When I was young I never imagined myself falling in love with a place, and I can’t say exactly when it happened. Looking back, I suppose it came to pass rather naturally and effortlessly. I have come to know Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in so many different and special ways.
Through the seasons I have seen the fort buildings cloaked in fresh, white snow; smelled the fragrant spring blossoms of the apple orchard as they sway in the breeze; marveled at the explosion of colorful flowers in the garden; watched the big field in front of the fort in full blazing flame of red clover; and viewed the ribbons of color streaking the skies above the fort at sunset.
I have had the privilege of seeing the fort reflected in the happy faces of the thousands of children who hear the fort’s bell clanging, inviting them to each new part of their unique educational experience.
I see Fort Vancouver in our blacksmiths who pound red-hot iron; in carpenters, sawdust piling at their feet, constructing the simple furniture; in fur trappers in period costume, sharing stories beside a blazing fire; and in the soldiers, who load and fire the mountain howitzer at Soldier’s Bivouac.
I see it in our maintenance employees, who skillfully maintain the National Park buildings, including the visitor center, historic hangar at Pearson Air Museum, and the McLoughlin House in Oregon City; who have built some of the reconstructions inside the fort and in the village; and who tirelessly tend the trees, plants, and trails.
I am continually struck with how much this national park has to offer. I never expected to have found myself staring open mouthed in awe of a mature eagle; wings outstretched sunning on the edge of our waterfront; or the calm beauty of the giant oak trees of the great meadow. I have witnessed talented individuals in our costume department, who effortlessly do intricate needlework at the McLoughlin House in Oregon City and in front of the young girls of the dame school at Fort Vancouver.
There are the nervous but excited college students on their first day of excavation under the experienced eye of our Park Service archaeologists; and those elementary school students trying on a clerk’s cloak in the Counting House, learning how to use a compass, or dancing a 19th century reel. There are those students, staff, and educators who work with computers to digitize history into engaging state-of-the-art mobile applications. There are many partners that make the national park better.
There are also those somber, life-changing moments of immigrants being sworn in as United States citizens on the main parade ground, the military change-of-command ceremonies guarded by the stately East Barracks buildings, and the noble and beautiful horses that circle the Nez Perce Memorial Ceremony — these events bring us all together as one people.
I pay tribute to this national park, which is evolving to educate and connect all Americans in real ways to their heritage, while continuing to protect and preserve those resources that make this place special for all time.
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, with its endless opportunities for learning and one-of-a-kind experiences, is just one campus of the 397 that make up the national park system, the greatest university in the world! National Park Week began Saturday, April 21 and runs through April 29. During this week, admission to all national parks is free. I can’t think of a better time to connect or reconnect with Fort Vancouver!
Tracy Fortmann is the superintendent of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, which includes Fort Vancouver and the McLoughlin House Unit of the National Park Service.