Antietam superintendent hoping for sunny Salute

July 01, 2008|By JANET HEIM

SHARPSBURG - This will be John Howard's 14th Salute to Independence as superintendent of Antietam National Battlefield.

He knows the plan for the event - from parking to the Maryland Symphony Orchestra concert to the fireworks - is in good order. The thing that worries him the most is out of his control - the weather.

Howard, 54, said he and Antietam's chief ranger start checking the weather forecast three times a day the week of the event. He said he's seen conflicting reports for Saturday and is hoping the forecast for sunny skies, with temperatures in the 70s, is what Mother Nature delivers.

"The idea behind the Salute is a way to kind of say 'Thank you' to the folks who live in Hagerstown and Washington County. They can enjoy great music, celebrate Fourth of July in a family atmosphere," Howard said. "It's just a lot of fun."


Howard admits it's a lot of work and says his 42 full-time employees, as well as 50 seasonal staff, 50 volunteers and 25 rangers from other national parks, will be on hand to help. He said he breathes a sigh of relief when the American flag is raised before the concert, a sign that another Salute to Independence is under way.

He said the approximately 30,000 visitors for the Salute show respect for the park and each other, with only one arrest in the event's 23 years.

Howard said he doesn't work as hard as his staff and volunteers, but admits to the need to sleep in the next day.

Howard's route to Antietam was a little different than many superintendents of national historical parks. This year he'll celebrate 34 years working for the National Park Service, having started while he was a college student.

Howard, who grew up near Scranton, Pa., studied biology and special education at The Pennsylvania State University. He took a summer job guiding canoe trips at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

Howard has worked at nine of the 400 national parks across the U.S., mainly in natural/recreation areas, in natural resource management and law enforcement.

Howard said his goal was to become a chief ranger, not a superintendent, but he was turned down for a job as a ranger at Antietam in the 1980s. He later applied for and got the superintendent's position.

With a new management plan to implement, Howard said the park service was looking for someone to manage the battlefield, and said it helped that he didn't have a preconceived idea of what the battlefield should be.

"They needed someone who was willing to put their reputation on the line. I'm willing to do that," Howard said. "That's why I was hired."

He said he's proudest of the level of service his staff members provide, not only to visitors to the park, but also as caretakers of the battlefield for the people of the United States.

"It's a great honor to be entrusted with that," Howard said.

Howard lives in Emmitsburg, Md., with his wife, Joan, who works at Gettysburg (Pa.) National Battlefield in the personnel/human resources department. They will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in November.

They have one son, Brian, who is in his final year at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, where he is studying mechanical engineering.

The 23rd Annual Salute to Independence will take place at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg on Saturday. The MSO concert begins at 7:30 p.m. and fireworks are expected to start about 9:45 p.m.

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