Written by Ken Voorhis, Executive Director at Tremont, 1994–2013
Tennessee has lost a conservation legacy and Tremont a good friend.
Those of you who knew Mack Prichard or heard him speak know that he was one of a kind. He passed peaceably last week in Cookeville, Tennessee.
Mack presented many programs at Tremont, inspiring college groups and many others with his wonderful collection of photographs and stories of conservation across our nation. He “plucked our heart strings” as he shared his knowledge and love for nature so effectively and freely.
Mack grew up with people that taught him about and allowed him to explore the great outdoors. When he was sixteen, a ranger at Shelby forest was so impressed by this young man that he offered him a job as a summer naturalist. Over the years he grew up through the ranks with Tennessee state parks and served for fifty years as Tennessee’s state naturalist. I think he may have done more than any other Tennessean to conserve places across the state and to inspire others as he did so.
I interviewed Mack some years back and asked him what we needed today in people like those at Tremont, who are trying to connect people and nature. He offered these wonderful words of wisdom.
“We have an obligation to bring the parks to the people in such a way that leads them to the ooohs and ahs, to the so whats. To the whys. And to provoke them in such a way that their eyes are open, their ears are tuned, their noses are twitchin’, and their senses are on reception for this great big broadcast of nature that is going on if they will only be still and tune in. I think that the most important thing that any interpreter can do is to just reach into the heart strings of people and pluck those strings so that they resonate from then on whenever that person has a similar experience and then they by the same contagion can share that enthusiasm.
“Teach simple tricks of reading the landscape—to figure out what happened here. Give them a bird whistle, or a frog trill, or whatever else you can come up with. Give them some other voice of nature. If you can just teach them a different language and translate or interpret the values that are therein. Show them the other worlds and the other universes. Show them that these are not just little animals, they are travelers on the spaceship Earth with us and if they can learn that planetary perspective, then they can go out and read their own landscapes, and read the handwriting on the wall before their back is against the wall which is a big problem we face today.”
If you never had a chance to meet Mack Prichard or hear him speak it is worth visiting a website assembled by The Friends of South Cumberland State Park. There you find a collection of Mack’s presentations, photographs, and writings.
Mack, we will miss you brother, thanks for your work, inspiration, and the full life you lived.