She may be in charge at the visitor’s center, but to Jack and Wyatt Downey, Carolyn Gamble is simply “Miss Carolyn.”
Gamble, site manager at the park, welcomed the 3-year-old twins into open arms Wednesday at a party in her honor. Gamble retired Wednesday after serving at the park for 30 years. Along the way, she made fans young and old and met the twins while playing piano for one of their classes at the park.
“There was one class where, after class, there’s craft time, and being little boys, sometimes they’re not always so focused,” said the boys’ mother, Amy Downey of Kingstowne. “And she sat and read books with them for 15 minutes. It was so sweet. You could tell all three of them enjoyed it equally.”
Gamble, 58, moved to Northern Virginia from Connecticut in 1979 to work at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. She later worked as a volunteer with the Audubon Naturalist Society before taking a job with Huntley Meadows as a seasonal assistant naturalist. Over the years, she worked in various positions before taking the lead as site manager, overseeing the visitor’s center, center staff and visitor services.
Gamble can’t pick out the thing she loves most about the park. “The people, number one,” she said. “The wetland itself, which is always changing. It’s a beautiful place. It’s one of the most beautiful spots in Northern Virginia, and probably beyond.”
When Gamble was first hired at the park in 1982, there was no visitor’s center. The first building, half the size of the current visitor’s center, was built in 1983. The center needed exhibits, so Gamble worked with a team to create a whole exhibit room in-house.
After that, they planned for the addition, which contained another exhibit room. The exhibits detail the history of the park, its wildlife, its habitats and the wetlands. “Being a part of all of that was really wonderful,” she said.
Gamble was also on the team that helped restore Historic Huntley, which was built around 1825 as a country home for one of George Mason's grandsons. The house is due to open in the spring.
Nancy Pryor, a teacher of children’s programs at Huntley Meadows, recalled how Gamble often stopped by the classroom to play piano for the children.
“She just knows everything about this park,” Pryor said. “It’s going to be so different without her here. I’m going to miss her so much.”
Gamble will volunteer at the park following her retirement, and she plans to work part-time in holistic healing. It’s the people — volunteers, visitors and staff — that she’ll miss the most.
“This is like family here,” she said.