Of the current 77 members of the Old Rag Master Naturalist (ORMN) chapter, Jack Price stands out in many ways – not the least of which is that he has earned over 6,500 volunteer hours since becoming a member in 2008. Jack was interviewed from his 10-acre homestead on Hazel Mountain, which abuts his beloved Shenandoah National Park.
How and when did you become interested in nature and the natural world?
During his childhood in Connecticut on the Long Island Sound, Jack and friends would explore the tide pools at low tide, marvel at the storms that came in over the water, explore astronomy in the nighttime sky, and delight in walking through the then-wooded areas to find different birds and other forest wildlife. He thought he would grow up to work in a science field or an area related to nature. But his math and science teachers weren’t all that engaging “which reinforced the significant impact that teachers have on their students.” He ended up getting a BA in history and political science.
After serving four years in the Air Force, with a tour of duty in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, Jack began his lifelong career in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This included working in human resource management at the VA Hospital in North Hampton, Massachusetts and at VA headquarters in Washington DC. He retired as head of HR policy for the VA hospital system.
Jack’s fascination with nature was reignited when he worked in the DC area. He became a member of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and explored much of Shenandoah National Park in his free time. This led to him becoming a member of the first ORMN class in 2007. He was a charter member of the ORMN chapter when it was officially established in 2008 and became its first president. He subsequently served as Chair of the chapter’s education committee and as a member of its board of directors.
The Virginia Master Naturalist program is supervised by the state coordinator and a Steering Committee made up of representatives of the state agencies that sponsor the program. In 2014 the Steering Committee was expanded with the addition of four representatives from local chapters around the state. Jack was one of four master naturalists appointed to serve in this important role and remains on the Steering Committee to this day.
On a project for which you have volunteered, share how the funding was used.
ORMN formed a partnership with the Town of Washington in Rappahannock County in 2012. Washington committed land within the town for ORMN to create a native plant garden, with the promise that the land would not be sold. Numerous ORMN volunteers helped establish the garden. A bridge over wetlands was built, making the garden more accessible. The ORMN chapter donated funds and also helped secure an additional $12,000 from a variety of local and state sources. Jack noted that some of the partnerships that resulted in funding were “tough to build” but ORMN was extremely committed to this project. In 2016 active planning for additional educational programs was in the works when the town sold the land the project was on to a private individual. This experience made Jack sensitive to the fact that “projects can go one way or another” – and Master Naturalists need to be able to adjust to changing circumstances. “It was clear we should have had a written memorandum of understanding with the town when we started.”
Jack continues to be active in many ORMN approved projects, notably our partnership with Shenandoah National Park. He has worked on invasive plant removal in the park, manned the visitor center and bookstore at Byrd Visitors Center, and led educational programs and hikes to wildflower meadows at Dickey Ridge. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Shenandoah National Park Association and was its president from 2010 thru 2013. He participates in Project Feeder Watch and other bird/butterfly counts.
What is the most amazing thing you have experienced in nature?
At first Jack responded by sharing “up close and personal” encounters with timber rattlers on his property, ravens in Grand Canyon, and bugling elk at Yellowstone. But he ended by saying the most amazing thing in nature he has ever seen was on Mount St. Helens. He and his daughter visited the crater created by the volcanic eruption in September of 2019. He was astonished by how nature bounced back from the suffocating ash and burned vegetation that resulted from the eruption. “We saw 4- to 6-foot wide burned and broken tree stumps surrounded by lush vegetation and new trees after one of the most devastating and destructive events in natural history.” It was a humbling reminder of the power of nature for both destruction and resurrection.
Interviewed by Charlene Uhl, Class X, ORMN, August 11, 2020