Biography chronicles a girlhood in the national parks

Child of nature
Jul. 28, 2013 @ 11:51 PM

Chas Hartman’s mom grew up in the National Park Service.

Most people don’t.

“I was always aware that not everyone gets to experience what she experienced,” Hartman said. “So I thought, ‘I want to try to tell that story.’”

The result is “Daughter of a Park Ranger,” Hartman’s biography of his mother, Carolyn Hartman. Her father, George Fry, worked in the park service for most of his career – including a stint in the 1960s as superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A self-published book, “Daughter of a Park Ranger” is available on Amazon.

“The book chronicles her experiences growing up in national parks from the 1940s through the 1960s,” said Chas, 33, a faculty lecturer at the University of Kentucky. “Every few years she had to move to a new place, and they tended to be different kinds of places. Going from Mammoth Cave to the Everglades was a pretty drastic change.”

One of four children, Carolyn was born in 1943, when Fry was working at Rocky Mountain National Park. After jobs in Texas and Kentucky, Fry arrived at the Everglades, where he was assistant superintendent. “That was where they managed to stay the longest of any stop during his 40 years in the park service, from 1951 to 1959,” Chas said.

For two years Fry was superintendent of Isle Royale National Park, on Lake Superior. In 1961, he began working at a regional park service office in Nebraska.

“He basically informed my mom that she would be going to the University of Nebraska,” Chas said. “A year later, my father proposed to her, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

As she came of age in national parks, Carolyn learned to embrace the outdoors, and to love animals. “Families that grow up in the National Park Service, they never know what they’ll find – they never know if they’ll see an alligator in the front yard, or a wolf, or a moose,” Chas said.

Carolyn learned firsthand about topics others encounter only in books or on the Internet, Chas said. “We’ve all read about Mount Rushmore or the Everglades,” he observed, “but living in the National Park Service gives you a perspective not everyone has.”

Fry came to the Smokies park in 1963, and he worked there until 1969. “It was his dream job,” Chas said. “He said the goal of a lot of people in the National Park Service was to get to Yellowstone or Yosemite, but he always had a fondness for the Smokies.” The mountains reminded Fry of his childhood home in Pennsylvania, Chas noted.

The 1960s were an era of change in the national park. “During his time in the Smokies is when they built the Gatlinburg bypass,” Chas said. “He had to bring all kinds of new rules regarding how people interacted with bears. In the ‘60s, that became a problem there.”

As superintendent, Fry helped manage the park service’s relations with the surrounding communities. “When he first got to Gatlinburg, his first week as superintendent there, he was introduced to some of the families – the Ogles, the Maples,” Chas said. “He was told that it would be beneficial to get to know these people, and he took that to heart. Almost on a weekly basis, he would get together with some of the well-known individuals in the area.”

There is a political component to being superintendent, Chas noted. “It becomes less about being a park ranger and more about being a figurehead.”

Fry left the park service in the 1970s, and he and his wife, Helen, retired to Gatlinburg. He died in 2000. Carolyn taught for 30 years and lives in Lexington, Ky., with her husband, Don. Her sister is Georgiana Vines, the Knoxville News Sentinel columnist.

Chas earned his Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky in 2011. Working on a dissertation helped him decide to write a book about his mom.

“I learned,” he said, “that if you’re going to spend a year and a half or longer writing, you’ve got to be writing about something you’re interested in.”

kburns@themountainpress.com