not actually see being a park ranger as an possibility for them simply because that they had by no means seen a Black park ranger earlier than.”
We sat right down to ask Ranger Gardner about variety within the outside, ideas for visiting state and nationwide parks and what makes Previous Stone Fort so particular.
Why is it vital to have variety amongst park rangers?
It is very nice while you get to see somebody who appears such as you, as a result of it actually, form of grounds you and offers you a way of place. Like “I belong out right here as nicely. This spot can be for me, it is also for my children.” It provides you extra of a way of household, I suppose, which is what you are on the lookout for while you come out to a state park; a way of place and a way of belonging. So yeah, it is good being a park ranger. However I am actually glad that I get to – by the best way I look – give just a little bit again to my neighborhood.
What could be finished to make parks and the outside extra inclusive to folks of various races, physique sorts, accessibility, and many others?
Parks are for everyone. And a number of our [Tennessee] parks are even going to turn out to be extra ADA compliant to get as many individuals out right here as attainable. As a result of we would like everybody to expertise the character and the grandeur of Tennessee.
I feel the extra that folks see themselves represented outside, the extra individuals are going to go outside. So for those who suppose this park is not for you as a result of you have not seen somebody who appears such as you on the market, then possibly that you must be the primary particular person to do it.
We would like everybody to have the ability to expertise this equally. And it’s exhausting. After I began out exploring the outside on my own, I used to be scared. It’s scary. And there are methods you can hold your self protected if that is what you are involved about.
However getting over that preliminary worry [of] what if I am not ok? What if that is harmful? What if somebody makes enjoyable of me or what if I fail? What if I get verbally or bodily attacked, which now we have seen earlier than. However the claiming or reclaiming of those areas is vital to proceed the longevity of those areas. We will not proceed to protect and defend these state parks with out your complete neighborhood’s involvement and help.
As we enter autumn, what is the greatest piece of recommendation because the climate cools off?
We at all times inform folks to abide by leave-no-trace rules. So be sure that earlier than you go, you are checking the climate. Our autumn [in Tennessee] tends to be simply as dry as our summers up till November. However make certain that if it’s going to be a colder day, you costume for the climate.
I at all times encourage folks to go to your state parks throughout a number of seasons. Because the autumn progresses, we’ll begin to see these autumn colours coming within the second week of November. Once you’re popping out right here, include an open thoughts. You need to see waterfalls in the summertime. When popping out within the autumn, say, I am doing leaf recognizing. And within the winter, I actually need to see the change within the water stage. As we method the winter and the leaves begin to fall, you’ll see extra of the river. The surroundings [between the seasons] – it’s virtually like night time and day.
With so many parks within the state of Tennessee, what makes Previous Stone Fort so particular?
It is so well-liked as a result of we’re like virtually midway between Nashville and Chattanooga. So it is an awesome assembly spot and that is what initially the location was used for. Individuals would collect right here 2000 years in the past to satisfy right here particularly for ceremonial occasions. And individuals are nonetheless doing that in an identical approach right this moment, coming right here and assembly with their relations or their mates who they have not seen since COVID-19 began. In order that’s one of many causes it is so well-liked – simply the accessibility of it.
But additionally while you come out right here, you are getting one thing actually, actually particular. You possibly can expertise two rivers, three waterfalls and 2000 years value of historical past in a quarter-mile or much less path. So when you think about that, that is a reasonably unbelievable deal that you just’re getting popping out right here to a Tennessee state park.
Since COVID-19, extra folks have hung out of their state parks, do you suppose they are going to keep it up?
I feel what [people are] experiencing proper now due to COVID is getting exterior to their Tennessee state parks has actually impacted them in a optimistic approach.
I feel folks have acknowledged that these areas are proper right here of their backyards. Everybody within the state of Tennessee is inside a one-hour drive of a Tennessee state park. Along with that, now we have our public lands, now we have 85 state pure areas. We have public wild and scenic rivers. There’s this broad variety of nature that folks can expertise. And it is simply, it is proper right here in Tennessee. And most often, it is not even that far of a drive.
So I feel folks undoubtedly will hold outside experiences on their radar. And I feel [it will get people to start] branching out like right this moment I went for a hike, however possibly tomorrow I’ll strive canoeing on the Duck River or taking a pontoon boat out on Reelfoot Lake or one thing trigger these are all issues which can be novel to lots of people. They usually’re thrilling. So I feel it is nice.