Nostalgic Toys Making a Comeback Thanks to a Smoky Mountains Park Ranger

Playtime for children used to be more about imagination than technology. Toys were simple and the vast majority of them didn’t take any batteries. Instead, they made children embrace their inner creativity for hours of endless fun. Toys today, while they have their benefits, are more complicated with a lot less staying power like their predecessors of the past.

Seasonal park ranger Mike Meldrum of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park remembers these simpler times and has taken a step to help ensure that at least a few traditions from the past will remain alive and well in the Smokies.

Meldrum is an Interpretive Ranger who leads multiple programs that cover everything from historic toys and games to life in the 19th century. His work is a perfect fit since the Smokies are known for over 90 historic structures including houses, barns, schools, churches and log buildings.

During Meldrum’s off duty time, he constructs historic toys in his workshop and then donates the finished products to the GSMA, which is a nonprofit park partner, and the National Park Service (NPS). All toys that are donated are available for purchase by park visitors. High quality and clever designs make these toys a bargain at just $5. Sales from these products generate around $5,500 in revenue for National Park Service (NPS) projects and programs every year.

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Meldrum’s hobby recently took an award winning turn. During the Association of Partners for Public Lands (APPL) conference in Atlanta, Meldrum’s historic wood toy captured first place in the Innovative category.

Steve Kemp, the Great Smoky Mountains Services and Interpretive Products Director, said that he’s always known that Meldrum’s toys were special and that now he has an award to go with them.

Having been the only award recipient at the Great Smoky Mountains Associations (GSMA) annual APPL conference, Meldrum feels a sense of pride in his designs and is happy that he’s been able to shed light on simple methods of play for children that don’t require electricity or the internet. He hopes it helps to open the door for more imaginative and creative play in the future.

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