Q&A With National Park Partner Andrew Mizsak

Alanna SobelNPF Blog

Presidents Day, which we will celebrate on Monday, has evolved into a holiday honoring all U.S. presidents past and present.

We reflect on their lives, their contributions, their struggles, and their legacies. Across the National Park System, there are endless ways to engage with their stories year-round.

In fact, we recently chatted with Friends of James A. Garfield National Historic Site executive director Andrew Mizsak, who also serves as a National Park Service volunteer at the park paying tribute to the 20th President of the United States. He told us about sharing President Garfield’s story, his favorite national park memories, and more.

Why did you choose to work at your organization?
It is a natural fit for me, as I am also a volunteer at James A. Garfield National Historic Site.  I wanted to be a part of a group of people who care as much about this park as I do. These are great people who are interested in sharing the Garfield story with the world.  I love the close-knit feeling there is, as we all share the mission to honor the Garfield legacy and serve this park. 

Friends of James A. Garfield National Historic Site Executive Director Andrew Mizsak standing on front porch

What was your first national park experience?
My first national park experience was as a boy. The neighborhood I grew up in (and still live in) is surrounded on three sides by the northern boundary of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. As a child, my favorite cousin - my cousin Mike - and I would play in the woods, ride our bikes, and spend time enjoying the nature in the part of the park that was anywhere from 50 to 200 yards away from our front doors.  We still know all of the dirt paths, deer trails, and bridle trails that lead to the valley from our neighborhood.

Wooded trail at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

What is your favorite national park memory?
Standing in the Assembly Room in Independence Hall at Independence National Historical Park for the first time stands out to me. I have taught the Declaration of Independence and Constitution numerous times, but nothing compares to being in the place where some of the smartest people to walk the earth gathered, pondered, debated, and signed two of the most important documents in our nation's history.  To be in the same room where Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and others once spent time was inspiring, and to know what they did in those hot summers to create a government is awesome.

How can people get involved with your organization?
At least one weekend each month, we set up an information table at James A. Garfield National Historic Site and you can talk with members and trustees about the organization. You can also join us for our next general meeting on March 19.There is a lot going on, so there will be a lot of good information shared that evening. We also invite you to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at @JAGNHSFriends.

Front exterior of the James A. Garfield National Historic Site

What tips do you have for planning a trip to national parks?
Dress for the elements. I normally dress in layers. Wear sturdy footwear (with lots of ankle support).  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate - even if you are at a smaller park.  It doesn't matter if you are at a historical park or natural park, there is going to be plenty of physical activity, so stay hydrated.  Pack the essentials:  sunscreen, insect repellant, sunglasses, headwear, an epi pen (if you are allergic to bees), and a granola bar or two.  Don't forget your national park passport, a camera, and maybe even a notepad to jot down some notes. Take your time, enjoy the park.

Is there anything else about national parks you’d like to tell us?
I have found something special that sticks out in my mind about every park I have visited. Walking the encampment field of Valley Forge, for example, knowing that Washington walked amongst his men there, was overwhelming. Taking in the natural beauty of Rocky Mountain in the fall was one of the most glorious sights I have ever seen. The solemnity of Flight 93 National Memorial is a very poignant reminder of the tragedy of September 11, but also of the resilience of this nation. We are so fortunate to have such a great system of national parks that have something for everyone. I love traveling because I will build in extra time so I can visit parks wherever I am. I visit some parks for inspiration, while I visit others to take in their beauty as a way to decompress. There is nothing better than walking a path through a wooded area or viewing a key artifact to give you perspective.  

Field of Valley Forge with cannons

Andrew Mizsak is the executive director of the Friends of James A. Garfield National Historic Site and a National Park Service volunteer at the park. He has visited over 120 national parks. Andrew received a BA in Political Science from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and a Master of Applied Politics Degree from the University of Akron. He is currently pursuing a Master of Applied History and Government at Ashland University and is a licensed high school social studies teacher in Ohio. He is married to Dana Best-Mizsak, director of the Bedford, Ohio, Historical Society.

Photos by: Andrew Mizsak, National Park Service/Bill Zimmer, Maribeth Joeright/News-Herald, Bigstock

Last updated February 11, 2015.

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