28 Jun Impressive view, Impressive People
Today marked my first four hour shift of “informal interpretation” at the Snake River Overlook. The Snake River Overlook is a popular turnout that provides a breathtaking view of the Teton range, glacial lakes, and ongoing Snake River. It brings to the forefront the uniqueness of these young mountains and the fascinating geological process of a stretching plate, instead of the typical compression, that resulted in a foothill-less range. Even with no background in geology, anyone can notice this unusual birth of dramatic, jagged peaks in the middle of an otherwise barren valley. It beckons for onlookers, admirers, and wanderers and placing myself right in the middle of it all put me in the spotlight. I was advised to bring with me some conversation starters: a black bear skin, grizzly skin, and telescope. When I arrived, two tour buses and several car loads of visitors crowded the overlook. I set up my skins and immediately I was rushed with visitors “oohing and ahhing” over the pelts. Children petted and squealed over the novelty of it all and then the flood began: “where do they live? What do they eat? What mountain is that? Where can I find moose? How old are those mountains?…”–the quiz was endless. While the questions were common, the visitors were not. One of the greatest beauties of working in such a famous park is the reach of its call. People from all over the world take the whim to pull out and gaze for a while and sometimes will have the opportunity to find out more about their observations if a ranger is present. It’s an encounter the park hopes will happen. The diversity of our staff and of our visitors only enriches the park experience and I have seen that first hand. From China to California, enthusiasm and grace speaks to us all. And, as I met more and more visitors who unfortunately didn’t have the time to stop and hike the Tetons, it drove me to present to them as much as I could about our park and the delicate nature of all wild places in the little time they had. They shared stories of the animals and threats of their homes, and how other states and countries try and regulate these issues. It’s a constant exchange of information, ideas, and shared respect. It’s the mission of our parks and foundation for future generations. It’s obvious the personal pride I take in my job, but what pulled my attention beyond myself was one particular mother who approached me after I spoke with her curious children about bear safety. She expressed how shocked she was of the quality of our programs and guided hikes and how they were offered free of charge. It made her wonder why she spent so many summers taking her family to expensive hotels and restaurants only to have learned nothing and gained no real quality time. Needless to say, she plans on continuing this exploration for many summers to come. That to me speaks volumes to the power of preserving nature–not only for the animals or plants, but for culture and pure enjoyment, which is often thought of last when discussing preservation. While this mother spoke and her children combed the skins, I couldn’t help but see the intentions of the Organic Act of 1916 come to life which states the mission of National Parks to “ conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations”. It made my job and the hundreds like it around the park make sense. These informal interpretation sessions, while intimidating, are sometimes all visitors get to experience of what the park offers. And, hopefully, it will call them back time and time again. While this world may be growing smaller and smaller, it’s through these positive chance encounters between visitors, rangers, and all it has to offer that will continue to call to millions from all over the world and unite us all in our undeniable respect for the vastness of our natural world.