Friday, April 8, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Ranger

Visitors often ask me about my work experiences as a park ranger, what other parks I have worked at, or how I became a park ranger when they visit the monument or when I visit a classroom. I have had quite an exciting career as a park ranger so far, having worked at five other National Park Service sites besides Homestead, doing things like narrating day-long boat tours to tidewater glaciers at Kenai Fjords National Park, leading canoe trips in the mangroves of Everglades National Park, and presenting campfire programs about the recovery of the peregrine falcon at Shenandoah National Park.

by Allison La Duke

There’s something unique and special, though, about my job at Homestead National Monument of America. For one, I get to wear many different “hats”, not just a park ranger hat, but also a Artist-in-Residence program coordinator hat, a Webmaster hat, a special events planner hat, a living history bonnet , and others. Secondly, in the two years I have worked at Homestead, I have had the great opportunity to recognize and get to know our regular visitors and dedicated volunteers. By working at one National Park Service site for more than a season, I have become part of the community and learned the faces and names of the people who know this land very well.

Most importantly, there’s something so rewarding about having a good conversation with a visitor who is genuinely interested in the impact the Homestead Act had on our country and the world. Yesterday I had such a conversation with a visitor. When he first arrived, he joked with me about how to get the donation box open so he could take the money home with him. But then he asked me a more serious question about the significance of this place, why are we here. Our conversation was one that went beyond the typical questions of “where’s the bathroom?” and “what should we do here?” Instead, we talked about Abraham Lincoln and his legacy; we talked about the beauty of the prairie; we talked about how the Homestead Act changed people’s lives in big ways. For some people this was a fresh start for a new life, but for the American Indians, it was a devastating, and many people don’t even realize that it occurred. I could tell he was engaged and interested in our conversation because he stopped to think while we were talking and would say, wow, I hadn’t thought about it that way before.

At the end of his visit, he thanked me for what we do here, for our conversation and for the insight I provided. I also thanked him, because those conversations aren’t very common. This type of conversation is what reminds me of why I wanted to become a park ranger. Thank you yesterday’s visitor from Colorado. You made my day.

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