Posted by: Kirsten | Thursday, 19 June 2008

Living History at Fort Laramie National Historic Site

I’ve seen a lot of parks in the past several years, and I’ve seen a lot of parks that formerly had well-staffed living history demonstrations and characters that roam the grounds and interact with visitors that are now lucky if they have one or two unpaid volunteers.  So just when I was beginning to lose faith in the NPS mission’s commitment to living history — whammo! — A great visit to Fort Laramie National Historic Site in eastern Wyoming was just what the doctor ordered.  Granted, it was on a post-Memorial Day weekend, but still I was pleasantly surpised by the number of “costumed characters” walking the grounds on the first Sunday in June.

Fort Laramie BartenderAfter stopping at the Visitor Center to get oriented, we set out on our Junior Ranger mission around the fort’s grounds and planned on visiting most of the buildings that were still in a decent state of repair.  EXTREMELY IMPORTANT LOGISTICAL TIP: If you’re doing the Junior Ranger booklet with your kid(s) at Fort Laramie, don’t attempt to rent one of the audio tour units at the same time.  The audio tour leads you from building to building in a counter-clockwise manner while the Junior Ranger booklet leads the kids around in the opposite, clockwise, direction.  Talk about confusing and frustrating!  We quickly abandoned our earplugs and decided to interact with the nice soldiers instead, and what a great decision that was!

Fort Laramie SoldiersParticularly clever was the park’s sneaky communication methods by which they informed every living history character on the grounds of my daughter’s presence, so everywhere we went, we were greeted by name.  Very nice touch!  Of course, all the people on staff were well aware of the Junior Ranger requirements and were armed to the gills with information and hints to help us complete the mission.

Finally, as our day was wrapping up, my daughter wanted to visit all the soldiers, the bartender, the laundress, and anyone else she had met along the way for a final goodbye and a picture.  And hopefully, just maybe, my daughter was cured of her interest in the high-tech I-pod gizmo tour, and truly appreciated the interaction with real people that much more. 

Fort Laramie LaundressIn fact, even if you’re not planning on completing that Junior Ranger book, and even if you don’t have kids along on the trip — forget the headset and numbered information points where you hit the Play button to learn about the park.  Save your money and have a real conversation with the wonderful people who work at Fort Laramie.  You’ll be glad you did.

Parke Diem!
— Jon

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