Tom and I are now fully in the swing of volunteering at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site. We have been working for a month already and have learned a lot. One of the places I work frequently is the Visitors Center, so I thought I would describe that and what I do there.
The Visitors Center is in the Bourgeoise House, the big white house that I have already shown you several times. When the historic buildings of the park were rebuilt in the late 1980’s, the Bourgeoise House was the first thing built. There are park offices upstairs and in the basement of the house. On the main floor, the only one visitors can access, is a small museum, a gift shop, the information desk, and the very important restrooms.
On days when I work in the Visitors Center I either work the morning or afternoon shift. If I work the morning shift, I open the safe and get out the money for the cash register, counting it before I put it in. Then I open the blinds and the door to the museum. I turn on the power strip for the movie, which people play whenever they want. I make sure the restrooms are clean enough and have toilet paper. Somedays I dust or vacuum or straighten up the shelves. If we are running short on items in the gift shop, I restock them if possible.
The gift shop has only been open since June 6. It was closed most of 2020 and half of 2021 because of Covid. The Fort Union Trading Post Association used that time to renovate the gift shop. They put in new shelves and ordered a new Visitors Center desk. People who have been here before comment about how nice it looks and how much more stuff there is. But the new gift shop manager, Megan, is still getting the hang of ordering stock. We have had record sales during the last month and we are low on stock on many things. I always hate it when we run out of magnets or t-shirts. Right now we are even out of stock on the best book on Fort Union Trading Post.
Most people who enter the fort come in by the front gates, so they hit the Trade Shop first. The Trade Shop is the place where we tell the story of Fort Union, because it is, after all, a Trading Post. Consequently I don’t do a lot of that when I am working in the Visitors Center which is different than the two-sentence summary I usually give to new visitors at a park. If people have already been to the Trade Shop, and I can usually tell because I can see the way they are coming toward the building, then I just point out the museum, the gift shop, the restrooms, and the movie.
Right now we are averaging about 100 visitors a day at the fort. This means there are plenty of times when no one is in the Visitors Center. During these down times I read one of the books in the bookstore or work on my fingerweaving. Yes! A new kind of weaving to tell you about in a future post.
If I have the morning shift, I work from 8:45 until 1 at the desk and then have the rest of the day to prepare my demonstration or work on something else that I’ve been assigned. If I have the afternoon shift, I work from 1 until 5:15 doing exactly the same thing. The only difference is the afternoon person is in charge of balancing the register at the end of the day. So far I’ve only had one day where it wasn’t perfectly balanced and that was because I left a dime in a corner of the cash register.
I have especially enjoyed working in the Visitors Center during the very hot weather we are having this summer. The Visitors Center is the only building that is air-conditioned. Although I am dealing with the heat okay on the other days, it is a nice change to sit in the air-conditioning all day. The heat just wears you out! I relieve the people outside for lunches and breaks as I am able.
I like working in the Visitors Center because I get to interact with the variety of guests we have. We have a lot of local people who show up for special events or bring visitors to the fort. But most of our guests are people who are visiting Glacier or Theodore Roosevelt National Parks and stop by on their way. Although we don’t have many international visitors with the travel restrictions still in place because of Covid, we get people from all over the United States. Last Monday we had visitors from Florida, Arizona, California, New Jersey, Maine, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Montana, Washington State, Louisiana, and Alaska. Talk about a diverse crowd!
We have visitors that stay an hour and others that stay three or four hours. I love to talk to the kids who are working on their Jr. Ranger badge. Because we are a trading post, when they complete their book, we give them a “buffalo hide” and have them trade it for the Jr. Ranger package that they want: badge and beads or a gold or silver pin. One young man wanted the gold and silver pins so much that he completed two Jr. Ranger books.
Working at the Visitors Center is a fun way to get to talk to a variety of people. It is one of the things that I really enjoy and that makes volunteering fun.