Oriented to Cumberland Gap NHP

Tom and I have been working at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park for two weeks now and we are getting oriented to the park and how it operates.  Some places we’ve worked had formal orientation training (Fort Union Trading Post, Pipe Spring, San Juan Island, Grand Portage).  Others are more informal.  Cumberland Gap’s orientation program is still in the development stage.

Memorial Day flag display with Visitors Center in background

But this isn’t our first rodeo.  Tom and I know the kinds of things we need to know about a park.  Consequently we have been gradually learning, at our own speed, the things we need to know to be oriented.

When we first asked Ranger Layton what we are supposed to do, he said “whatever you want to do.”  It appears he meant it.  Every week we are listed on the schedule for our four days as “Hartleys:  Living History.”  The field is wide open!

Intern Joanna at the Visitors Center Desk

Tom has been taking advantage of that.  So far he has done a coopering program, a colonial surveying talk, a blacksmith program, and a roving talk at Tri-State Peak about surveying.  I have been content to do my textile talk in my dedicated space on the second floor of the Visitors Center.

Eastern National employees Jackie and Matt

We each fill in at the Information Desk as needed, but there are always at least two people scheduled at the desk.  There is always a ranger and an Eastern National person.  This park has three full-time Eastern National people, which is the most we have ever seen at one park.  In addition, there is usually a volunteer or an intern at the front desk.

Because Cumberland Gap is such a big park, we give directions to people on a regular basis.  The most important thing I had to learn about working at the desk was how to read the trail map upside down.  When visitors ask about getting someplace, we pull out a trail map, grab a highlighter, and mark the map for them.  Of course, we want the map to be right side up for them.  The first time I tried to do it, I couldn’t even find the Visitors Center.  100 maps later, I am as good as anyone else at the desk.

View from the second floor of the Visitors Center

The Cumberland Gap Visitors Center is a beautiful two-story building built in the 1970’s.  The restrooms are outside facing the parking lot, marked by big signs.  I hardly ever get asked “where are the restrooms?”  The Eastern National people take care of the store and they do a great job.  I spent some time looking at stuff so I could know what we sold, but we haven’t even been trained on the registers.  There is a small museum on the first floor.

Upstairs is the movie theater, which has been closed since Covid.  The park has two movies and now they are shown on a big tv screen in a lobby area.  The movies are self-starters.  People choose which movie to watch, push a button, and then sit down to watch the movie.  One movie is about Daniel Boone and the other one is a more general history of the Gap.  The room where I do living history is adjacent to the movie lobby so I hear both movies many times a day.

Cannon and deer out the patio of the second story

One thing I really like about Cumberland Gap is that everyone at the desk has been trained to stand whenever anyone enters the Visitors Center.  Every guest is welcomed and made to feel that we are ready to pay attention to them and help them in any way we can.  The Visitors Center can be very busy first thing in the morning because anyone who has reserved a tour has to pay for it the morning of the tour.  Tours all begin at 10 a.m., so there can be as many as 35 people waiting to pay when the doors open at 9.

The only bad thing about the current situation at the Visitors Center is the cleaning.  The park had a long-term maintenance man who always cleaned the Visitors Center.  His name was James and he died suddenly the first week we were here.  One ranger, Jared, cleans all the restrooms (a LOT of restrooms) in the park so the restrooms are good.  But no one has taken over cleaning the Visitors Center, and the dirt is starting to show.  I’m sure they will get someone reassigned to the task soon.

Tom and I are getting oriented and learning what we need to know.  We are always ready to answer visitors’ questions and help the rangers any way we can.