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Charles Cranfield worked in Costa Rica in Peace Corps
Charles Cranfield worked in Costa Rica in Peace Corps
Charles Cranfield worked in American Samoa in Peace Corps
Dec 23, 2002
Greensboro News & Record
by Jim Schlosser Staff Writer
Charles Cranfield seems to be adjusting to all that swirls around him - cars and trucks, highways and airplanes to everywhere, urban sprawl and fast-food outlets on every block.
It's a change. For most of Cranfield's adult life, isolation has characterized his venue.
He's a veteran of the Navy, which sent him to Guam and to an obscure area of Maine. He's a former Peace Corps volunteer, which dispatched him to a remote spot in Costa Rica, and he's presently a National Park Service ranger, which four years ago assigned him to America Samoa, "a little rock in the middle of a big ocean," he calls the South Pacific island.
He's now two months into his new assignment as superintendent of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, 226 acres of woodlands in the fastest-growing part of Greensboro. He succeeds Bob Vogel, who left recently to become superintendent of Cape Lookout National Seashore on the coast.
Cranfield was previously superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa, consisting of 8,000 land acres and 2,500 marine and coral acres.
"America Samoa could fit into Greensboro," he says of the seven- island American territory that totals only 70 square miles, located 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii and 800 miles east of Fiji. When he and his wife took breaks from Samoa, they always had to leave on Monday or Friday, the only days flights departed.
In Greensboro, Cranfield recently shivered in the ice and snow. In Samoa, he simmered. December temperatures ranged from 95 to 100, with humidity reaching 60 percent.
"We used to joke about going to Hawaii for cooler temperatures," he says.
Here, he sees McDonald's everywhere and recalls, "America Samoa just got its first McDonald's last year."
After years of globe-trotting, he feels at home. A Southerner, he grew up in Montgomery, Ala., although when it came time for college after the Navy, he pulled another vanishing act.
He chose Humboldt State on the remote northern California coast. He says it's known as the "University of Ranger Factory," because so many wannabe park rangers go there for the school's environmental and natural resources programs. Cranfield decided while in the Navy to become a ranger after watching rangers work in Acadia National Park in Maine.
After Humboldt, he delayed putting on a Smokey the Bear hat. He worked on maps for two years at the National Geographic Society, then decided he wanted to help those less fortunate than himself by joining the Peace Corps.
He served two years in a remote Costa Rican village without electricity, telephone, running water and public transportation. He survived an earthquake that measured 7.4 on the Richter scale. He also met his wife, Virya Castro-Quesada, a Costa Rican who was working as a receptionist in the Peace Corps office there at the time.
In Greensboro, Cranfield supervises a park where American and British troops fought the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781. It is considered a turning point encounter; the British won, but were so crippled they surrendered six months later at Yorktown.
Cranfield says he knew little of the battle when he arrived, and makes no claim to being an historian.
"But I know how to manage a park," he says.
The tall, thin, lightly bearded 47-year-old superintendent plans to push the park improvement plan started by Vogel and the Guilford Battleground Co., a nonprofit group that raises money to supplement the park's federal funding. The plan stresses enlarging the park, which only covers a quarter of the battlefield. It also calls for "cultural landscaping" - returning the park to its 1781 look, as much as possible.
This will require reforesting some areas, such as an open space north of the park's centerpiece monument, the equestrian statue of American Gen. Nathanael Greene. Saplings have been planted there. In other places, cultural landscaping will mean removing sections of woods and making fields again.
It will also call for ripping up and rerouting the section of the park's loop road that follows the roadbed of New Garden Road, a pivotal dirt passage during the battle. New Garden will be made to look like it did in Colonial times.
Another of Cranfield's priorities will be proselytizing the park - getting the word out about its importance to American history. Not that visitors are lacking now. More than 800,000 come annually. But Cranfield was astonished by a figure in a 1994 survey.
"Eighty percent lived within the zip code of the park," he says. "I would like to develop outreach programs to get people we are missing."
Most of those 80 percent from the 27410 zip code come to the park not for history but recreation and relaxation - walking, jogging, reading under a tree. Cranfield has no problem with that. But more people, he says, need to know the battle's contribution to the American Revolution.
He also will wrestle with meager budgets. In 1980, he says, when annual visitation ranged between 200,000 to 300,000, the park's staff numbered 15. Today, visitation has more than doubled, but the staff totals 11.
He's starting to plan for the battle's 225th anniversary celebration in 2004. He also will continue an age-old effort to persuade the city to close busy and dangerous Old Battleground Road through the park. He shook his head the other day as he watched a woman with a baby carriage trying to beat the cars across the road.
"There's no shortage of work for me to do," he says. "But the greatest thing about it, it isn't really work. I'm happy I can come to a job like this. I really enjoy what I do."
He sought the Greensboro job. A brother lives in Charlottesville, another in Nashville. An uncle lives in the North Carolina mountains. His parents aren't that far away in Montgomery. He's headed there for the holidays.
"This will be the first Christmas," says this man long removed from family and friends, "I've spent with my parents in 14 or 15 years."
Contact Jim Schlosser at 373-7081 or email@example.com