“The Spirit of the Mountain: The Story of Shenandoah National Park” Distance Education Curriculum

by | Jan 17, 2018 | National Parks and Public Lands

I’m not sure about your 9-to-5 lunchtime habits, but I often find myself surfing national park-related websites during my lunch breaks. During one of these recent searches, I stumbled upon a new-to-me section on Shenandoah National Park’s website. The image stood out to me as it featured a historical picture of a man standing in a giant meadow with buildings along the distant treeline. Of course, I clicked to learn more and was delighted to find a new interactive education module called Spirit of the Mountain: The Story of Shenandoah National Park. 

Spirit of the Mountain: The Story of Shenandoah National Park

According to the website, The Spirit of the Mountain program is “an interactive program about the establishment of Shenandoah National Park. Through a series of videos and interactives, you will explore and discuss the controversial process of the creation of Shenandoah and investigate the multiple perspectives of those affected.” Learning more about this controversy is something that weighs more heavily on my mind the more I visit the park. The first few years we lived here, my visits were all about wildlife and leaves. After that, the next couple of years were about hiking and waterfalls. Last year, I decided I wanted to know more about the creation of the park. 

My desire to learn more about the creation of the park is two-fold. First, the more we hiked in the park, the more we ran into signs of the generations of people who used to call that land home. Second, I learned details about and read Lauren Danner’s book describing the founding of North Cascades National Park and it made me even more curious about the history of Shenandoah. So, I did a bit of digging and added several books about the history of Shenandoah National Park to my Christmas list. After reviewing the Spirit of the Mountain program, I cannot wait to dive into those books.

Development of Spirit of the Mountain

The Spirit of the Mountain: The Story of Shenandoah National Park program was developed through park fee revenue and donations to the Shenandoah National Park Trust. The development was a joint effort between Shenandoah National Park’s education team and two local government teachers, Ginny Browne and Kim Dean. The project took nearly two years to complete.

Teacher Kim Dean is a descendant of several displaced residents who were displaced during the creation of the park. Dean was quoted in the press release explaining “The establishment of the Park, with all its accomplishments and heartaches is a story influenced by time and place. Through this program, we can better understand the perspectives, opinions, and motivations of all those who influenced and were impacted. We cannot ignore the spirit of those who once called the majestic Blue Ridge home. We cannot change the past; however, we must embrace history and move forward on the common ground we share.”

Spirit of the Mountain Curriculum 

Developed with guidance from educators, “the curriculum aligns with state and national standards for history, government, civics, economics, and geography.” It features a mixture of interactive and blended elements including that promote discussion and personal reflection. The Spirit of the Mountain: The Story of Shenandoah National Park program is broken into five lessons:

• Finding Our Place in Time
• Mapping Our Past
• Connecting People to Purpose
• Leaving the Mountain
• Moving Forward on Common Ground 

Each lesson features a short video (3 to 10 minutes) and discussion topics at a minimum. I found the videos to be really helpful in forming a baseline and setting up the next elements in the lesson. The follow-on elements include historic photos, interactive maps, knowledge checks, contextual timelines, primary documents, videos, and oral histories. The discussion topics that accompany each lesson are geared towards the middle school target audience and include offline activities as well. 

What I loved

Overall, I thought the development of Spirit of the Mountain: The Story of Shenandoah National Park was really well done. The design is engaging, the content is purposeful, and it is easy to digest for many different age groups. I also felt the park was successful in sharing the true Spirit of the Mountain. On top of that, the interactive maps and timelines where great supplements to the videos. I know my former middle schoolers would have enjoyed exploring the site.  

Not Just for Middle School Students

While directed towards middle schoolers, the content is accessible and appropriate for a wide variety of audiences. Parents who frequent or are planning trips to Shenandoah National Park can use the lessons with children of all ages to help them better understand the creation of the park. It truly is a wonderful resource and provides an opportunity to expand the discussion beyond the visitor center overviews.

Don’t have young kids? Who cares! I refer to myself and my slightly-obsessive national park friends as “Aging Jr. Rangers” and I know they would love it too! The lessons are informative enough to keep our attention and help us reach a new understanding about the controversy behind the creation of the park. So, if you have a bit of time, check it out!

Next Steps

I do think strides have been made with the new curriculum. However, there is continued room for improvement. In fact, I think Emily Badger said it best in a 2015 article when she wrote “While the park is more open now about this past, it is also guarded with the specifics: There is no map that will tell you where to find Nicholson’s home, no public brochure cataloguing all the cemeteries, no trail signs to lead you to abandoned stone walls and pottery shards.” Once the park makes this information available outside the archives, I think we will truly be on our way to embracing history and moving forward on common ground


OMG! I’ve Found My Dream Job!

I’m totally geeking out over this interactive series. The creation of it is the confluence of my two loves: national parks and distance education!  So, if any education folks from the NPS stumble upon this post, please hire me. This type of activity is honestly my dream job. I never see any positions posted online. Heck, it is basically the only reason I will break my 30-minute or less commute rule. Seriously. I will drive to the Harpers Ferry Center or into DC (I cannot believe I just typed that) to make this happen. Just let me know where to send my resume! ;)

Background Information: While I no longer teach, I am a former traditional and online teacher who now works in post-graduation physician education. I began my education career in a traditional classroom teaching middle school careers, publications, and computer literacy courses. Eventually, I started teaching those subjects at an online high school and fell in love with distance education. When we moved to DC, I transitioned to online education in the nonprofit section. My entire “second” career has been working for physician membership organizations (e.g., radiation oncologists and radiologists). My team and I take educational content from physicians and turn it into distance education activities. While I do miss my kiddos, I’ve embraced my (small) role in changing patient outcomes through distance education. However, just so we are all clear… if the NPS calls, I’m picking up the phone! 


Want to learn more about Shenandoah? Don’t miss my blog posts about hiking, exploring, wildlife, and driving through Shenandoah National Park! 

By Sara Beth

Sara Beth is a wanderlust soul who is focused on simplistic and mindful living. She is passionate about National Parks, road trips, and board games. Her early years were spent in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin. After graduating from university, she moved to Las Vegas, fell in love, and adopted a dog. Today, she lives with her husband and their dog in the suburbs of Washington, DC.

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1 Comment

  1. Terra Gatti

    This is very, very cool! Growing up around the outskirts of Shenandoah, I’d always heard rumors about how the park was formed, but there weren’t a ton of details out there, but this is great. It will definitely be interesting to see how the information available grows and expands over time.


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