The last weekend in July brings Encampment to the San Juan Islands and history comes to life on the parade grounds of English Camp.
For staff and volunteers, this means a constant 4 day hustle beginning with preparation for the event, extending over the two days of the event, and ending in the break-down the day after. Thus I’ve had no opportunity to forward the 21st Century Visitor Center concept, other than through discussions with a number of the local staff and volunteers, living history re-enactors, and visitors from all over the US.
What I have had an opportunity to do is witness for the first-time how a strange combination of eccentricity. authenticity, and whimsy combine to make Encampment Weekend a compelling and fun event, both for the participants and the visitors. It’s a festival of sorts, and one worth a few words and images here.
First, a word about re-enactments. The National Park Service, despite forays into modern architecture and recent developments in digital technology, is at its core a steward of folksiness. Re-enactments, which I’d always viewed second-hand, usually in civil war documentaries on public television, always struck me as folksiness brought to the extreme of parody.
“Who are these people?” I would think of the re-enactors: “Why do they do this?” It seemed to me that re-enactments performed the generational divide the NPS is so keen on addressing: the re-enactors, generally older, fired muskets, wore wool costumes, marched in time, and were so invested in their roles that they spoke in period affect. The spectators, especially younger park visitors, flashed photos, texted images to their friends, asked clever, detached questions, and seemed generally amused by the spectacle. It all seemed kind of silly and an easy thing to gloss over.
Yet after the weekend, I feel differently. Yes, there is silliness — lots of silliness. But there is also energy, there is learning by listening and learning by doing, and above all, there’s a reverence paid to the place through these events, through the upholding of tradition, and in particular through the dedication of the re-enactors. They were the most impressive and their knowledge was eye-opening. They had no trouble reaching across generations, engaging youth, adults, and those in between. And they’re volunteers! They do it for the love of it, the chance to travel, and really, a sense of honor amongst peers that is readily discernable in how they talk to one another.
They are quite a resource to National Historical Parks and we rely on them, otherwise there’s no way events like Encampment come to fruition year after year.
It was quite an experience — we nearly tripled our typical visitor count, with visitors flocking to the island from Seattle and Vancouver, along with locals who come every year for the festivities.
Finally, members of the Henry M. Jackson foundation were on-hand to celebrate the senator’s 100th birthday, as was an executive officer for the USS Henry M. Jackson, the nuclear submarine named after the late senator. The Park Superintendent presented members of the Jackson family with a wayside, a duplicate of that located along one of the best views in the park: the crest of Mt. Finlayson, where on a clear day 3 National Parks are visible — Mt. Ranier, Olympic National Park, and Ebey’s Landing National Recreation Area.
For more on Senator Jackson’s role in the NPS, click here.