Grant Will Help Blue Ridge Parkway Ranger Collect Oral Histories

A National Park Foundation grant is allowing Stephen Kidd, a cultural resource specialist at Blue Ridge Parkway, to compile oral histories from CCC workers who helped build the parkway. Photo via Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation.

One of the more interesting national park interpretive programs I've run across down through the years was a collection of oral histories that could be listened to in some homestead cabins in the Cataloochee area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It was fascinating to hear the Cataloochee residents, in their own words, discuss the coming of the national park and life as they knew it in the valley.

Now, thanks to a $10,000 grant from the National Park Foundation, a cultural resource specialist at Blue Ridge Parkway will be able to interview some of the workers who helped build the parkway back in the 1930s and 1940s.

Steven Kidd is using the grant to not just record interviews with any Civil Conservation Corps alumni who worked on the parkway, but with a diverse cross-section of those workers.

According to a story in the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation newsletter, "(I)ncluded in these are culturally diverse groups traditionally not associated with the parkway, including African-American communities, some of whom worked in racially segregated CCC camps, Cherokees who formerly lived in areas where the southern terminus of the parkway lies, and the descendants of Italian-American and Spanish-American stone masons brought from Europe to construct the intricate stone-work associated with the parkway's bridges, walls, and overlooks."

To complete the interviews and transcription, the parkway has enlisted the services of Dr. Heidi Altman, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Georgia Southern University. Dr. Altman has considerable experience working with the Eastern Cherokee in such areas as language revitalization. Her experience in Appalachian culture with her emphasis on the Cherokee language made her a perfect match for this project.

Comments

What did they do with all the oral histories complied by Dr Ted Coyle of Western NC University? Have they been made available for public to hear/see/read, used in programs or exhibits, or just sit on a shelf somewhere?

Considering all the contacts he made up/ down the 470 mi Parkway over the course of several years of work, talking to people of all races/backgrounds associated/ not-associated w/Parkway, including a fellow whose grandfather was a slave with Booker T Washington, and that he taught oral history collecting skills to parkway staff, and teaches anthropology a stone's throw from the Cherokee reservation at Western NC, it seems he would have been the more logical and cost-effective choice--if this 2nd grant was best use of scarce financial resources, that is.

Isn't the Parkway hurting for maintenance funds? Wouldn't CCC workers rather see their physical work preserved for future generations? I know if it was me, I'd rather have that $10k go to preservation of artifacts, information signage, other things with more direct and needed visitor impact, or fund treatment of the hemlocks before they are killed and destroy all sorts of little mt ecosystems--$10k would treat approximately 500 trees.

Yes, I think collecting/preserving oral histories is important--to some extent--but it HAS been done in large extent this case, and I think limited funds should go to more pressing needs.

I think NPS administration (& rest of Federal Govt) needs to fall somewhere between the Republican slash/burn and the Democratic disorganized, ineffective little of-everything approach. (I think that's what the public wants, also, and it would explain voting for Obama AND Tea party.). I know this was Foundation money and is limited in various ways about what it can fund, but the foundation very closey with NPS admin. and as a charitable foundation, should still be accountable on some level to what the public wants, and set an example for NPS and others to follow.