Husband and Wife Duo Call It Quits After Many Years of Service
Dave Wyrick, Mammoth Cave National Park:
Most employees of the National Park Service find that, as hard as we may work, our parks leave more of an impact on us than we do on them. Although our Mission is to preserve the nation’s treasures unmarked by our individual passing, on occasion there are whose, by virtue of their gifts, or their wisdom, or their local, familial ties – or their simple stubborn refusal to leave – who become part of the fabric of the resource themselves.
Most parks have one or two of these; some of them are gone but linger on as legends of service, skill and guile, their spirit rumored seen from time to time. Some remain with us still, sought out for wisdom and craft before Time makes a demand they cannot deny.
Mammoth Cave National Park is blessed with legends. Once a Mammoth Cave Guide, Always a Mammoth Cave Guide, they say, and the roll of legends gets longer every year.
This year, however, two of Mammoth Cave's long-time employees are taking off their green and gray fabric, and when they do, it will be like tearing that fabric out of the whole cloth not just of this park, but of the entire Service – and their cloth is all of one piece, as they go together.
They are Vickie and Bobby Carson.
Bobby’s domain has been the invisible realm of the air. He monitored its quality and detected impurities like radon from beneath the ground and pollutants from various sources around the park with dogged persistence. In years past, cave guides in far-flung passages would encounter him, ubiquitous, emerging from the darkness, preceded by the hum of his radon detector, taking samples.
Sampling, always sampling. From air monitoring stations on the surface in the park, to elaborate devices for capturing the subtlest changes of temperature, humidity, and airflow and more underground, Bobby pursued the knowledge to its hidden places, and when you wanted it, seldom did he come up empty.
Often, scientists become so enmeshed in their data and its detail that they are unable to translate it into human terms. Bobby Carson never lost the human sense of exploration in his science. Bobby could explain the world he saw in ways a visitor could understand, even when the science was uncertain, and was unafraid to say, “We don’t know.”
Sometimes, hearing him say, “We don’t know,” you could almost hear the excitement in his voice.
But if he wasn’t afraid to say “We don’t know,” he also wasn’t afraid to say, “We do know,” and he wasn’t afraid to collect and provide data to document impacts to park air quality resources. Park air quality, indeed air quality in the larger Mammoth Cave Area Biosphere Reserve that surrounds the park, has improved over the past decade as a result of Bobby’s decades long effort to meticulously implement the Clean Air Act. Bobby always stood by his data, his science, and the resource.
It’s little wonder Bobby would ultimately be tapped for Chief of Science & Resource Management in his last years at the park. His easy style and solid record as a scientist had won him the respect of the park’s science team, and it has seemed as though the heartbeat of the park’s natural resources had been passing through him in the last days.
The day after his last day at work, after 41 years of service, it seemed as if the wind hardly knew which way to blow.
The other force of nature in his life is Vickie Carson, the park’s Public Information Officer, who leaves us now as well.
Vickie Carson worked as a cave guide in the early 80s, then went to Denver and worked in public affairs before returning to Mammoth Cave in the early 90s to be the park’s Public Information Officer in the new Division of External Programs.
Perhaps the most telling statement of Vickie’s grace, sensitivity, diplomacy, tact and charm came recently from a former Congressional staffer, who stated that no matter who was in the Administration in Washington, and no matter who was Superintendent at Mammoth Cave, they always knew Vickie would be there to help communicate.
Vickie’s career swung from the mundane work of press releases and Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests to the excitement of underground film production – she won an Emmy™ for her work with WKYU-TV’s documentary Mammoth Cave: A Way To Wonder.
She traveled to fires and natural disasters and major NPS events that needed the expertise of a seasoned public relations veteran. It seemed sometimes as though she knew everyone in the Service, or knew of them, or knew someone who knew them. Her network of connections in the local, regional and state news media appreciated her and responded to her. Perhaps her most enduring accomplishment has been to help roll back years of negative perception of the park dating from its creation, leaving instead a place that most local stakeholders embrace, and in which they take pride.
Every facet of Vickie’s work reflected her personal moral standard and genuine compassion for people, and her unswerving devotion to the Organic Act. A recent podcast produced by the park, “Don’t Feed The Deer”, features her, and watching her and listening to her words, it’s difficult to imagine a voice better suited to speak for the National Park Service.
It’s a voice that’s going to echo for a long time.
She, like Bobby, deserved to wear the green-and-gray because she embodies everything that fabric stands for, and they will always be a part of the fabric of Mammoth Cave National Park.
Editor's note: We had the privilege of working with Vickie for all our public information to and from the park. Vickie was a true professional and a joy to be around. She always had something pleasant to say and she never failed to deliver when we needed information, no matter what time of day or night. She will be sorely missed. We also tip our cap to her husband, Bobby, who also was a pleasure to work with. Like her, he was also a true pro who loved his job. We wish the Carsons nothing but the best in a long, peaceful retirement. --Darren Doyle