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Stan Fowler
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Stan Fowler
Stan Fowler
National Park Service Ranger
Glen Echo Park

Listen to Stan's Story


National Park Service Ranger Stan Fowler will tell you that the N.P.S. maintains the nation's parks, rivers, highways, monuments, statues, and just one old amusement park - Glen Echo Park on MacArthur Boulevard, a couple miles outside DC on the Potomac Palisades.

When Fowler began working for N.P.S. as a part-time summer ranger in 1978, one of his first assignments was to run sound for the Chautauqua Concert Series Sunday afternoons in that old open-air pavilion. Since then he's overseen folk festivals, craft shows, family picnics and summer camps there, and developed a strong attachment to it.

He'll also tell you with a smile that all parks have volunteer programs, but his is bigger than most. And since "the public expects a park ranger to know everything about his park, and my park happens to be full of old buildings, cultural arts and folk music and dance… over the last 20 years I've learned a lot about old buildings, folk music, dance and cultural arts."Bumper Car Pavillon

One of those old buildings housed Glen Echo's Bumper Car ride from 1923 (when it was just the second Scooter or Dodge 'em in the country) to the park's closing in 1968.

Fowler hated to see "this old buildin'" fenced off in 1993 as a safety hazard; a study concluded it needed complete rebuilding at a cost of about half a million dollars. But it was never deemed high enough a priority to merit that. The carousel, the Spanish Ballroom and the stone tower weighed in as more "unique." After all, more than 383 N.P.S. sites across the nation share diminishing resources.

"What made me decide the building was worth saving was that I sanded some wood on the end of one of the trusses on the columns and I counted 169 rings in seven-and-a-half inches of tree, which ... had to be 200 years old …. my hero This building deserves to be saved just for the old long-leaf yellow pine" in it.

Fowler took the pavilion's plans to the University of Maryland Structural Engineering Department (where he was doing grad work), hoping a student might use the super-computer on it. Instead, an intrigued professor delivered a report that spelled out how to save the outdoor pavilion; that dense old wood was strong enough.

From there it was a matter of finding resources. The pavilion needed intense work just to stabilize the deterioration.

One weekend he was talking to a dancer, Dick Fitzgerald, who indicated he had some technical expertise. It turned out he worked at Miller and Long, which the ranger recognized for its "baby blue scaffolding all over town." Glen Echo couldn't afford that scaffolding, so he told Fitzgerald, "Come out here. I want to show you my building." The visiting dancer went to his employer, and Mr. Miller's pleasant memories of Glen Echo Amusement Park resulted in "all the scaffolding I needed for as long as I wanted," which stabilized the building and allowed work to start on the wood.Cleaning Floors

The historic queen's rod trusses were solid but the base of each column had deteriorated from water, "termites, fungus, carpenter ants - I could do a whole nature show on the types of flora and fauna I found in the building." Trees had taken root under the metal-clad floor.

But the word was getting out among the couple hundred thousand who visit the park each year, especially in the dance community. Fowler not only monitors dance events as a Ranger, but he's also frequently on the dance floor; he's part of that community.

Folkdancers and swingdancers come early to work on the building. In that community there's a variety of talent - engineering, carpentry, heavy lifting, ditch digging, peeling roof shingles, pulling wires, from toting to serving lunch. Never used a tool? They'll teach you to solder, to weld, things you'll use later at home.

And from the neighborhood, curious residents got involved - Fowler calls Peter Somerville and Neil Zimmerman his right-hand men, tackling any project he assigns. He got a small grant to help restore the sloped roof from volunteers led by Maine native Steve O'Donnell, who compared it to working on a boat hull. Time had warped the pavilion; to square the building over the new foundation and to level the new roof, the volunteers worked inch by inch, with screwjacks, rollers, and aircraft carrier turnbuckles.

Students work for school credit, AmeriCorps groups come on weekends, Fresh Fields staff volunteered and donated coffee proceeds. The Folklore Society of Greater Washington, the Washington Swing Dance Committee, the Friday Dancers - and hundreds more - donate regularly; the Glen Echo Foundation and Park Service donation accounts provide materials - so far 40 to 45 thousand dollars. All of this has been done in keeping with government rules and paperwork.

The "micro-projects" have been adding up, and the volunteers persevere - their sights set on completing a band shell before next cold weather (musicians need to be warm; dancers warm themselves). That will be relevant come September when the usual dance hall - the Spanish Ballroom - starts serious renovation, and the dancers will dance in the open Bumper Car Pavilion. They'll know their 5 years of hard work made it possible to be there. Stan Fowler will be among the dancers. He didn't intend to become a project manager, but when he talks about "his" building, it's easy to be drawn in. "I love the park, I love being a front-line ranger, dealing with the public, I love seeing the public have a good time, enjoy the resource and be safe." He takes pride in safety, with a record of one minor mishap (just three stitches) over the years. "And this is a construction site!"

He always consults with his volunteers, frequently uses their suggestions, and enjoys the ways their various talents end up working together. He compares that to making "stone soup," alluding to a folk tale of the hungry man who had no food, but began boiling water for stone soup; that's what he told those who asked him what it was - but it would be "so much better" if they had just one thing to throw in (a meat bone, a potato…); and with everyone adding just one thing, the man's "stone soup" was tasty and nourishing. "I have to find what it is that motivates them, why they're here, what they want to get out of it, and go around and make sure they're having a good time."


As the National Park Service goes through the periodic review of Glen Echo, they can see its significance to the local community. People go there to socialize, as well as to hear music and to dance - continuing a tradition on that site since 1891.




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