Wednesday, August 3, 2016

People of Big Creek - Larry Ball

As an introduction of sorts, I'm posting pictures I have taken over the years of people we met in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These are the "characters" in my book, Big Creek - A Closer Look at a National Park, in order of appearance.

Larry Ball is a Visitor Use Assistant in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. His job is to take care of the administrative aspects of the campgrounds, including being our point of contact. It's not just us; he covers four campgrounds and all the others are much larger than Big Creek. We couldn't ask for better.  Larry schedules us for campground hosting, along with the other regular volunteers. It can sometimes be frustrating when volunteers don't show up, or they are not so devoted to the job.

While the park rangers make traffic stops and rescue hurt hikers on the trails, Larry is the one who takes care of us.  He brings us all the materials we need to do the job, including forms, pencils, markers, reservation reports, brochures, newspapers, and park contact information. He brings us uniform shirts and comfy and warm fleece jackets. He makes sure we have gate and building keys for full access to Big Creek.  Most important, in my opinion, he provides us with park radios and fresh batteries when needed. We would be stranded alone in the wilderness without them.

This is Larry checking us in and going over paperwork the first year we met him in 2011. I love his little portable metal desk.

Another of Larry's jobs is to collect the camping fees.  I mention the "iron ranger" often in Big Creek. Here is Larry emptying the payment envelopes.  I was there to witness and to affirm that Larry did not pocket any of the money. Oh, and to take pictures of the process.

First, Larry had to kneel down and unlock the money box from the post.  This is tricky because he can't see the lock. 

When the money box is unlocked, he can pull it out of the post.  Easier said than done.  That is thick, heavy steel.  Larry told me that if you want to make sure something is vandal-proof, just put it in a campground. As far as I know, no money had been stolen from an iron ranger but, vandals have been known to put lighted cigarettes in the slot.

Once the money box is out of the post, Larry unlocks it at the bottom and takes out the pay envelopes.

Then, if there aren't too many envelopes, and sometimes even if there are, he counts the envelopes on top of his car and arranges them all in the same direction.  That makes it easier for the office staff to open them and count the money. All the envelopes get stuffed into a tamper-evident plastic bag.  So do the keys.  We sign the bags and a form.

Larry is in his mid-to-late sixties but, I have not noticed him aging the least bit over the years we have known him. Maybe it's his vegetarian diet.  Or, maybe it is his Buddhist meditation that keeps him calm and relaxed. His manner is always calm and peaceful.  Then, there is the periodic wise-crack.

Larry visits Big Creek at least once a week.  He brings us updated reservation and weather reports.  If there has been a big search and rescue, or some other event of note, he brings us the daily park report about it.  And he ALWAYS, ALWAYS makes it a point to tell us how much we are appreciated for our volunteer efforts. He is most generous and has given us huge pay raises, several times doubling our pay.

Sometimes Larry has time to sit and share stories with us.  He even laughs at Andy's corny jokes. 

When the weather is cold and wet, we invite Larry in for coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. He is Gatlinburg native, born in the house where the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail exits the park.  He always has answers to our questions about the park and the rules and regulations.

Larry is a seasonal employee.  He and his wife Kristen travel in the winter, often to exotic places, and I love to hear about where they have gone.

Here, Larry is listening intently to something Andy was saying.

And, as usual, had a response.

 Larry is an animal lover and is concerned for their welfare.  This is the day he came to Big Creek and met the abandoned pet raccoon.  The little thing followed Larry back to our host site. I half expected Larry to take the little raccoon home.

We could not ask for a better point-of-contact than Larry unless it was someone who would bring us chocolate-covered Boston cream doughnuts. Larry takes good care of us out there in the forest.

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