GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — There’s no doubt about it: Aaron LaRocca loves history.
It started in childhood.
He grew up in Arlington, Virginia and remembers, as a child, walking through all the museums in nearby Washington, DC. While majoring in American history at George Mason University in nearby Fairfax, Virginia, he started volunteering with the National Park Service.
“At the time, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life,” he told me recently. “I thought I’d probably end up being a teacher.”
But his experience volunteering at the Arlington House, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s home whose grounds were selected as the site of the Arlington National Cemetery, resulted in him becoming a National Park Service Ranger.
The journey over the next 16 years would take him from the Fort McHenry National Historic Site, the Glen Echo Park, the Hampton National Historic Site and—most recently—the chief of staff at the George Washington Memorial Parkway in the D.C area.
“About six to eight months ago, I saw where there was an announcement for the superintendent at the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park (in Greensboro),” he said. “I knew that it aligned with my professional goals and my personal interests, so I applied for it.”
He ended up getting the job. And he arrived in Greensboro in late May but not before doing some prep work familiarizing himself with what happened on March 15, 1781, in what is now northwest Greensboro.
“I understood the significance of the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War, but I really didn’t understand the connection of the battle here at Guilford Courthouse to the surrender of the British at Yorktown,” he told me.
Here, in a nutshell, is the connection he’s talking about:
On that day in March nearly 242 years ago at the current site of the Guilford Courthouse National Military park and surrounding areas, 4,100 Americans led by Greensboro’s namesake, General Nathanael Greene (The statue of Greene riding his horse sits on top of the park’s largest monument,) fought against 2,100 British soldiers led by General Charles Cornwallis.
The Americans lost the battle. But the British ended up with so many casualties, its forces so depleted, General Cornwallis would lose the entire war at Yorktown, Virginia that October.
“Had this battle not happened here (at Guilford Courthouse) in March of 1781, the 4th of July might look very different,” LaRocca told me. “It might not even be a celebration.”
And now, LaRocca’s in charge of the park’s $1.2 million budget, with nearly 10 staff members, three full-time maintenance employees and three full-time interpreters.
But he describes it in broader terms.
“I work to ensure the park is successful and the park staff is successful in maintaining this place for future generations.”
And that work includes addressing several developments that have made news recently.
He’s already overseeing a project that—starting in August—will remove many downed trees that have succumbed to ice storms in recent years.
There’s the “temporary” dog ban on the park’s interior trails. This started before his arrival, but it was the result of park visitors letting their dogs run off leash and not cleaning up after them.
“We’ve issued a few tickets (to visitors who’ve violated the ban),” he said. “But people are generally adhering to the trail closure. So I would say it’s been fairly successful so far.”
He expects the ban to stay in effect for a few more weeks.
During the last year or so, the city’s been linking two nearby attractions (the Greensboro Science Center and the city’s Country Park) to the military park and calling the area the Battleground Parks District. LaRocca calls this a good way of meeting people’s needs and desires.
But he also recognizes and respects his responsibilities are much different. He’s the chief administrator of a place where people fought, died and are buried.
Park regulations call for no picnics, no Frisbee-throwing, and no loud concerts.
“How do I balance the sacredness of this place (with the) green space and recreational use of this space? That’s something we as park rangers have to do across the country all the time,” he told me.
“You can go pedal boating next door (at Country Park.) You can go zip lining next door (also at Country Park), but here we have a different type of recreational opportunity. If you want a quieter park experience, you can come right here. If you want to walk the trails, stop at the tour stops and learn about the battle, you can come here.”
LaRocca is also looking forward to the park’s celebration of the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 2026.
He’ll oversee that. Expect to hear a lot more about it as we get closer.
Until then, he has a message:
“People don’t often understand that when you come into a National Park Service site, it’s a place so significant to us as a nation that Congress said, ‘we’re going to preserve this for future generations.”
Sounds like a history-lover to me.
For more information on the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, visit https://www.nps.gov/guco/index.htm.