Dance Ranger

Glen Echo has a long history here in the Washington DC area. According to the official site

Glen Echo Park began in 1891 as a National Chautauqua Assembly, which taught the sciences, arts, languages and literature. By the early 1900s Glen Echo Park had become a premier amusement park, serving the Washington area until 1968. In 1971, after the federal government obtained the land, the National Park Service began managing the park. The National Park Service collaborated with artists and arts organizations to create a rich arts program in the spirit of the original Chautauqua movement. Today the programs and facilities at the Park are managed by a nonprofit organization, the Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture, Inc., while the National Park Service continues its role in managing the grounds and providing historic interpretation.

I have a vague recollection of going to Glen Echo one time as a child, when it was still an amusement park.

In recent years, I have associated Glen Echo, and its historic Spanish Ballroom, with contra dancing. I’m sure there have been many other kinds of dances at the Ballroom.

In today’s Washington Post, there is an article about Stan Fowler, a US Park Ranger that has been instrumental in rehabilitating and maintaining the flooring in the Spanish Ballroom over the past 30 years.

On nights when the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park fills to capacity, Park Ranger Stan Fowler escapes from the live music to the crawl space beneath the maple floor. There he listens to a different musical ensemble.

Above his head, the historic floor he restored gives as toes tap, heels grind and stomp, feet land from jumps and hops. A contra dance, a type of folk dance, flows in perfect lines of synchronized sound. Waltzes gently sweep past. Swing and Cajun steps are accented by sporadic thuds.

“Other than the music and your partner, the floor is the most important part of dancing,” said Fowler, 60. “I know every floorboard in here. . . . A lot of people say the floor is in bad shape. It’s not in bad shape, it has a story.”

The decision by the US Park Service to transfer Stan Fowler has the dance goers up in arms.

Last month, Fowler was unexpectedly reassigned to the Mount Vernon Trail in Virginia, a job he began Wednesday, and Glen Echo Park lost the man who had been the heart and soul of its community dances for more than 30 years. Many dancers worry that their beloved 1930s ballroom will fall into disrepair without Fowler, who has spent his career staving off the aging hall’s closure.

A group of dancers has organized a petition and sent hundreds of letters to National Park Service officials and members of Congress, begging someone to reverse the decision to move Fowler.

“My life has gone topsy-turvy with this,” said Lindsey Dodson, 49, a Friday night dance regular whose father took the trolley from Georgetown to Glen Echo Amusement Park for weekend dances around 1940. “Stan’s very, very much a part of the life of this park. I don’t know what we’ll do without him.”

Fowler has labored to restore and maintain more than just the Spanish Ballrooom

In the early 1990s, Fowler wandered into the park’s dilapidated 1923 bumper car pavilion. The structure was likely to be demolished if it was not renovated, a cost the Park Service pegged at more than half a million dollars. Fowler said he sanded down the end of a pine beam in the pavilion, counted 169 tightly grouped tree rings and decided that the structure had to be saved — if for no other reason than to preserve the historic wood.

The project took seven years, $100,000 in donations and 19,000 hours of volunteers’ time, Fowler said. Volunteers moved the building onto a new foundation, leveled its roof, carved out tunnels for ventilation, built a stage from recycled wood and unscrewed 7,000 screws to remove the metal plates covering the pine floor.

Fowler has petitioned the Park Service to remain at Glen Echo in order to “archive the history of Glen Echo dances and the story of the ballroom floor before he retires in a few years.” So far, his petition has been denied.

Fowler is awarded the ThoughtDocket Seal of Approval for his dedication to Glen Echo, the Spanish Ballroom, and the bumper car pavilion. Here’s to hoping that the US Park Service reconsiders.

Stan Fowler

Stan Fowler

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