“You have the coolest gig!”
A teenage boy yelled this in my direction after I gave him and his friends directions on my morning rove in the Bear Lake corridor area. Roving has quickly become one of my favorite parts of this job. A rove, by definition, is “to travel constantly without a fixed destination; wander.” Yet, it is this wandering that is such an important part of my days here and role as a park interpreter.
Sometimes my job is to wander. That is crazy to type out; actual hours I spend hiking to beautiful destinations is of value to my division and the Park visitors, enough so that I get to do it multiple times a week. When I first began this internship and received my master schedule, I was unsure how fulfilling it would be, especially coming from New York and such a crazy, demanding and over stimulating work environment. Would I really be happy with this much “down-time?”
Roving to me has become more than “down-time” – it’s something I routinely look forward to, excited by the places I’ll go and the people I meet. It felt that almost out of nowhere, my roves have become something uniquely rewarding. Now when I speak to visitors of places in the Park, I know them on my own; not in the abstract, and not through photos. I can tell them that I love Sandbeach Lake because of the trickling waterfall that will convince you it’s a true ocean. I can warn them about the steep climb to Gem Lake or the spot I always catch a glimpse of marmot at Forest Canyon. When I send people to the tundra, the locations of my favorite blooming wildflowers guide me, not the road. In learning this Park, I’m becoming its ambassador, and hopefully, sharing some of my own emotional connections to it with the visitors.
When I walk, I stop and talk. I’m friendlier than I’ll ever be while I hike on my day off (I’m often trying to avoid visitors those days anyway), stopping and chatting, handing out extra park maps. I’ve gotten good at roving, which means I always have trail maps, junior ranger booklets and badges and golf pencils in my pack and a pencil and highlighter in my pocket. It feels extra but providing resources for visitors, informational or tangible, has been the best window into conversation. Suddenly, I’m engaging them in a deep conversation about what this place means to them or how the Park handles wildlife management or conducting an impromptu geology class for kids at the Alluvial Fan (I swear this happened). Or maybe I’m simply clarifying signage. Either way, somehow I know I’ve made an impact even if I don’t quite yet know what that will be.
It was hard for me to realize that regardless of the hours and research I’ve put into my educational and interpretive programming, not every visitor will want to stop by. I can’t reach everyone or be the best interpreter by staying at my scheduled post or my advertised programming – maybe, I’m doing the most I can when I do my “downtime.”
That boy is right – I do have the coolest gig.