By Rose Ann Smythe
Special to the Rappahannock News
Visitors to Shenandoah National Park’s Lewis Mountain Campground know John Marklin as the volunteer campground host, a position he has held every summer since 2004. Rolf Gubler, biologist at Shenandoah National Park, knows Marklin as a volunteer who has supported the peregrine falcon restoration project at SNP since 2003. And now the National Park Service knows John Marklin as the 2014 Northeast Regional Volunteer of the Year.
Annually, the NPS honors the efforts of exceptional volunteers nationwide. Nominees are brought forward by employees in national parks across the country. In recognition of his 4,000 hours of volunteer service to Shenandoah, with double duty as campground host and peregrine falcon hack box attendant, Gubler nominated his loyal volunteer, and Marklin won the regional honor.
“I am so humbled by this award,” said Marklin, on duty at the Lewis Mountain Campground. “It has been my privilege to serve with fantastic and dedicated Shenandoah National Park staff members over the years, and my wife and I look forward each year to our summers on Lewis Mountain.”
Marklin’s service as volunteer can be attributed to his wife, Susan. After the couple retired to West Virginia following John’s 30-year career with General Motors, she read a newspaper article about the importance of volunteering, and encouraged her husband to explore the possibility of volunteering as a campground host at Shenandoah.
When he first applied to the VIP (Volunteers-In-Park) program in the spring of 2003, there were no campground host positions available in Shenandoah. Marklin was asked if he had any interest in volunteering with the peregrine project instead. Thus began his 13-year relationship with Gubler and their successful efforts to reintroduce more than 100 of the threatened peregrine falcons to their historic range in the mountains of Virginia.
“Mr. Marklin was always enthusiastic about his work,” said Gubler, “and it showed when he educated visitors about the recovery program. He would engage the public in lively discussions and offer stories, to include one about witnessing a young peregrine falcon taking prey in flight for the first time. When problems arose at the hack site — mountain storms, high winds, nuisance bears or problems with vultures or ravens, John always found creative ways to fix these problems and improve the efficiency of the operation. He often donated his own hardware and materials. He even fixed the mounting mechanism on one of our unsteady spotting scopes, greatly improving its performance.”
When the Marklins returned in late spring 2004, they took over as campground hosts at Lewis Mountain, and have been there every summer since. Marklin was able to continue his work with Gubler and the peregrines during his time off from campground duties. He attributed being able to do both duties as one of the motivations for his longevity of service, and says that working with Gubler and the falcons has been an unforgettable experience.
Marklin spoke proudly of the many Appalachian Trail through-hikers he has meet over the years who camp at Lewis Mountain, of the many local families who return to the campground every summer, and of the wonderful and diverse visitors he has met over the years. “I feel like I have travelled all over the world,” he said, “and I never left the campground.”
When asked if he ever thought of applying to volunteer in another national park, Marklin said, “I thought about it. But, we fell in love with Shenandoah. Why would I ever leave?” His advice to other retirees thinking of volunteering at national parks: “Just do it. Just get out there and do it.”
For more information on volunteer opportunities in national parks, visit nps.gov/getinvolved/volunteer.htm.