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My Park Story

National parks tell the stories of America. My Park Story, a “parkcast” hosted by the National Park Service, tells the stories of individuals who share their unique connections to the parks and the National Park Service in their communities. Listen as we explore personal stories of enjoyment, education, and inspiration in these special places and spaces.


Geoff LeBaron, National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count Director


MPS Episode 10: Geoff LeBaron

[intro music] Dave: Welcome to My Park Story, presented by the National Park Service. People form connections with their favorite national parks and programs, and this park-cast is a place to come together and share those stories. I’m your host, Dave Barak. Today's guest is Geoff LeBaron, the National Audubon Society's director of the Christmas Bird Count..

[intro music fades out]  Dave: With me today is Geoff LeBaron. He is the National Audubon Society's director of the Christmas Bird Count. Hi, Geoff, how are you?

Geoff: Great. Dave, thanks very much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Dave: We are glad that you are and we're really excited to talk about a program that you oversee, every year at the end of the year. Tell us more about that.

Geoff: Well, the the Christmas Bird Count is an early winter bird census that happens during the holiday period, where what people are doing, he reason it's a census is because we're actually counting every bird- not just the species list- but the number of birds that we're seeing as well. And it's a great way of getting involved with conservation issues, but it's also just a wonderful day of birding that you can do practically anywhere.

Dave: That is very cool. I know it's a very popular, I know it's a very popular program, it's a very popular tradition for some people to take part in. If people don't know what the Christmas Bird Count is, how would they get involved?

Geoff: Actually the best way to get involved, if you if you have a computer, is to go to christmasbirdcount (all one, all together) and that is the CBC website. And in there there's a link that says ‘join the CBC’ and in ‘join the CBC’ there’s a a map of the active circles, and people can click on that map and get their contact information for their local compilers. People should organize or contact the compilers ahead of time because we do try to keep track of of the number of people and the effort that's expended so that it's important to register in advance, basically, for the count.

Dave: I think that's really interesting because when I think of the National Audubon Society, it's a a big national organization, a lot of people have heard a bit heard of it- but this bird count really is localized, isn't it? You have these local compilers that aid the individual census takers to compile all this critical information for you, isn't that right?

Geoff: That's absolutely right, Dave. And it's really interesting because it's a very local activity that people can do, and they become very interested and attached to their local area and the birds in it, and also the people that they're counting with. But because the Christmas Bird Count is literally done across the hemisphere, there are circles set up in the United States, Canada and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. What we're able to do is, each one of those local efforts actually builds a picture of what's happening on a hemispheric basis. So we can sort of see what's going on with the birds in North America and Central America and the Caribbean and South America as well, at the same time of year over time, and it's really exciting.

Dave: So this isn't just a national effort, this is an international effort, isn't it?

Geoff: It is, it really is. There were over 2600 different counts done last year with about almost 80,000 observers involved. So it's a big effort that builds upon everybody's individual efforts, which is why one of the reasons it's so fun

Dave: What are the dates of this year's bird count?

Geoff: Every year the Christmas Bird Count period is run- each count is done on one day- and the counts need to be done between the inclusive dates of December 14th and January 5th each season.

Dave: How long has the Christmas Bird Count been in existence?

Geoff: The Christmas Bird Count was actually started on Christmas Day of 1900, and that's why it's called the Christmas Bird Count is because that's when it was begun as alternative action to what was what was going on at the time, which was over hunting. So Frank Chapman, who was an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History at the time, proposed to do a Christmas Bird Count, or census, rather than a Christmas bird hunt. And some of those areas that were started in 1900 have been covered every year since then. So this will be the 124th year of the Christmas Bird Count.

Dave: And I imagine that the canvassers go and do this every year. This is a tradition for them, I mean for many of the people that participate.

Geoff: It really is. I mean, that's a fun thing just to go out and do and bird, it's a wonderful day of birding in the that season. But more often than not, people who start doing it become really tied and it becomes a real holiday tradition for them. And I, myself, travel every year to the counts that I've sort of started doing back in the 1970s. And it's a great way to see areas that you love and birds that you love and also the people that you get to know and your friends that are birding, that maybe be the only time of year that you see them. So the the traditional tradition aspect and the social aspect is equally important to the the data that we're generating which are very important to our understanding of what's happening to the birds across the hemisphere.

Dave: That feeling, that gathering aspect, that tradition aspect, that's such a important part of the holiday season where you said maybe these are friends of yours who you only see once a year. I think for so many people that the holidays are about coming together, and this time of year just feels like the right time to see all those people you really enjoy and to go out in nature and do something that you all like to do together.

Geoff: It really is. And it's not only going out in nature. You can participate right from your yard and count the birds at your feeders again, as long as you organize, you know, volunteer with the compiler first so that they know not to have somebody else counting your feeders. So it really, I mean it's anywhere from local, to there are people that can travel all over the country sometimes to do it, if they're, you know, visiting somewhere else.

Dave: Where are some of the places you visited to participate in the Christmas Bird Count?

Geoff: The traditional counts that I started doing when I was in graduate school are in Rhode Island. Let's see, I've done counts in Pennsylvania and I've done counts in Maryland. But like I said, they're done in every state, every province and throughout Latin America, the Caribbean. And we also do include counts in the islands in the South Pacific.

Dave: That's incredible. I will volunteer, I will go to the South Pacific for you and I will count birds. That's what I'm gonna to do. New holiday tradition for Dave.

Geoff: [laughs)

Dave: Thinking of all of the locales where these these bird counts take place across the hemisphere, many of them do exist within national parks and that's part of the reason we wanted to talk to you today, is to let people know that there are counts that occur in national parks, and you should check the websites because this is a large part of winter activities at at national parks, specifically those that are, you know, maybe you think of a park like Bryce Canyon as being only, you know, you only want to visit in the summertime where it's nice and warm, but people go there and there's just this incredible count that happens there every year. Several counts, I imagine, happen at Bryce and other national parks.

Geoff: There are counts done within national parks or, I mean, many of the counts, many of the smaller national parks, especially the urban ones, are within urban Christmas Bird Counts, so that a lot of properties in the National Park Service system are included within Christmas Bird Counts. And it really is, it's a wonderful sort of collaboration between the Park Service and and everybody else.

Dave: And I'm so glad you bring that up because the bird counts don't just exist in giant western parks but also in urban parks. Here in Washington, DC we have Rock Creek Park. There are parks in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, San Francisco, you name it, and for people that think, oh, well, I've got to go, I've got to travel, I've got to get out of my city to do this.

Geoff: Birds are everywhere. Any human anywhere on the surface of this planet could go outside on a given day and see a bird. And I mean, they're out in the middle of the ocean, they're all terrestrial habitats and they're incredibly engaging creatures that we just love all so much stuff that they do, and getting involved with the Christmas Count in national parks and you know, it's just it's a wonderful way of engaging with nature and also becoming conservation aware.

Dave: What I think I like about the concept of of a bird count or a bird census is, despite the fact that you are compiling this enormous amount of data, it's at its core sort of an analogue activity. You're not sitting in front of a computer when you're doing it. You are not on your phone when you're doing it. It is this activity where you can, by definition, be outside amongst nature and just exist. And I find that so beautiful in the world we live in, and the the hustle bustle of the holiday season, to just sit out and listen and watch and you don't even, you don't really need too much equipment, even.

Geoff: You you really don't need any equipment and honestly, I mean, to do to become involved in the Christmas Bird Count or birding, you don't really, you don't need to be an expert birder. All you need to have is the desire to get out and be outside or maybe not even outside, just experiencing whatever the the wildlife is in where you are. You don't have to have perfect vision, you don't have to own binoculars. You don't have to be able to hear and know all the birds that you're hearing. It's just, it's a way of getting out and experiencing birds, like you say, as sort of as a gateway to appreciating nature and the location where nature is, wherever that can, you know it can be urban or not. I mean, one of the most fabulous birding spots in the world is Central Park in the middle of New York City, Rock Creek Park, also, in DC. So it really is a it's a wonderful activity that just enables people to appreciate not only to birds but to nature in general. And it's, I mean, there are sort of more and more analyses of of human behavior and human understanding that nature really, we really need nature, we need to experience nature to help our our to help our nature.

Dave: That's a good way of putting it. What is the most amazing bird you've ever seen or or what is the most amazing birding experience you've ever had?

Geoff: Well, when people ask me what's my favorite bird, I usually say it's the one I'm looking at right now.

Dave: [laughs] Very diplomatic. Geoff: Yeah. Well, it's true though. I mean, you know, people, often times people think of of the rarest or the most beautiful or the biggest or the smallest or whatever bird that they've ever seen. And they tend to ignore the robins and the pigeons and the red tailed hawks and the things that are right around them all the time. But just watching a robin or watching a pigeon in the city, they're beautiful. I mean, people might not want to hear that but, you know, they're really pretty creatures and they do a lot of fascinating stuff and it's, you know, some people have the tendency to just, ‘there's the bird now I want to go to the next one and see the next one and the next one,’ but by really studying you them, you become more engaged with them and connected to them and connected to the nature that they represent. And it's really it's it's just a wonderful experience.

Dave: That's really fascinating, and you're right. I always think when I see a pigeon, I think that pigeons are beautiful. They have this beautiful gray coloration, and those shiny features on their necks and heads, and I think that is quite beautiful. And it's it's right here on a city street, I don't have to go to an exotic location, I don't have to leave my neighborhood to see these interesting, beautiful birds that are right here in Washington, DC, Say what you will about pigeons, I guess.

Geoff: Right.

[both laugh]

Dave: Oh, now, this is a question I typically ask at the top of an interview. But as we find ourselves winding down, I know you have some connections to the national parks. And Geoff, I'd like to ask you, what's your park story?

Groff: My most recent and particularly memorable park story is from Rocky Mountain National Park outside Estes Park. I went up there a few years ago, right in the early, while it was late-fall, it was in early November, and the upper parts of the park road were closed already because of the snowpack. But you know, you could still visit the lower 2/3 of it and the wonderful visitor center there. And there were birds everywhere. There were, well, not just birds. There was, you know, wildlife, you know, the mule deer and the elk. And we didn't see any big, bighorns that on that trip, but I've seen them there before. But there were Cassin's finches and just huge numbers of pygmy nuthatches, which are the most incredibly cute little birds. And you don't see one pygmy nut hatch, you see 30 at a time. But what was most notable was there's a bird called a red crossbill, which has, yes, crossed bills, and they’re very, they're, it's called an eruptive species in that they've, they move around where the where the food crops are, and especially the the pine cone seeds. And there were red crossbills everywhere in the park. If you drove slowly with the windows down, you were constantly hearing red crossbills and it was just an amazing experience, in the beauty of the park also, which it's just, it's a super place and a number of the national parks that I've been to are just places that I love. I will say, two winters ago I actually, I got to do a yellow, one of the winter Yellowstone trips, and I don't know if you've experienced Yellowstone in the winter yet...

Dave: No.

Geoff: It is amazing. It's not, there there aren't very many, we actually had Old Faithful almost to ourselves when it erupted, and you're in the snow coaches in the middle of the park and the, you know, the birds and wildlife are just incredible there and the sceneries there and the all the the volcanic activity and it's especially spectacular in the winter because everything is steaming even more. So it was really, it's a wonderful place.

Dave: That's, you paint a very lovely picture, Geoff, with your words. Thank you. I want to say, that as we head into the end of the year and we're all gathering and enjoying our holiday traditions and taking stock of the year gone by and thinking about the year ahead, that this, this special Christmas Bird Count, is a really thoughtful way to say ‘this is how I spend time with loved ones, this is how I reconnect with nature, this is how I look back and look ahead.’ And I think that's what I find the most beautiful thing about this Christmas Bird Count. Geoff, I'm so grateful for your time. It has been a pleasure to learn more about you and the Christmas Bird Count and the Audubon Society. Thank you so much for your time.

Geoff: You're entirely welcome. It has been a joy to talk with you and I encourage people to get out, see their parks, do the Christmas Bird Count, just get out and love the birds where you are and let them love you back.

Dave: This has been so special. Thanks again, Geoff, take care.

The annual Christmas Bird Count is a holiday tradition for many. Geoff LeBaron, of the National Audubon Society, discusses its enduring appeal as well as how people can get involved in their communities.

Frances Jelks-Brown whose father, Osibee Jelks, was an umpire with the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball


MPS Episode 9: Frances Jelks-Brown

[intro music] Dave: Welcome to My Park Story, presented by the National Park Service. People form connections with their favorite national parks and programs, and this park-cast is a place to come together and share those stories. I’m your host, Dave Barak. Today's guest, Frances Jelks-Brown discusses Hinchliffe Stadium, one of the last standing Negro League Baseball stadiums in the country, where her father umpired.

[intro music fades out]  Dave (voiceover): What did the National Park Service and the National Pastime have in common you ask? Hinchliffe Stadium, located within Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, is one of the last remaining stadiums used by the Negro Leagues. Completed in 1932, the stadium served as a Home Park to several teams in the league. Larry Doby, the first African American player in the American League, played there as well as other Hall of Farmers. After serving as a field for high school baseball, Hinchliffe Stadium closed in 1996. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 and became a National Historic Landmark in 2013. These designations helped secure a historic tax credit as well as grants through the National Park Service totaling $1 million in funding. It officially reopened in 2023 and is currently the home of the New Jersey Jackals, a member of the Major League Baseball Partner League.

Dave: My guest today is Frances Jelks Brown, who has a family connection to Hinchliffe Stadium. Frances, hi. How are you?

Frances: Hi. Thank you for having me.

Dave: We're delighted to talk to you and to learn more about your family history and story and connection to this really special place. It's unique amongst features of national parks and we're eager to hear what your connection is.

Frances: My connection to Hinchliffe Stadium is just that. It's very unique. My father's name was Osibee Julian Jelks. My dad was a baseball umpire before I was born and, unfortunately, he is he's now deceased, and our connection to Hinchliffe is is that he was a Negro League umpire and and had many games there at Hinchliffe Stadium there in Paterson NJ. And then fast forward to present day my son, who is 15 years old, is a baseball player and so that is my special unique story which with Hinchliffe Stadium

Dave: He was an umpire with the Negro Leagues and he actually worked at Hinchliffe Stadium.

Frances: Yes he he did some some games there at Hinchliffe Stadium. He, my dad, was from Louisiana.

Dave: And being from Louisiana, do you know how he ended up in the northeast, in New Jersey?

Frances: So you may be on-seasson, like baseball now is on-season, in, the you know summer, the mid-spring to early-fall. While on off-season he would travel around, and so how he got to the northeast was, he was traveling and he met my mom. My mom, who also happens to be from Louisiana, he met in Elmira, NY when he was coming up there, and they met and they ended up getting married two years later. And he still continued in baseball traveling around the country and traveling outside the country to the DR, to Puerto Rico, to Hawaii, to so many different places. And, but that's how he met my mom in the northeast, and they decided to settle in the, northeast because that's where my mom was working primarily because she had also come from Louisiana.

Dave: So the fact that Hinchliffe stadium, which is only one part of your father's storied career, the fact that it has now been reopened, they're playing there again, which is just remarkable and it's been closed for for years, and with a few grants from the National Park Service and other entities, has reopened. What does that mean to you knowing this space is now again being used the way that it was when your father was working there?

Frances: You know, as you said, it's now a landmark. And you know, we we look at, we look back at history and we say, you know what preserves something to be a landmark. And when you think about Hinchliffe Stadium, you think about this was a place where people traditionally of color, whether African American or Latin X, went to be able to play a game where they weren't able to play with other people. You know, when my dad was an umpire, you know, the players will walk through the front door while he would have to walk through the back, and he couldn't stay at some of the hotels where they stayed at. He would have to stay in colored only hotels, especially, you know, those areas really deep in the South. And so Hinchliffe Stadium was a landmark for those who traditionally weren't able to be in in the sport, and to know that they were able to rectify this wonderful landmark and to preserve that piece of history for generations to come. You know, it means a lot just walking in the stadium for my family and I. You know, it sent chills up our, for me personally, it sent chills up my spine because here it was a stadium where my, you know, dad and his and other people could play freely, but they weren't free necessarily outside of the stadium of race and discrimination. And here, you know, over 40-plus years later, is my son, who is able to reap the benefits of the things that they did and the struggles that they sought through. I mean it. It really is a magical place for my family.

Dave: I mean, that's beautiful to have that intergenerational connection to place and to space. And Hinchliffe is really one of the very few remaining Negro League stadiums in the country. So there's not that many opportunities to visit places like that. And, you know, it's remarkable how much work went into it at the local, state and federal level to bring it back to life the way that it is. I want to go back to ask you, your father started his career as an umpire in the Negro Leagues, but he did eventually work for Major League Baseball. What was that transition like for him?

Frances: The transition. Well, let me go back and say by the time I came along, by the time I was born, my dad was not working in baseball anymore.

Dave: Right.

Frances: And for so many years, almost until I was about 18 years old, I didn't, in fact, know my dad had anything to do with Major League Baseball because he didn't speak about it. It was, it was something that was a shock to me when I found out, I mean, but it made sense. I, growing up, I knew a lot of baseball players. But my assumption and my thought to that was that my my father knew, you know, these were just his friends. And, you know, we always went to baseball games and we always went to sporting events and we had tickets to it- but I just assumed that it was from my father's business that he acquired these things. I used to always wonder why so many people knew him wherever we went

Dave: [laughs]

Frances: You know, and and, you know, and I would have, you know, people at my house like, you know, Dave Winfield and things like that. But to me, they were just people. They weren't, they weren't celebrities. I didn't even know, I don't even... At that time, I didn't even like baseball. So you know, I didn't know who they were. Other people around me knew who they were, but they were just people for me and you know, they were my parents friends or whatever. And so back to your question, you know my dad was very close-lipped about his experience with baseball because in the end it was very hard for him. He he struggled. He, you know, it's hard when you break barriers. My dad was the second African American umpire in the league and so breaking those barriers came with a price. And you know the price could be very steep, you know, on your your mental well-being and your social well-being, at that. You know, making sure, ensuring that your family stayed safe and ensuring that you yourself stayed safe. So it was both a blessing and a curse at the same time, if that makes sense.

Dave: It it does make sense and it's, from a contemporary standpoint, I don't know that we as, you know, the public or even as baseball fans can really comprehend what your father went through. And to to make that decision you have to be so strong-willed and so sure of yourself and it's clear that your father was. The stadium where your father worked is part of the National Park Service, and we say now you know what you did and others did this was important and it it's bigger than you. It's bigger than the handful of people that had the opportunity to play there. It's emblematic of a people that contributed to civil rights and to, really the history of this country.

Frances: I think, you know, that's why my dad didn't didn't speak about it a lot because he loved baseball, and he'd never wanted to talk out of turn or ill will about it. He knew that, and necessarily it wasn't baseball. It was just the time and the place and the way that we lived at that time, you know. But for himself, you know, he had to make some really hard decisions about doing something that he loved and also standing up for beliefs and rights that he believed in that safeguarded and him and his family.

Dave: You know he's not the only one, that there were other players and staff and umpires that were a part of this league, that for so long people didn't know about and, you know, grateful for places like Paterson Great Falls, where the stadium is located, and places like the Negro Leagues Hall of Fame that raise up these stories and say ‘These are important. You may not have heard of these individuals but collectively they did something great.’ And I I did want to mention that, you know, one of the people we know also played at Hinchliffe was Larry Doby, and Larry Doby is is a historical figure that that people don't know about, but he's always mentioned in the same breath as Jackie Robinson because of his accomplishments.

Frances: And my dad and Larry Doby were friends, and so he was able to speak to a lot of things. Once they, you know, brought out the Larry Doby stamp, he was able to to speak to that and he would go to the front of Hinchliffe Stadium where they had a a ceremony, you know, when it was in its heyday of its worst condition, and be able to speak about baseball and speak about the the things that Larry did and and also talk about, you know, his perspective of baseball. Unfortunately, you know, my dad passed before he even knew that Hinchliffe Stadium was going to be rectified. And I think he would have been so proud to know that there are, there were so many people that rallied behind this stadium even in his older age, because at that time when when he was an umpire, you know sometimes, it was very lonely out there. And and so, you know, to have lived through things, of people heckling at you, of people spitting on you, of people calling you out your name. And now, to know that you know the world has changed in such a way where people are rallying behind you and can realize the path and the strides that you took so this world could become a better place. It just would have done his heart so much good.

Dave: I'm so, I mean, I'm so grateful for you to share these stories about your father and your family because it is one small way to continue their legacy, and to make sure that more people know about it. And, you know, so many, so many people stand on thei,r on the shoulders of those who came before. And you can see that his legacy lives on through you and your family, who are, you know, lovers of sports and, you know, specifically baseball, and have been able to return to Hinchliffe in his honor, in his place, so many years after the fact. It's it's really humbling.

Frances: You know, when I think about my dad and I think about, you know, he was a very gentle soul and he, he was a very funny guy. But he also was a very wise man,and so when I think about Hinchliffe Stadium, and I think about something he might give, you know, others who might be listening to this, or who who are just going through some hard times, he used to say to to us, my brothers and I, you know, when you're going up the ladder always have time to turn around and pull somebody up as you go, because you never know who might need you, so that they too can climb the ladder. And and that reminds me of this journey that he took so long ago before my son even had an opportunity to know what was going on. My son, you know, was only four years old when my father passed away, so he hadn't even started his baseball career. But to, you know, walk and hear the stories of my dad and what so many players, you know, before him did so that he can even get his foot on a field is unbelievably amazing and humbling to a 15 year old boy who is now, as every time he walks on the field, is reminded of his grandfather and what he did. No matter how successful he becomes in this career, he always knows what history looks like. So it's a great, you know, it's a great honor.

Dave: It's been such a treat, and such an, it has been such an honor to speak with you, and to learn your father's story and the the stories of others he worked with through the Negro Leagues and forward. Thank you so much for being with us and we're glad that you and your family, and all of us, have Hinchliffe Stadium to enjoy.

Frances: Thank you so much for having me.

Frances Jelks-Brown shares stories of her father, Osibee Jelks, who was among the first African American umpires in Major League Baseball. Among the places he worked was Hinchliffe Stadium, a Negro League stadium located within Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park.

Officer Shelby Barbay, Law Enforcement Ranger at Grand Teton National Park


[intro music] Dave: Welcome to My Park Story, presented by the National Park Service. People form connections with their favorite national parks and programs, and this park-cast is a place to come together and share those stories. I’m your host, Dave Barak. Today's guest is Officer Shelby Barbay of Grand Teton National Park.

[intro music fades out] Dave: Hello, and welcome to Officer Shelby Barbay of Grand Teton National Park. Hey, Shelby, how are you? Shelby: Good morning. I'm doing well, Dave, how are you?

Dave: I'm doing all right as well. Thank you so much for joining us today. This is an exciting time to talk to one of our law enforcement Rangers and I'm really eager to hear your story. Shelby: Yeah, thank you and super happy to be here and thanks for the for the honor to to come and have this opportunity. I was born and raised in upstate, or central, New York State in a town called Waterloo. I went to college, Utica College, now Utica University, which is about an hour and a half away from home. I went to college mostly to play lacrosse and I thought, how am I going to pay for this, right, as most of us millennials do, as we were approaching those college years.

Dave: Right.

Shelby: I had intended to enlist in the Army. And at that point it was like, well, I want to go to college, I want to play lacrosse. What else can I do? And I, you know, and heard about the Reserve Officer Training Corps, ROTC program. So I went to college and played lacrosse and I did get a degree and I did the ROTC thing. I commissioned the Army in 2012 when I was done with college, and I spent about four years in change in the US Army. I was stationed at Fort Wainwright, which is in Fairbanks, AK. And I got out in 2016 and started pursuing a career for the National Park Service as a law enforcement Ranger. And that's from 2017 until now.

Dave: Yeah, I know you had other options when you were making the decision to leave the military. What made you choose the Park Service over some of those other options? Shelby: When I was getting out of the military, I had looked into things like Alaska State Troopers, the FBI and a couple other agencies some back closer to home. And a friend came to me, who had previously been a sawyer and worked in, he does still currently work- he works for the Forest Service in wildland fire. And he's like, “Hey, what about being a park ranger, check out the Park Service or, you know, the Forest Service.” And I was like, “Oh, what's it about?” He's like, “Well, you're military police, like it's it's policing, but you know, you're doing it and the the great outdoors, more or less, right out here in the in the parks.” And so I looked into it and I was like, man, that sounds awesome.

Dave: [laughs]

Shelby: So I, yeah, chose the parks. There was figured like, why not give it a try. Went to seasonal academy in Flagstaff, AZ at Northern Arizona University and kind of went from there. Dave: Cool. And what parks have you worked at before you landed at Grand Teton?

Shelby: So I have worked, I worked two seasons. The first season was at the Flagstaff Area National Monumenst, which consists of Walnut Canyon, Wupatki National Monument and then Sunset Crater- and those are all managed under one management team there. Then I worked at Crater Lake in Oregon, that was my second season, 2018. I was picked up permanently, a VRA hire Denali National Park in Alaska, so went back to Alaska again. From there I moved down here to Grant Tetown about two years ago.

Dave: Very cool. That's really cool. The Park Service is attempting to diversify the ranks of its law enforcement staff and officers, specifically bringing in more women officers to the force, and that's why I was excited to talk to you. But have you found as a woman on the force, did you have mentors that you looked up to that helped guide you along? Because I think that's so important. Shelby: It's ever since my first season, I have met and I have identified, I have probably a list of role models, women and men. But I remember meeting the first woman, you know, other ranger, other officer in the agency in my first season there at Flag Monuments. And she was in working at Lake Mead. I had gone on there to do some training. Hannah's Jensen, formerly Hannah Orc. And I just was like, wow, like, this is what I could be one day. You know, like, Hannah's amazing. She's so squared away. She's been there and done that, done everything. She's got every qualification. She's just like, she's amazing. To this day, I still call her or text her, you know, ask her for help. Same with my second season at Crater Lake. I met Caitlin Schauer. And again, it was just like, wow, like, this is what I could be one day, you know, and kind of went from there. I mean, I I have a lot of role models that I look up to. I remember when I was offered and accepted the job here at Grand Teton, I was like, Oh my gosh, Liz Tetter works at Grand Teton. Like, Liz, everyone knows Liz Tedder. She's amazing, you know. And so now she's like, you know, a good friend of mine. And it just was funny to me just, you know, you meet these people and and you idolize them and you, you know, you look up to them and it's everything from career advice to you'll be on the side of the road working through a law enforcement investigation and just having those kind of guide you along. And my chief here at Teton is a woman and she was the same chief I had at at Denali and she was amazing. Yes. No shortage of of role models is the short, short answer to your question. Dave: Right. Well, that's really heartening. And I know that you yourself have taken other newer officers under your wing. What is it like to be on the other side of that to, you know, now people are going to be like Shelby Barbay, she's a legend.

Shelby [laughs]

Dave: Like, I got to work with Shelby and like, she's, she's the best. Like people like you're talking about the rangers and the officers you look up to. Shelby: Yeah, right. Gosh, I don't know, it's humbling. It's, you know, I think that in this job, especially being a woman, especially being in law enforcement, you know, people look to us a lot for answers, for information like the public, of course, look to us, you know, But then you have newer officers like you said that I look to and it's hard, it's difficult to explain. I would say, like we just, we don't, You don't always understand the impact or the power you have. Not an authoritative kind of power, but the power to change someone's life. So you know, when I get these folks that I try to mentor or help or even just give my number to to be like, hey, if you ever think about joining the Park Service, you want to be law enforcement, you want to be a cop, you know, here's my number, give me a call, give me an e-mail, whatever it is. It's a really great feeling because I told myself growing up, I had always met amazing mentors and role models. My father being one, my lacrosse coaches, my high school coach, my college coach, my cadre, different cadre I had in the military like all these people. And I was like, I got to pay it forward and all these people that changed my life. And so now, you know, we don't always get that feedback from people that we interact with, but you still do your best to, you know, change and impact someone's life. And I can just say that from a couple experiences I've had, being able to be that mentor, that role model, whether it's for visitors or younger officers, and it just, it just fills your cup, right? It just fills your cup. You're just like on cloud nine, you're you're just glowing for. For me, it's like, you know, weeks on end, and my mood's just great. I'm in a happy place and I feel good and I feel like I'm helping improve, you know, helping prepare them for their career and helping improve the agency as a whole.

Dave: Nice, Nice. I know you had a piece of advice that one of your mentors gave you that you wanted to share.

Shelby: Yeah, the thing that is something that I kind of I try to live by is a phrase that a boss of mine- before I got out of the army, I worked for. He always said to people he's like don't take ‘no’ for an answer and you know he he didn't mean it in the way of like oh you know mom or dad said ‘no’ go ask, you know, the other one, he didn't mean it like that. He just meant, like, find someone to tell you ‘yes,’ and find someone to to allow you to pursue whatever it is you're pursuing. So for me, I try to tell a lot of young folks that think it's like, you know, I mentioned before the power and impact you have as an officer or as somebody in authority or someone who's a leader ,designated or otherwise. And sometimes we don't realize that power impact we have on people. And so when we say things we might not think are, you know, impactful, like, you just can't underestimate the word, the power of words sometimes and find someone to tell you ‘yes,’ don't take ‘no’ for an answer. That just was like an affirmation for me of like, this is my dream, this is my goal, this is what I want to do, and I will do anything. And until I find the person to tell me ‘yes.’ And ultimately, it was, that was a lot of how I got into this agency was, I went from the military, it was an officer, I got out. I could have, you know, been hired a higher grade or gone more of a direct route. I didn't know that the time and I remember being offered my first permanent job- nd I told the individual, “I'm going to come work for you, whether it's now or whether it's in a few years from now, when I have more experience like I'm going to come work for you.” I just let that drive, that passion, that willingness to be persistent in work and and not let people's words or actions deter you, right?

Dave: Yeah.

Shelby: Yeah, so that's my advice...

Dave: That’s special.

Shelby: ...or advice I had received. Dave: Well, much like the mentors and the leaders that came before you that you look up to passing down these vital words, this precious message to you, Now you're passing it along to to others. And I'm grateful to have been the recipient of your wisdom and just your smile and your enthusiasm. And I'm really grateful to call you a colleague. Shelby, thank you so much, so much for joining us today and we'll talk soon.

Shelby: All right. Thank you, sir.

After leaving the army, Shelby Barbay had many career options. Hear why she chose the National Park Service, and how her mentors have inspired her to be a better ranger and to pass on that mentorship to others.

Dr. Leona Tate, NPS Grants Recipient and Civil Rights Leader


MPS Episode 6: Dr. Leona Tate Transcript

[intro music] Dave: Welcome to My Park Story, presented by the National Park Service. People form connections with their favorite national parks and programs, and this park-cast is a place to come together and share those stories. I’m your host, Dave Barak. Today's guest is NPS grants recipient, Dr. Leona Tate.

[intro music fades out]  Dave (voiceover): In 1960, when Leona Tate was only six years old, she became a civil rights leader in her community as she and two other Black girls desegregated New Orleans McDonogh Public School. Decades later, Doctor Tate reopened the closed McDonogh School Building using National Park Service, Save America's Treasures, and African American Civil Rights Grants totaling $1.5 million in funding. The building, now known as the TEP Center, operates as a community and Education Center as well as affordable housing for seniors. This week marks the desegregation anniversary, which took place 63 years ago. Here is Doctor Tate's story.

Dave: It is my great honor today to be speaking with Dr. Leona Tate of the Leona Tate Foundation. Her story is an inspiration and the work that she has done with her foundation and with help from the Park Service is truly community, community-building and we're really excited to have her. Let's start from the beginning. You attended the McDonogh school when you were a girl, is that correct?

Dr. Tate: Yes. Yeah. Six years old. Yes.

Dave: Six years old. What was this event that you needed to prepare yourself for as a six year old girl?

Dr. Tate: New Orleans had selected two elementary schools that had formerly been an all white school to be desegregated, and it was three at McDonogh 19 where I attended- myself, Gail Etienne and Tessie Prevost and it was Ruby Bridges at William Frantz [Elementary School] and I was one of the little girls that was selected for that process. We had to be prepared a special way. We had to be rigorously psychologically tested. It was strange for a 5-year-old girl, you know, we didn't understand what was happening, but we knew something different was about to happen. And, but I knew I was going to a new school. Very excited about going to a new school because I was not happy with my old school. We were selected from an application that was placed in the newspaper for children in the 9th Ward area of New Orleans. There were, like, 140 families that turned these applications in. The criteria was very high. There was five families that were selected. We had to be psychologically tested and just doing, you know, different things to make sure we could endure what we were about to face. Out of the 140, I said five was selected but only four participated, because the criteria asked you to be a whole family, you could not be without a dad in the household, and one of the girls was without a dad, so she couldn't participate.

Dave: Do you know what your parents’ reasons were to want their girl to go to a newly desegregated school?

Dr. Tate: The only thing I could remember my mother ever saying was that she paid her taxes and she felt like I could go to get an education at a better school. But she had so much support, you know. So I think, you know, even though she was stron- willed, you know, I know she needed that backup to to go through this, and you know, both parents, and I really think that's really what got us true- my mother just wasn't, she wasn't giving up. She wasn't giving up. She just stood her ground. She was standing her ground.

Dave: You wanted to go, you said, because you didn't like your old school- but did you know what the challenges were going to be?

Dr. Tate: I had no idea, no idea. When I woke up that morning, I was, my house had family and friends that you would have thought it was a holiday, just somebody doing something to prepare. And everybody seemed to be in a good spirit, you know, things going along smoothly, and then all of a sudden a car pulled up in the front of the door, it was a black car. And one of the marshals got out and he came to the door and my house got real quiet and I can remember that silence today. I can remember that. So I knew then in the back of my mind, well what's going on. I knew something was about to happen. So before we approach the door, my mother had already told me when I got to the car and sat down to the back of the seat, don’t face to the window. And I tell children today, obedience had to play a big part of what we have to do because we really had to listen. And I was excited because I was getting a ride to school; I had been walking...

Dave: [laughs]

Dr. Tate: ...eleven miles to go to the old school and this school was in my neighborhood, you know, so I was very happy to be going to a new school

Dave: Going to the new school, which was in your neighborhood, did you know any of the other children? Did you know your classmates as neighbors or from other places around town?

Dr. Tate: I don't remember recognizing anybody when I got there. But you know, when we approached the school, we came in from th rear of the building and, you know, it was masses of people out front. I really, I didn't even pick up on the anger of the crowd. I just thought, to me, the only thing I could relate it to was that a parade was coming.

Dave: Wow.

Dr. Tate: Because I knew I knew a parade passed on that street. We entered the building, and it took us about half the day to get placed in the classroom. They asked us to take a seat on the bench that was outside the principal's office, and we sat there quite a while before they wanted to put us in the classroom. But I remember getting going into class, it was a full body of students, but I don't remember recognizing anybody, but I know our neighborhood was a mixed neighborhood at that tim, but I don't remember children my age, you know what I'm saying? And I tried to speak to a little girl that totally ignored me; it was like I was invisible. But before you know it, their parents were pulling all the white students out, they were leaving, and by 3:00, they were all gone. We went only three in that building for the entire year and a half.

Dave: Did that register with you as a child?

Dr. Tate: Not right away, it didn't. You know, and like, I thought, I thought a parade was coming and I really thought that's why they were leaving, to go outside and watch the parade. And I kind of think, remember asking my mom why everybody gets to watch the parade, and I thought it was Mardi Gras because that's what it looked like. And she said that wasn't the case, but it didn't affect me. We didn't question it at all, you know. We know we wound up being the only three students, but we were comfortable at McDowell 19. We were very comfortable, you know, and and it was just a normal day. We we just couldn't play outside. We couldn't eat from the school, we had to bring out food and beverages. Water fountains were turned off. We couldn't see outside, no one could see inside. Didn't realize how protected we were and how confined we were, for protection.

Dave: It sounds like, in an effort to desegregate McDonogh that they, in effect, re-segregated it with only Black students in one class and white students in the other classes.

Dr. Tate: There was no white students in the other class. They all left.

Dave: They all left the school completely.

Dr. Tate: They all left the school completely. There were two brothers that lasted only till the end of the week- but we never saw them, they were in another part of the building. But all of the students were gone. When I said this was an empty building with just the three of us, it was an empty building with just the three of us. The teachers were in their classroom because they had gotten a telegram that morning saying that if they didn't report to work, they didn't have a job. But no other teacher had students but my teacher.

Dave: And how long did that last? That lasted for a day, a month?

Dr. Tate: A year and a half. We ended up first grade that way and we started 2nd grade the same way, the same way.

Dave: What changed in the middle of 2nd grade?

Dr. Tate: Well, Christmas came and when we came back, 25 other students had joined us, but they were all Black except two sisters. And well, after second grade, McDonogh 19 had become a school for Black students and we were transferred, because they wanted to keep the three of us in the white environment, to another all white school. So when we got transferred, we didn't have the marshals, or the police protection anymore. So in this transfer was at T.J. Semmes School, and that's where we faced integration. We endured it a lot.

Dave: I’m sure.

Dr. Tate: We endured it a lot, but we had to endure it for it to work.

Dave: When did it dawn on you that you were part of the civil rights movement? Dr. Tate: I don't think I understood that it was a movement, a civil rights movement, for a while, but I know in 3rd grade, we did realize that it was because the color of our skin that we weren't wanted. I think around the time, maybe 4th or 5th grade, I think around when, it might have been around when President Kennedy was assassinated, or I think mostly around when Martin Luther King was assassinated, you know, we were watching it on TV. And and I can remember my family talking and things like that and, you know, just things that they were talking made me know that that I was a part of of that, of that type of movement. And, but it took a while, it took a while- because, you know, I kind of like wanted to know and didn't want to know, because it was so overwhelming, until I just didn't want to really talk about it, you know.

Dave: You were integrated into McDonogh in 1960, is that correct? Dr. Tate: Correct. Dave: OK, So it would have been roughly 8 years later, Doctor King was assassinated in 1968. I look back on these parts of recent history for Black civil rights, for gay rights, women's rights, and I think, I don't know if I, Dave, would have the fortitude to be brave and stand up. And here I am sitting, speaking with you and this is within your lifetime, it's within my parents lifetime, that this was all occurring. So your story is inspirational, and I am so pleased to see the work that you do now, as a culmination of your life's experiences. And I want to make sure that we talk about what became of the McDonogh school, because you were so instrumental in creating what it is today. What happened after you left McDonogh, and then what became of it?

Dr. Tate: McDonogh stayed at school, but it was, you know, it was focused on Black students at that time. It went through a few changes. They had a name change in in the 80s, late 80s I think, and they renamed it Louis Armstrong. Then Hurricane Katrina came, and but it wasn't the hurricane that shut it down, it closed down, it was a failing school after a while. It got water damage on the bottom floor, and a lot of wind damage on the 2nd and the 3rd floor. But this building has always been sentimental to me, Gail and Tessie so, you know, when we were allowed to come back in this area to see our losses, my dad still lived in the community, it was a must that I come and see what the building looked like, which we couldn't come in yet, but we could pass, and it looked fine, you know, it it didn't look like anything. And then, just in the midst of the crowd talking, I come to find out that they were only going to reopen one school back here in that area, I said, well, why they can't really do something with this building and have a school, so if people try to come home, they don't have enough space to bring kids? Well, everybody I talked to wasn't for that idea, you know. They had already decided to close it. They didn't know if they were going to tear it down, they were going to refurbish it to something else, or sell it, you know. So we did form the foundation, and finally, finally got an answer that this would never be a school again because schools are now required to be on 3 acres of land and it's only on 1.8 acres of land.

Dave: OK.

Dr. Tate: But it's three stories high. So I I just couldn't understand that. But nobody remembered what had happened at the building, you know, so I went to the school board, I had to do a presentation and tell the story of what had happened here. And you know, that kind of like made people start thinking and remembering. It was one member on the board that kind of remembered those days because he was older than the rest of the board members, and they had already put up a sale sign and an auction sign on it. And so they, I don't know- it must have been prayers that day, because they decided to reassess- not just this building, it was a few other buildings in the city- and see, you know, what could be done. But they still anticipated maybe tearing it down. So we went to the state and I had to do a presentation at the state to have it put on a National Historic registry.

Dave: Right. Dr. Tate: And it happened, and it happened. And I think that's what saved it from being torn down. But that gave us time to try to think of something, because I knew it needed to be something educational, it needed to be. Dave: When did that designation come?

Dr. Tate: Oh, my God, what year was that? 2014, 2015? Somewhere in there.

Dave: Recently, yeah.

Dr. Tate: Yeah, somewhere in that area, yeah.

Dave: OK. And at what point did you have the spark of an idea of what you and your foundation would do with this historic building?

Dr. Tate: Well since our story had been lost, I thought, why not have something here that they can know what happened here? You know, I didn't know, at that time, I didn't know what I was thinking. I kept saying, well, a museum. You know we don't, New Orleans didn't have a civil rights museum at that time. And that's just what I kept thinking about, you know, and I kept talking to people, and I finally got introduced to a developer that finally said that my vision could be done.

Dave: Wow.

Dr. Tate: And that's what happened. So that's when we took a chance in applying for the National Park Service grant. We didn't think we're going to get it that first try.

Dave: And? You did!

Dt. Tate: And we got it, yes, we did.

Dave: That was your first African American Civil Rights Grant from the National Park Service.

Dr. Tate: Exactly, sure was.

Dave: OK, and that one was for, I think, $500,000.

Dr. Tate: Yes, yes

Dave: Followed by another one for $500,000.

Dr. Tate: And then another one.

Dave: And then another one. The third one is Saving America's Treasures, and that was for the final $500,000. And with these grants, what what have you created? What did you create with your passion and energy and your foundation? And then now you have this operating budget.

Dr. Tate: Well, the Old McDonogh 19 School building is now, TEP is short for Tate, Etienne and Proevost, because I always promised Gail and Tessie that if I ever got my hands on this building, it would be named after the three of us, and that's what I did. So the bottom floor, which used to be in an auditorium space and classrooms, is now classrooms plus the interpretive center that tells the history and of what happened during the 1960s, and tell other histories, too, that we can host here, and that's my vision for the TEP Center, is to not just tell about our story, tell about all local stores here in New Orleans. And we also have two floors of affordable apartments for seniors, 55 and olders, 25 apartments.

Dave: Wow.

Dr. Tate: On the second and third floor, yes.

Dave: Oh, that's amazing. And I think about, I used to live in Louisiana, by the way, I lived in Lafayette. And so I I mean, I think about what I've seen in other cities where a building, a school, church, a brewery, I mean a store, whatever, you know, is no longer used and it's just, oh, we're just gonna make luxury condos. And you took McDonogh 19, you created the TEP center, and it's so interesting to me that you've made housing a part of that project, because your foundation is not solely based on teaching civil rights and anti-racism, but focus on women's rights, LGBTQ rights, housing. There's so many things that your foundation does beyond just action on civil rights. And this is such a concrete way to express your dedication to addressing the housing crisis. It's out of this world, and it's...

Dr. Tate: Right, and my first focus was to try to get elders that had been relocated for Katrina and wanted to come home. But nobody kept track of people like that, so, you know, we almost failed. We're just about, we got two left, two apartments left.

Dave: I'm so grateful to you, Dr. Tate, for your time and for sharing this story with me and with our listeners. And it's so important as the National Park Service that we're not just these beautiful national parks, but we strive to help projects within communities, foundations that are aiding their communities. Thank you for sharing with us all of these stories, Dr. Tate. You are incredible.

Dr. Tate: Thank you. So nice to meet you.

Dave: Thank you.

In 1960, when Leona Tate was only six years old, she became a civil rights leader in her community as she and two other Black girls desegregated New Orleans’ McDonogh Public School. Decades later, Dr. Tate reopened the closed McDonogh school building using National Park Service grants totaling in $1.5 million dollars in funding. The building, now known as the TEP Center, operates as a community and education center as well as affordable housing for seniors.

Kelli Jones, Indigenous Park Ranger at Grand Canyon National Park


[intro music] Dave: Welcome to My Park Story, presented by the National Park Service. People form connections with their favorite national parks and programs, and this park-cast is a place to come together and share those stories. I’m your host, Dave Barak. Today's guest is Kelli Jones, park Ranger at Grand Canyon National Park.

[intro music fades out] 

Dave: Today I have the pleasure of speaking with park Ranger Kelli Jones of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Kelli, how are you?

Kelli: I am doing great, enjoying this really nice fall weather here in the park. Dave: That sounds amazing because I think people associate Grand Canyon with intense heat. And I'm glad that you're getting a little reprieve here in the fall and that sounds great. So Kelli, what's your park story? Kelli: So I would like to introduce myself in my language. Yad Esh A Kelli Jones Inishya. So I just said in my language, hello, my name is Kelli Jones Katnasani A Nishlyn. And I come from the matrilineal clan of the Tangle people. Aqua, Ego Dinette. Asan Nishlyn. And that is who I am as a dinette and Navajo woman. So I was born and raised on the Denech Nation, which is known as the Navajo Nation. And I work here at Grand Canyon National Park as a park Ranger. An interpretive park Ranger.

Dave: Fabulous. How long have you worked at Grand Canyon? Kelli: I worked at Grand Canyon one year with an internship through Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps, and I worked as a seasonal Ranger here. So I would say all together, I've been working with Grand Canyon National Park for about 3 1/2 years right now. Dave: Cool. And I have a sense geographically of where the Navajo Nation is located. But growing up, how far away from Grand Canyon were you? Or how close?

Kelli: Yeah, I my site at Grand Canyon National Park, where, you know, Grand Canyon is such a huge park. It's 277 river miles, but part of the park I work on the South Rim, 25 miles from the main South Entrance station heading east is the Desert View location of the park, and that is where I'm actually located at working and from Desert View location about less than 10 miles heading more east from that area is the Navajo Nation. So I'm really close to home and part of that Desert View location is such a very important part of where I work at with Grand Canyon National Park.

Dave: As a as a young person, as a student, did you have a connection to the park? Did you visit with family? Did you come on field trips with school? You know, you must have had a connection with it being so close to it growing up.

Kelli: You know what's hilarious is that my school did offer field trips to Grand Canyon National Park, and in 3rd grade I ended up having the privilege with my class going to Grand Canyon. But to be honest, I don't remember even seeing the Canyon. I remember going to the IMAX theater for some reason from my memories as coming from my childhood memories, but I think that after that I haven't been. I haven't visited the park at all until I started my internship with Ancestral Lands about almost like 5 to 6 years ago. And that was my first time coming out to Grand Canyon.

Dave: I did want to ask you that. I wanted to ask you, when you see Ancestral Lands Internship, can you tell us a little bit more about what that program is?

Kelli: Yeah. So the ancestral Land Conservation Corps is they work with the southwest region and they focus on a lot of working with young Indigenous adults ages 18 through 30 to try to get some career development through public lands. And that can either be through conservation at these public land areas, through national parks. It's a really great career development for Indigenous young people to reconnect to these ancestral lands. But as well as learning and experiencing different career paths that is available within these public land opportunities either through Park Service, through Forest Service, through firefighting, through any, I guess you can say federal agencies that protect and preserve these public lands in the Park Service. We also have a very diverse career paths for anybody to be part of through firefighting, through trail maintenance, through taking care of the river operations, through even just if you want to just have an office job. There are these jobs that are available that people are not really aware of.

Dave: And we've discussed you and I previously about your desire and advocacy to see more Indigenous peoples involved in the National Park Service. But land preservation in general, besides, you know, the ancestral land corps, what are some other ways that you could recommend for Native people to get involved and to be a part of this, To be a part of this agency, having ideas that we can create for the youth and start participating in schools, more in the Tribal schools so that they can start looking at the next.

Kelli: We can start looking at the next generation of these Tribal young people that they can start working with the Park Service and helping us start managing these areas. And because we do have deep connections to this place and who knows more about these places than the native people themselves, it is managed by the park. But we still have that spiritual connection to these places. So and it's and it's not just for the Native people, but we can share that culture and our resiliency of our native culture for to the public as well. So they can also get educated that Native people are still here and that they still connect to these very important places. Dave: Certainly there are several parks that are very specifically telling Native American stories and yet even parks that are focused on other topics, there are Native stories that occurred there.

Kelli: A lot of the narrative that we create in national parks is always on the timeline of when it became a National Park. And that creates historical trauma of local Tribal communities that they're not allowed into these places and that creates systemic issues that we had created as well. And I think that once we go and really be honest about, well, you know, whose ancestral homelands these really are and still today, we can definitely create a true narrative of what it used to be. And then as well as it will also be a lot easier for us as national parks to even build better relationships with Tribal communities, because that's always been a challenge as well in the past. And with Grand Canyon National Park, we work with 11 associated Tribes here and the what we are creating here that kind of is really building that narrative around. We are still here as native people is the desert view location is actually changing into a Tribal welcome center. So the 11 associate Tribes have been working on this project for almost 10 years now with the park and having conversations of how can we bring this true narrative of this place that we still call home, which is Grand Canyon. And we really want our visitors to come into this Tribal welcome center at Desert View area to see that they are home too. Because this place is for all of us as people and we are all in one world and we are all 11 human beings that we can all share this place. But also how can we respect this place for the next generation, not just for the visitors but as well As for the Tribal communities we have now?

Dave: Secretary Holland, Director Sam's, both are Native Americans. How does it make you feel when you see the secretary and the director who are Tribal members, active Tribal members, leading both the, the leading, both the Department of Interior and the National Park Service? Kelli: I see that. I look at representation and it is very important in leadership. It's very important that Deb Haaland and Chuck Sams are in those positions to empower other Native employees who are in the Park Service, that our voices do matter and how can we stand strong together to have our voices be heard internally within the government. I think that's important because that's the only way change will happen and our stories will be heard through the public eye. And it also helps with identifying cultural days to be aware out in the public eye like Native American Heritage Month. It's such an important month for us that is coming up.

Dave: November for the listeners is Native American Heritage Month.

Kelli: Yeah, I'm really excited for this, for November to come up, because November is a way that as Native people is to express our culture and our traditions and show our resiliency of who we are as Native people. And understanding that we are still here. And that I wouldn't say that we live in two worlds, which is the Native world and then the Westernized world. But I believe that we live in one world together where we can show that diversity in our Tribe, show that we are proud of who we are. And that just helps the next generation for our native youth and our native young adults to carry that tradition and keep those traditions alive because that's what kept us going since time immemorial. And I think that's something that we should express in that month is a time for us to express that culture and really excited for Native American Heritage Month to happen. And if anybody has you know want to learn more about that there's so many events that is nationwide in each state that expresses that and shares that from all the Tribes across the nation.

Dave: Kelli, how will you personally commemorate or celebrate Native American Heritage Month.

Kelli: So personally I with the with Grand Canyon National Park, we are trying to bring in more native presenters from our 11 associated Tribes to talk about the cultural connections of Grand Canyon. But as well as bringing in different performers so our visitors can see the diversity of our Tribes and as well as express the resiliency of those Tribes. And knowing that each Tribe is different, I think that's the most important part of educating is that no, we don't all go to pow wows. Our pow wows are a different expression of our culture. But we have over, I think about we have so many Tribes out there that our language is different, our dances are different and that's very that's something that I think I'm excited to help with the park is to express that. But personally I am, I am, I think I'm going to be with my family. I know Thanksgiving Day is coming up and Thanksgiving Day in that historical history is very different from my family and I. And as Native people thinks giving thanks is something that we do on a daily basis. When we get up in the morning, we give offerings from our corn pollen to the mother earth and we pray that we are going to walk this beauty way pathway that we're going to have a great day and every day we're going to be safe. And and that's just something that as native people we do every day. We give offerings to those who cannot speak and that's nature and the non living, the non human nature and as well as human nature and then protection of this one world that we live in and how we can have harmony and balance and taking care of ourselves is something that we do on a daily basis. Dave: Kelli, thank you. And I'm going to change topics a little bit here. The holidays are coming up and last year you did something really remarkable within the Park Service to help celebrate the holiday season. Tell us what you did and what it was like from from your vantage point.

Kelli: Yeah, last year was it felt like a dream. I was part of the National Christmas Tree lighting I had a chance to represent the Park Service and talk about what we do. And it was so. It was such an amazing and privileged moment. I had a chance to meet LL Cool J and he was the host of the Christmas tree lighting.

Dave: No big deal.

Kelli: But Shania Twain was there as well, Joss Stone and just other few amazing performers who were there. And it was a perfect time for me to represent the Park Service because during that week and during that time that that happened, there was a big Tribal meeting with Secretary Deb Haaland at the White House as well, and all the Tribes nationwide were there. And then they also had a chance to come to the Christmas tree lighting. So I had to also not only represent the Park Service, but I also represent Indigenous people nationwide because that is very important. I thought that was the most meaningful thing for me and to see the Tribes being there as well as being part of our very strong Indigenous leadership, Deb Haaland and Chuck Sams. It was more, it was very meaningful for me to be part of that Christmas tree lighting because I have very huge role models there, but as well as Indigenous leaders nationwide who were also there. And I'm hoping that I, I express the importance of Indigenous representation, but as well as the importance of how we as Indigenous people do protect and preserve our ancestral homelands. And I think that was a very important opportunity for me to be part of. And I was very excited that they did pick an Indigenous native Ranger to host, to be part of hosting something like that. And I had no idea that Shania Twain was part of an Indigenous background as well, from Canada.

Dave: Oh, I did not know that either.

Kelli: Yeah. And that just shows how much meaning Indigenous representation is important. Because there are many people nationwide that you know are not really very expressful of their culture, of a very expressful from their background because we went through historical trauma in the past. So right now it's a great time to acknowledge the past and as well as moving forward in a direction where we do have to talk about these hard, you know we the challenges as native people of what we go through.

Dave: I was sitting in the audience that evening watching these great performances by everybody you just mentioned and you you were a great host. I mean in addition to like all these fabulous singers and and presenters and and performers you stood out as as really having a command of the stage and it was great to see someone arranger you know up there representing the National Park Service and you really did US proud and I want to say is you know we head into the the end of the year here. I think we all take time to take stock of ourselves and the year gone by and you know, our, our people, whoever that may be. And it's a great time to reconnect and think about what the future holds. And I'm so grateful for your perspective today. Ranger Kelli Jones, thank you so much. It's a pleasure. And I hope we'll talk again real soon.

[outro music]

In this episode, host Dave Barak speaks with Kelli Jones, Indigenous Park Ranger at Grand Canyon National Park and how her Native background has brought more depth to her role as a National Park Service ranger.

Jennifer Smith, “Hometown” Superintendent of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park


[intro music] Dave: Welcome to My Park Story, presented by the National Park Service. People form connections with their favorite national parks and programs, and this park-cast is a place to come together and share those stories. I’m your host, Dave Barak. Today's guest is Jen Smith, the Superintendent of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.

[intro music fades out] Dave: Hi, Jen. How are you?

Jen: Hi, Dave. I'm doing great today. What an honor to be here with you today to be able to tell my park story.

Dave: So let's get into it. Tell us your story.

Jen: Excellent. This is one of my favorite stories to tell, actually. So I'm chatting with you today from New Bedford, Massachusetts. New Bedford is just south of Boston on the south coast of Massachusetts. It's absolutely gorgeous out there today and New Bedford is my hometown. And yes, my title is Superintendent. And you don't often hear those two things together. Like, I feel a little bit like an anomaly in the park service. The fact that, you know, I sort of have made these great things happen in my hometown. I am just incredibly proud to have enjoyed this incredible body of work and all the opportunities and challenges I have had here in New Bedford through my work with the park service in a place that I love.

Dave: How did you get started because, If I'm remembering correctly, there was no park when you got started at New Bedford Whaling.

Jen: My connection to this national park starts the year, within a year, of its creation here in New Bedford. So New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park was created by Congress in 1996 in November of ‘96. In June of ‘97, I was I was a stay-at-home mom. I had three kids. I was going to university at night, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I knew this national park had been created in New Bedford, but I didn't really know what that meant. I'd been following along with the grassroots efforts and the community members here who really came together to make it happen. So I was watching from the periphery. And so I decided to wander down to a building that had been serving as a visitor center for the city of New Bedford, understanding full well this transition was going on. When I walked in and I said “Hey, so I want to learn all the skills of what you folks are doing here. I'm getting an English lit degree at the university. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it, but boy, I want to do walking tours,” and they said “That's great, slow down. We would love to have you volunteer. And you're going to probably start at the desk and start greeting visitors that way. And then we'll talk about walking tours, but we're not going to get there yet.” And so that was my first foray into, sort of, visitor services and interpretation. And then within six months of that, Dave, the first Superintendent of the national park, he showed up and he had a meeting with this existing corps of volunteers. There about, we were at least 100 strong at that point.

Dave: Wow.

Jen: Yep. And he got in front of us and he said...

Dave: That's hometown, that's hometown pride. 100 people volunteered for this park that was still in progress, still in its infancy. That's out of this world. All right. Continue.

Jen: Absolutely, right? So that is hometown pride. So he said, “Listen, we want to formally fold you folks in, and to welcome you folks into the National Park Service VIP program,” and we said, “Well...”

Dave: For the listeners, Jen, VIP stands for...

Jen: Yes, Volunteer In Parks program.

Dave: Yes, yes they are VIP's in the “very important person” sense but in this instance, VIP is Volunteers In Parks. Continue. Thank you.

Jen: Absolutely. And Dave, I think another important thing to say here is and I tell people this all the time- one of the best ways to get into the National Park Service is through volunteering. Well, for me, that position lasted probably about five months. And on a shift, I had a Monday morning shift, I had doing my volunteer work with this new park in this visitor center, this gorgeous old bank building, I walked in, and on the desk was a job announcement for a seasonal park ranger. I was able to be picked up at that point as this park’s first seasonal park ranger. And guess what they asked me to do immediately.

Dave: I can't imagine.

Jen: They asked me to manage and coordinate that 100-strong volunteer force that I just come from, and I thought, “This is going to be fun,” and it was a lot of fun. And that's how I sort of worked into the Park Service. I sort of joke, but it's it’s, it's the truth. Right time, right place. Right place, right time. I think that's the motto of my career.

Dave: Let's break down, though, the Statue of Liberty; it is so iconic. Not everybody knows it's a national park and you had the opportunity to be the chief of interpretation there. What was that like? Because that site gets so many visitors from all over the world.

Jen: Oh boy, it was, it was of all things, it was humbling, it was exciting, it was scary.

Dave: Yeah

Jen: Because it's a lot of responsibility, right? I think the reason why that that assignment for me felt so successful was, it was a place where I could really showcase my strengths. But boy, the volume! Imagine coming from a small place like New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park and then landing at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It was mind-blowing to me. Let's be honest, you know, I don't care what your career is, there are going to be hills and valleys and sometimes lulls and times when you're celebrating and thinking you're the highest you're ever going to be in that in that position and feeling great about it. But sometimes you get down into a place where you're like, “I don't know what my place is. I don't know where I should be. I don't know what my next step is. I'm not sure if I'm still contributing.” I was named the Superintendent of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park in March of 2019.

Dave: There it is, there it is! It's “local girl makes good.” That's out of this world, and again so atypical for those of us who have, who journeyed so far and had wonderful experiences, but it's clear as we talk, to me, you know how important your hometown, how important New Bedford is to you, and you've clearly made a home there and you've clearly had an impact on that community. So quickly, you know, we're sort of at the end of our conversation here. But what's next? We've talked a lot about what's come before. You’re superintendent now, you've been in the seat for a few years. What's next for New Bedford Whaling? What do we have to look forward to? And why should everybody book their trip to New Bedford tomorrow? Yeah.

Jen: What's next for this park? This park is doing wonderful, wonderful thing. We are, we're sort of blowing up the story of wailing a little bit. It's really interesting. So, way back in the beginning, we were super core, right? Like core stories and core partners and sort of the most pure interpretation of the story. Now we're thinking much more broadly about how to tell this, this world, this international story of arts, economics, science, weather, hydrology, I mean all of this, it's steam, right? It's all the things in this story. And so, we're working with new partners We have a new artist-in-residence program, it's fairly new, it's about maybe five years old, but that's an area that we're certainly putting resources into because it's starting to attract national artists who want to be in New Bedford, who want to immerse themselves in our history and culture and then interpret it through the medium that they work with. And it has been just incredible. We are also very connected here to our partners who are telling the stories of our LGBTQ folks, both in history and contemporary. Because, again, they were here, you know? We just had an artist-in-residence program; it was a married couple, Beatrice and Elaine, and they did some incredible research, and they found the queer stories of New Bedford related to the whaling industry. I had not heard some of these. There were letters, there were beautiful samples that were cross-stitched.

Dave: Wow.

Jen: It was really amazing. And so, and they were talking about whaling in the 19th century, here in New Bedford and the economics of it, and the social history of it. And I'd also say that lastly, another area of our story that we're really getting a little radical about and we really need to, is the Underground Railroad story in New Bedford. New Bedford was a critical stop on the Underground Railroad as people went north. But more importantly, it wasn't a passthrough only. It was a place where people stayed. And they stayed here because New Bedford was a free community where there were free Blacks here. It was a free Black community that was welcoming and harboring escaped slaves. It wasn't just the rich white community here. There was a whole community of free Black folks here that we're protecting these escaped slaves and sending them off onto whaling ships and out into various industries where they were actually allowed to work.

Dave: You know we're all here in the National Park Service, and we are expanding the idea of the stories that we tell every day and trying to go back and correct some of the omissions in history and celebrate stories that haven't been told before, and I hope that this podcast is one small part of that as we illuminate stories from people like you- employees, but also volunteers and visitors and other people who interact with our parks and the National Park System at large. I, you know, I'm excited about your work. I'm excited to talk to you. I'm excited to visit New Bedford.

Dave: Jen, I'm so grateful for your time, so happy to talk with you. I have enjoyed all of our meetings and I hope that this will just be the beginning of a friendship between us. And I'm looking forward to learning more about New Bedford, and I think all the listeners will be as well.

Jen: Thank you, Dave. I'm with you. I think you and I are fast friends and I'm honored to be here today. Thanks so much.

Dave: Thank you. Thank you, Jen. Take care.

[outro music ends]

In this episode, host Dave Barak speaks with the Superintendent of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park Jennifer Smith and how her passion for her hometown of New Bedford inspired her to lead its national park.

Hannah Murray, Youth Volunteer at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park


[intro music begins]

Dave: Welcome to my Park story presented by the National Park Service. People form connections with their favorite national parks and programs, and this parkcast is a place to come together and share those stories. I'm your host, Dave Barack, and today we're talking to a six-year-old volunteer for Fort Moultrie National Historical Park, Hannah Murray, joined by her mother, Elizabeth.

[intro music fades out]

Dave: Where, where do you work? Where do you volunteer, Hannah?

Hannah: Mostly at Fort Moultrie.

Dave: What would you say to other kids that want to volunteer at a National Park?

Hannah: I would say like, hey, there's a there's a National Park you can volunteer at, and it's actually really fun. You can talk to Rangers, you can get a National Park book, and there's a gift shop that you can buy stuff from.

Dave: That's a great, that's a great way to talk about the parks, that that is such a fun thing to say to other folks that want to volunteer. And I hope that people will listen to your advice and volunteer at national parks. So you I know that you do some weeding at national parks at Fort Moultrie, and what else do you do at Fort Moultrie besides the weeding?

Elizabeth: When there's big events, what do we do?

Hannah: When there's big events, I usually help them, but usually we're not there for all the events. So I just help them like put up the chairs because we're usually late for the events. But but at least I get to help the Rangers put up the chairs,

Dave: OK, and sometimes do you, do you talk to the people that come about volunteering?

Hannah: Yes.

Elizabeth: Actually, we actually even bring your friends, don't we?

Hannah: Yeah, we do. I bring my friends.

Dave: What? So you brought your friends? You are part of a group. What group are you part of?

Hannah: We're pack 743 are. I'm with the Boy Scouts. But we are. Our troop and pack went Coed in 2016, 2017, 17 what?

Dave: What does Coed mean, Hannah?

Hannah: Coed means like boys and girls are allowed and troop.

Dave: That's really cool. So you have been volunteering for a year. What is your favorite part about volunteering?

Hannah: You know, with my Ranger friends?

Dave: Cool. You said that you have Ranger friends and I know you have your friends with Ranger Summer. Who are your other Ranger friends?

Hannah: Ranger Andy. Because he's funny.

Dave: Ranger Andy is funny. OK, that's good.

Hannah: Haley and Ranger and Ranger Rebecca.

Elizabeth: Do you wanted to tell Ranger Dave how old you were when you first got when you've got your first Junior Ranger badge? You were.

Hannah: Ohh, yeah. You were so old. When I first got my Ranger badge, I was three.

Dave: What> Do you know what I was doing when I was 3? I was. I was napping.

Elizabeth: Ranger Andy swore her in when she was three years old.

Dave: So you got a Junior Ranger badge from Ranger Andy, and now you work with him. That's pretty cool. Yeah, I know that you have lots of Ranger friends at Fort Moultrie, but I hope that you think I'm your friend now.

Hannah: Yeah.

Dave: Yeah, yeah. That makes me happy. Yeah.

Elizabeth: Do you remember what's special about Fort Moultrie and our family? Do you want to tell him that you're great? Great.

Hannah: My grand, my great, great grandfather was stationed at Fort Moultrie.

Dave: Wow. And that is a that is an interesting family connection. And I know that you have another family connection to volunteering because your mom told me that she was a volunteer. Is that right?

Hannah: Yeah, yeah.

Dave: Did she encourage you to be a volunteer, too?

Hannah: I just found it and I was like. Elizabeth: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm just thinking of the first time that she went out there for her Scout Ranger Award. She was complaining about it being hot and how she didn't want to be in her uniform and she was ready for it to be done. And then she met Summer and she just did not care about the heat or the itchy uniform. She, she wanted to stay out there forever.

Hannah: Forever and ever. Dave: That's sweet. So are you going back to school soon?

Elizabeth: We already are.

Hannah: We already are.

Dave: What grade are you in?

Hannah: Second. Second grade.

Dave: And do you want to learn about things that Park Rangers learn about?

Hannah: I have to, actually, because I have to work. I want to work as a park Ranger when I grow up.

Dave: You want to work as a park Ranger when you grow up. That is so cool. What types of things do you think you'll need to learn so you can be a park Ranger when you grow up.

Hannah: How to take care of the parks and and let's see…

Elizabeth: And how to deal with people right.

Hannah: And how to deal with people actually and…

Elizabeth: Learn how to like tie your shoes.

Hannah: I know how to tie my shoes. I know how to tie my shoes.

Dave: Do you think you need to know science to be a park Ranger? Yeah, maybe. Yeah, Maybe. You could learn about animals and plants and things. A lot of Rangers know about that stuff. Do you think the Rangers at Fort Moultrie know a lot about history?

Hannah: Yes, lots of history.

Dave: Lots of history. Yeah, that's important to know when you work at a place like Fort Moultrie. So if you are gonna be a park Ranger, what types of things do you think you will do if you become a park Ranger?

Elizabeth: Tours.

Hannah: I will give lots of tours, 'cause I, I, I the only one I'm the only one I can take a tour of is my mom.

Elizabeth: But no, you gave Ranger Summer a tour.

Hannah: And I would like to tell him that my great, great grandfather was stationed, was stationed at, at Fort, Fort Moultrie.

Elizabeht: Would you want to help other kids earn their Junior Ranger badges?

Hannah: Yeah, I would give them hints.

Elizabeth: You would give them hints? It would be nice, as the Rangers were nice to you, you would give them hints? Ranger Andy made her work for it.

Dave: Well, you are very smart, I can tell.

Hannah: Yes, I am very smart. Very, very.

Elizabeth: Do you wanna tell him what special letter you got?

Hannah: Yeah, I got a letter from the mayor. I mean, not the mayor, the president.

Dave: A letter from the president? What did the president say?

Hannah: It said congratulations.

Elizabeth: And I'm proud of all your hard work.

Hannah: I'm proud of all your hard work. I hope…

Elizabeth: I hope to see you do amazing things…

Hannah: And remember to always be kind. Sincerely, Joe Biden.

Dave: That is so cool.

Hannah: You've never been to Fort Moultrie?

Dave: I have never been to Fort Moultrie. So tell me something special then. It sounds like you know a lot about Fort Moultrie.

Hannah: So there's a lot of tunnels. They have like rooms in the tunnels.That are called the powder magazines. And inside there is a movie that I really I that I will not leave there if I don't get to watch the movie.

Dave: You like the movie at the park? Yes. I love the movie.

Elizabeth: They had to recently close the visitor center because they had to do repairs on the HVAC system. So the Rangers at Fort Moultrie had to e-mail us the YouTube link so she could still watch her movie of Fort Moultrie.

Hannah: I love that movie.

Dave: OK, Now, do you wanna ask me any questions today, Hannah?

Hannah: Yeah. What's the favorite? What is your favorite thing about your job?

Dave: My favorite thing about my job is talking to you on our podcast.

Hannah: Do you like my jokes that I tell you?

Dave: Yes. I like your jokes very much. Do you want to tell a joke?

Hannah: Like, what did the Buffalo say to the to her son when he left her college?

Dave: I don't know. What did the Buffalo say to her son when he left for college?

Hannah: Bye son.

Dave: Bi-son. That's pretty funny. Ohh Hannah, you are gonna be a great stand up comedian when you are older and you're gonna be a great park Ranger and I'm very excited that I got to talk to you when you at the start of it all.

Elizabeth: She is coming for that social media job.

Dave: OK? You're coming for our jobs. I get it. It's, it's good.

[outro music begins]

Elizabeth: We can have a joke off.

Dave: Yeah. Um, Hannah, thank you so much for talking to me again. Anything else you want to say?

Hannah: Please go to Fort Moultrie. It is amazing. Please watch the movie if you can.

[outro music ends]

In this episode host, Dave Barak chats with Hannah Murray, a 6-year-old volunteer at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park, who is joined by her mother Elizabeth. They discuss why Hannah loves volunteering at a national park and why others should consider volunteering at their closest national park.

Steve Mock, Search and Rescue Volunteer in Denali National Park & Preserve


[intro music] Dave: Welcome to my Park story presented by the National Park Service. People form connections with their favorite national parks and programs, and this parkcast is a place to come together and share those stories. I'm your host, Dave Barrack. Today's guest is Steve Mock, a search and rescue volunteer at Denali National Park and the president of the Board of Denali Rescue Volunteers.

[intro music fades out]

Hello. On today's installment of My Park Story, our guest is volunteer and president of the Board of Denali Rescue Volunteers, Steve Mock. Hey, Steve, how are you?

Steve: I'm doing fine, Dave. Thanks for having me on your show.

Dave: It is a pleasure to have you. Your story is so unique and it's something I think a lot of people are gonna be truly interested in. Tell us, Steve, what's your park story?

Steve: So I saw a National Park for the first time about 40 years ago as a young adult. I think I'd been to a couple of parks before that, but in 1981 we essentially just drove through the Tetons and Yellowstone, and I saw the Grand Tetons for the first time in my life and just knew right away I had to become a climber. So I did learn to climb. I first climbed Grand Teton in 1985 with my brother.

I went on to climb extensively in the Tetons over the next few years. Climbed in Rainier, after that sometime in Yosemite, Fisher National Park, Zion National Park. And then, about 15 years ago, I got involved with the Khumbu Climbing Center program in Nepal, that trained Sherpas how to work on Mount Everest. Some of our instructors were National Park Service climbing Rangers, and I got to know them and spent time with them and got invited onto a Denali patrol in 2014. I got invited back in 2016 and again in 2018 and by invited I mean I begged them to let me go.

So I've been working with them since 2014 and continue as a volunteer mostly at base camp at this point, and then got involved with Denali rescue volunteers as well.

Dave: That is very cool and very unique. And I want to take a moment to let the listeners know that we have volunteers that do just about everything in National Parks. People staff the front desk and help people with their visits to national parks, people staff campgrounds and help to keep the campground safe and clean. There are all sorts of things for volunteers to do. But the reason we're here with you, Mr. Steve Mock, is because your experience is so unique. You've been talking about climbing and that's because your volunteer position is as a search and rescue volunteer at Denali National Park.

Steve: That's correct. It's a fairly unique position during the climbing season, May and June, starting late April and into early July, but essentially May and June, the South District Ranger station out of Talkeetna, Alaska will put Rangers on the mountain, climbing the mountain just the way the climbers do and they'll be on the mountain. Each Ranger will have about an approximately four week, three and a half to four week patrol on the mountain, and it's one Ranger with three or four, sometimes five volunteers. Volunteers they select themselves that have the appropriate skills to help with the Park Service mission, stewardship, education, safety as well as search and rescue, and the personality to get along in a small tent, tight quarter, stressful situations for for weeks at a time.

Dave: Remarkable because I don't want to do much of anything the same for three and a half to four weeks. I don't even want to take vacation that long. And yet, you are a person who thrives and goes on these details to spend all this time, not just doing one activity, but you're doing something that is stressful, that does have temperature extremes, that does have this, this almost claustrophobic feel to it because you're working with the same people, sleeping in the same tents, eating together. What is that like and what are the bonds that you form with the other volunteers and Rangers?

Steve: It's a pretty intense, uh, situation. There's downtime and so, you know, there's time we're playing cards or reading books or taking a nap, but there there's plenty of intense time as well, especially when a rescue is involved. But you develop a very close bond with the with people like that, you may not spend time with them away from the patrol again, you know, just in in your personal life, you might, but you might not, but you always have that sort of special bond that I think is shared from the intensity of the experiences. It does take the right personality to manage that and to do it in a way that other people like to be around them.

Dave: That's great, and I will be the first person to say I can't do what you do. I am an inside Ranger. I call myself an inside cat. I do a lot of administrative work and a lot of education and interpretation, but I definitely don't think I've got the constitution to do what you've done. And since you have this great experience and you've got this great knowledge, let's talk about safety in these environments. These are, by definition, extreme environments. These are places that are potentially quite dangerous. Can you share some ways to be safe when you are embarking on a climb like Denali?

Steve: Number one I think is to really pay attention when you meet with the Ranger for an hour, hour and a half prior to the trip. You get a lot of reading material. You can look online for a lot of information, some of which is very good information. Some of the information on the Internet is suspect information, and we can get fooled.

Dave: (sarcastically) What?! People on the Internet are giving us bad information, things that might not be true?

Steve: Yes, sorry to break that news to you, but during the Ranger briefing that lasts an hour or so, the Rangers go through a lot of details with a lot of good advice, and the advice can be fairly simple. Like, uh, ascend slowly enough that you have time to acclimatize. Be aware of the weather, so that you don't get caught out away from your tent, away from camp in high winds and cold temperatures, blizzard conditions. So, there are there are multiple rescues every year. Most of them are probably avoidable by following that sort of advice, but I think people get impatient. They think it's a little bit more of a sprint rather than a marathon to climb Denali. That's been a little bit of a troubling trend the last few years, that people try to climb too quickly and get themselves into trouble in a variety of ways.

Dave: And you see people that are sometimes not making the right decisions for their safety and the safety of others. But I know that you've got stories of people that make the right decisions. You were describing to me a couple that had wanted to make the ascent and ultimately changed their minds. Can you tell us about that? Because it seems like somebody was really trying hard to make the right decision for their safety.

Steve: They did make the right decision. They successfully reached the high camp at 17,000 feet and took a fair amount of time, probably 10 or 12 days to get to that point, giving themselves plenty of time to acclimatize and prepare for their summit push. They left the high camp at 17,000 feet and headed for the 20,000 foot summit, 20,320 feet. They got to about 19,700 feet, 500 feet from the summit, probably an hour, hour and a half away from the summit, and one of the partners did not feel well and they concluded that the best decision was to turn around. This person was not going to improve by going up, was not going to improve by staying out longer. They turned around and returned, even though they were within almost spitting distance over the summit. They came back the following year and almost exactly the same thing happened, and yet they still turned around, made a wise choice.

A number of years ago I helped fly a patient off from 17,000 feet who pushed on to the summit in bad conditions. And this person had extensive frostbite on fingers and toes and was fortunate that the helicopter was able to fly them off and get them to medical attention very, very quickly. That was somebody who probably could have avoided that frostbite had they not suffered from what we often call summit fever. You just get so close you, you think, you know it's not going to happen to me. I'll get this done.

Dave: Yeah, I can understand that mentality when you've been pushing for a goal so hard, so hard. But it is heartening to hear that there are people that are cognizant of their surroundings, know their limits, know what cannot be accomplished this time around. And I think it's really commendable that, you know, we're able to cite people doing the right thing because I think a lot of the times, we're having the opposite conversation.

Steve: It's really a challenge, a conundrum for climbers all the time. Climbers by their very nature are ambitious and goal oriented, and they they want to get to the top. But at the same time, many of us hope to return home. Many of us hope to continue doing this for years. And so, there are times that you need to turn around. Each person has to make that decision themselves and sometimes it works out well and other times it does not work out so well.

Dave: Yeah, so Steve, as I've described, I mean we have volunteers across the National Park system, tens of thousands of people every year that are putting in hours that you cannot believe, to help us make the parks what they are and there are all sorts of roles. What advice do you have for people that might want to get involved with volunteering, such as a search and rescue volunteer or otherwise?

Steve: I can only speak about the Denali program, and I'm not an expert on that, but I’m heavily involved. We get frequent inquiries from our Denali rescue volunteer e-mail address through the website. We get frequent inquiries about joining the patrol and becoming a volunteer Ranger, and we send out a lengthy letter in response to that, how best to go about doing that. The two things that really stand out are to climb the mountain, do your own personal trip on the mountain and become familiar with what it's what's involved. So, you've got some experience with altitude, cold conditions, climbing on Denali, and then get to know the Rangers. The Rangers select their volunteers each year because they have to know who they are and how they're going to respond and if they can get along with each other. Getting to know the Rangers, letting them know you're interested, as well as that experience on the mountain are really the keys to getting involved with something of this nature, something that is so intense and so long. It's not just a few hours in the afternoon, you know, in an office somewhere there's, you know, I don't mean to belittle that volunteer in any way, but this is just a different situation.

Dave: Certainly, and you know, I'll fill in some of the gaps if there are people that are listening. If you say I want to help the parks, I want to get involved, I want to meet people, I want to do important work. There are parks in all 50 states. You're going to find them in big cities, small towns. You're going to find them in the mountains, on the coast. So please go to and find out more about the VIP program, that's volunteers in parks. And as Steve said, it can be as involved and extreme as spending three to four weeks on the mountainside with Rangers in a tent in extreme conditions, or, as I like to do it, it can be directing visitors to various sites within the park, it can be answering questions. You know, there's something for everybody, and I hope people will join in and join up.

Before we go, Steve, I do want to ask you a question about where you stay when you go on these expeditions, these volunteer trips, because you were talking to me a little bit about the town where you stay and some interesting stuff about that town in Alaska. Where is it?

Steve: Uh, Talkeetna, Alaska is in Southeast Alaska, about 2 1/2 hours north of Anchorage on South of Spur Rd. It's on the highway that goes to from Anchorage to Fairbanks, but about 14 miles of Spur Rd. to get to Talkeetna. It's a quirky little town and very interesting place. Full of tourists in the summer, pretty quiet in the winter, a historic bar in there that is quite interesting to visit. And that's the launching point for climbs on Denali. Almost everybody flies by a small aircraft into the mountain, you fly because you can get there in 40 minutes versus a week or 10 days of walking just to get onto the mountain, so people fly there. So that's where the Ranger station, the South District Ranger Station is located, and we have Denali rescue volunteers provide a house. We lease a house for two months every summer where our volunteers stay for the two, two or three nights prior to the trip as they're preparing for their patrol and one or two nights at the end of the trip as they're cleaning up and debriefing from the from the patrol. The town Talkeetna is definitely worth a visit. Interestingly enough the Ranger station is located in Talkeetna which is 50 or 60 miles away from the closest National Park. So, it's Ranger station trivia question. It's a Ranger station. It is not in a in a park.

Dave: I'm going to leave our visitors with a message because I think you told me about a bumper sticker you saw in Talkeetna, and having spent a lot of time in Alaska, I identify with the message of that bumper sticker. Steve, what did that one say until Talkeetna?

Steve: That said, Talkeetna, we're all here because we're not all there.

Dave: It's clever. I spent a season working at Sitka National Historical Park in Southeast Alaska, and I feel it. I feel it. So it's an interesting place. It's an interesting story. You're a very interesting person, Steve.

[outro music starts]

I'm so grateful that you spent a little bit of time with me today telling our listeners about your very special, your very unique volunteer experience at Denali National Park.

Steve: Well, thanks, Dave. I've enjoyed it as well. Awesome.

Dave: Well, thanks again, Steve and everybody else listening. We'll see you next time.

[outro music ends]

In this episode host, Dave Barak, speaks with the volunteer and President of the Board of Denali Rescue Volunteers, Steve Mock. They discuss how Steve got involved in search and rescue in Denali, what it’s like spending weeks on the side of a mountain, how others can volunteer with the park service, and more!

Brad Sailer, Visitor Travels to 63 National Parks with Service Dog


[intro music]  

Dave: Welcome to my Park story presented by the National Park Service. People form connections with their favorite national parks and programs, and this parkcast is a place to come together and share those stories. I'm your host, Dave Barak. Today's guest is Brad Sailer, who has travelled to the 63 national parks with his service dog, Ranger.

[intro music fades] 

Dave: With me today is Brad Sailer. Brad has been on a voyage for the last year or so and he has visited all 63 national parks and we're going to start with his park story to see why his is just a little bit unique. Hi, Brad. How are you?

Brad: I'm great. How are you doing, Dave?

Dave: Very good. It's nice to see you. So Brad, let's start from the beginning. What's your park story?

Brad: So, I was in a situation last summer where I had a pipe explode in my apartment and it flooded my apartment and destroyed most of my things. I realized that we had this opportunity, me, and my service animal Ranger, to hit the road with nothing holding us back. So, we realized that I had the opportunity to spread this message of awareness for people who have disabilities and the accessibility in the National Park system.

And we have been on the road for 11 months and have overcome a lot of different obstacles, and we just made it to Yellowstone and got the last stamp, got our last part right. Ranger has a world record. He's the first dog to have ever gone to every National Park.

Dave: This is incredible. And I forgot to mention, Brad, you are at Yellowstone right now. This is where you've chosen to end this journey and that's exciting. Yellowstone, of course, was our first National Park. And here you are with Ranger, great name by the way, and completing your journey.

You must have, because I know the geography of the national parks, you must have had to drive, fly, did you ever have to take a ferry? I mean, you have done all this different type of travel with Ranger, So, what is that like taking your service animal via every type of transportation imaginable?

Brad: Yeah, you know that that was kind of a necessity and a requirement in order to pull this off. There's a lot of parks, obviously, that you can't drive to. And, just from a logistical standpoint, putting all those pieces together, all these different modes of transportation just kind of fell into place.

Some fun stats for you: we did 34,000 miles in driving, 40 states, two countries, two territories, both the northern and the southern hemisphere, from the South of the equator to the Arctic Circle, eight time zones, 28 flights, 73 plane tickets, 17 boats, 7 vehicles, one which we totaled, 2 medevac, three hospitals, and one emergency vet surgery.

Dave: That's, that's a lot. That's, I mean, it's impressive and I know that there are people that will travel to all 63 of our National Parks and it's difficult to do and it's quite an accomplishment. However, it's important for me to note at this point, as you know, but for our listeners that there are actually 425 parks within the National Park system. And when we're referring to these 63, we're talking about the ones that are specifically designated National Parks. So, where you are now, Yellowstone, Yosemite National Park, Glacier National Park, the rest of those sites and parks are actually designated things like national monument, national battlefield, national seashore and all the like. So, you, Brad, have done these 63, but by my calculation, you've got like 300 something left to go.

Brad: Ohh, yeah, yeah. People keep asking what's next and it's on our list now, so Ranger and I aren't stopping here, that's for sure.

Dave: Ohh, that's great news. Well, I know you've only been to a couple of national park sites that are not capital N, capital P, National Parks. So, what are some of those that you visited that are that are designated differently?

Brad: Sure. You know, actually, I think the only one that we went to that wasn't a Congressional National Park was Mount Rushmore. We were out there for Badlands and Wind Caves, and we just happen to grab a cool, cool campsite right next to Mount Rushmore. So that was a really neat experience and one of those things that it's just a must, and I suppose I met you at the at the National Mall as well.

Dave: That's correct. Yeah, not every visitor to Washington knows that the National Mall is part of the National Park system. So, you and I had an opportunity to meet there. We got to meet up with the a ranger. We me at the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, we got to see a couple of cool sites there and those are all part of the National Park system, and we love to get the word out that you don't always have to go and travel great distances, as you've done, to experience the National Park Service.

Brad: There are so many, they're right in your backyard, yeah. All over the country, there's probably one right in your backyard.

Dave: True. But let's get back to your story. Let's talk about Ranger because as a National Park Service employee, I know what our duty is to people that use service animals, and I know having worked in parks, what our regulations are with service animals and how we accommodate that. But what was your experience with bringing Ranger? Did you encounter any troubles? It sounds like you had a vet visit, which I'm so sorry to hear. I did not know that that Ranger had gotten hurt or ill. What were some of the challenges within the parks traveling with the service animal? Brad: So, when Ranger had a surgery, we were at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, and he got an intestinal blockage basically. So, they had to open him up and get it out, and we had to stay in Hot Springs for another, you know, another eight days to give him some time to recover before getting back in the car.

Those the Rangers, the people at Hot Springs National Park, they knew all about it. They were so welcoming to him, especially when he walked in to finally get his stamp and they were clapping for him. It was, it was great. So, it wasn't Ranger’s best day, but it was one of our best experiences as far as people being welcoming. And knowing that he was a service animal and going the extra mile for him.

Dave: Well, that's really, really wonderful to hear. I love working for the National Park Service because we have so many visitors from so many different walks of life and to know that our four-legged visitor, our service animal Ranger was welcomed with open arms after his medical procedure, that's really nice to hear. But let's talk about, I mean what was your best day with Ranger? I mean Hot Springs sounds like a highlight after the fact, but what else sticks out at you when you look at this trip? I mean what's the, what's the highlight of traveling with Ranger?

Brad: I, you know, the highlight really is the people that you meet along the way. You know, these national parks have been waypoints for us, and it's been a dream of mine to visit all of them. But, this adventure has been everywhere in between as well, and just getting to share that with Ranger as well and giving him the opportunity to be a dog that gets to live on the road and outdoors and just be a dog. It was really good.

As far as the parks goes, it was really fun putting him on a float plane to get out to Katmai and Kobuk Valley, that was that was quite a special moment.

Dave: Thos are in Alaska, for any listeners who don't know, right? That's incredible. Yeah, and when I met you, of course, I met Ranger when you were here in Washington. So, it's a pretty cool treat to have someone like yourself who travels, but you've also been sharing the word. I mean, you've been posting about your travels with the service animal. What's that reaction been? Have you heard from other people that are that are doing similar? Sort of having similar trips, what's been the reaction as you share out your time with Ranger on the road?

Brad: Yeah, absolutely, so, I'm part of a few groups on social media. A few of them have to do with the Bark Ranger program, so I love talking to those people. I get asked a lot of questions because obviously the Bark Ranger program is specifically surrounded around the concept of having dogs in the park and keeping a little footprint. But not every park has a Bark Ranger program, and not every park normally lets dogs. So, I get asked a lot of questions about, you know, which parks we can get our dogs to and. And how did you go about that?

And then I get a lot of feed messages from people with disabilities too, who weren't aware of the fact that you can get your dog, and you can go visit these parks with a disability, with your service animal. And I'd like to note as well, overall, on this trip, we have been welcomed with open arms in every single park. All in all, the National Park Service completely aware of him and just welcomed him right in. And that has been a very, very nice thing.

Dave: That's great. That's great. Thanks for sharing that. I also want to take this opportunity, and perhaps you know you'll jump in as well, but to let our listeners know that when we talk about the Bark Ranger program, the parks that have a Bark Ranger program, these are for parks that are welcoming to dogs as pets. So, Brad, you of course are able to take Ranger, your service animal anywhere that you go, but for the sake of dogs that are pets, you want to call in advance. You want to check the website for parks that are able to accommodate dogs because it may not, even if they accommodate dogs, it may not be the best environment for your dog. I worked at a park that had alligators, so you know, maybe you don't want to take your dog to the place where the alligators are if it's a pet and you are trying to maintain their safety, so it's. It's a place where people need to do their research to know where pets are allowed, whereas service animals are allowed at all the parks and anywhere that their owners need to go.

Brad: Absolutely. And to add on to that, I would say that part of it is just common sense, you know, especially going into parks where dogs are allowed.

We, we've always tried to keep our footprint in the parks very light, in all of them, even ones that only service animals are in. But there's a reason that these dogs aren't allowed into the parks, some of these parks, and because of that we take that into consideration and try and keep our footprint light. And even in parks that dogs are completely welcome in pets, it's important to just have that in the back of your mind that we're being respectful to our parks in general. That's what the Bark Ranger program is about, is having a dog that leaves a light footprint in the parks. We don't push it even though he's allowed to go anywhere that I am in a National Park. Part of it is just being respectful to the environment, to the park, and not taking your dog into bear country. We're letting them get too close to the alligators.

Dave: Any safety precaution you would take as a visitor, you may also want to take with your animals, be they service animals or pets, because you want to stay safe and of course you want them to stay safe as well.

And while we're on the topic, you know, I know not all of these apply for apply to you, but you know there are other ways in which national parks are accommodating to people with disabilities. People that may need a tactile experience, of course, all of our signages are in Braille. We offer audio description for our videos. You know these are places where we make sure that we are giving as full of an experience as possible to people that have disabilities and come to enjoy our parks. We want to make sure that everyone feels welcome, so the National Park Service is committed to these accommodations for everyone. You traveling with Ranger is great because you have been such an inspiration to people. I've seen you on Facebook, I've met you, I've seen your videos. So, I know the work you're doing isn't just for your enjoyment, as a person and a traveler and a visitor to national parks, but for a lot of people that can experience them through your eyes.

Brad: And you know I'm not just trying to advocate for service animals in this. I'm trying to advocate for every disability, whether you have a service animal or not. You know if you're in a wheelchair the park system has created these beautiful boardwalks and accessible trails that, you know, allow you to experience that as well, and as Dave mentioned the Braille signs. I've seen these tactile exhibits in the visitor centers where you can actually pick things up and feel them and touch them. And I think that they've done a great job with that, but this this message is to people, all people with disabilities, not just people with service animals, and I just wanted to mention that

Dave: That's a good point Brad and thanks for broadening that part of the conversation. That is the goal, and that is what we strive to do to make sure that we are having everybody, everybody, everybody enjoy the national parks. Any closing thoughts, Brad, as we as we end our conversation here?

Brad: You know, the only thing I'd really like to say is, when I first got my disability, it hit me later in life, and I felt trapped. I felt like things that I had always wanted to do that those possibilities had gone away, and it really locked me into a box mentally.

And part of this message is that isn't the case. You can break free from your disability, and all you have to do is put your foot out the door and go explore. Like we're talking about, these parks have made it possible for that to happen, but don't allow your disability to define your life. You need to take control over your own disability and live your life the way that you would like to do it. That is completely possible.

Dave: Thank you, Brad. Thank you so much for your words of encouragement, for your story. Thank you for visiting Washington. So, I had a chance to meet you and Ranger in person, and I know you're going to be in Yellowstone for a few more days.

Brad: I just extended it for another 5. I'm going to be here for about 12 days now. Nice time to sit down and decompress from 11 months on the road.

[outro music starts]  

Dave: Good. You've earned it. You've earned a little bit of rest. Kick those feet up. Enjoy the sunset. Thanks for participating today. We're really grateful to have you. Please keep us posted on your continued adventures. And I'm just grateful for your time and for your stories. Thanks, Brad.

Brad: Hey, my pleasure. Thank you, Dave. Appreciate you guys.

[outro music stops]

In this episode, host Dave Barak speaks with Brad Sailer who visited 63 national parks with his service dog, Ranger. They discuss where Brad and Ranger traveled, what it was like traveling with a service dog to national parks, their favorite parts of the trip, and more!

Matt Turner, NPS Social Media Lead


[intro music]

Dave: Welcome to MyParkStory presented by the National Park Service. People form connections with their favorite national parks and programs, and this parkcast is a place to come together and share those stories. I'm your host, Dave Barak. In this episode, we speak with social media specialist for the National Park Service, Matt Turner.

[intro music fades]

Well, you may not know his name, but you might know my next guest by his tweets. Here are some examples:

To avoid crowds, visit areas less crowded.

One day, you'll find someone who is obsessed with you... It's probably going to be a squirrel.

When hiking, the early bird gets the face full of spider webs. Bring a tall friend and let them lead.

Folks, I am really excited to introduce you to Matt Turner, our social media specialist at the National Park Service. Hi, Matt.

Matt: Hey, Dave, great to be here.

Dave: Thanks for joining us. Before we get to all your incredible work as the social media specialist, let's talk about how it all started. What's your park story?

Matt: Yeah, I've had the opportunity to be with the Park Service starting, actually, right out of college. I took a seasonal job working in an e-booth down in Georgia at Fort Pulaski National Monument, and it was really only supposed to be a three- or four-month gig and you know here I am 17, 18 years later. So, it's been a quite an adventure. I've had the opportunity to do work at several different parks and do social media, web work, give tours, work with the public, graphic design, so, uh, definitely a lot of cool stuff that I've been able to do just working with the Park Service.

Dave: Fabulous. How long have you been in your current role as the social media specialist for the Park Service?

Matt: Yeah. I joined our team in the Office of Communications back in the fall of 2018. Prior to that, I actually spent a few years in our Midwest Regional Office in Omaha and then it was in a couple parks moving around the country.

Dave: Cool. So as the National Parks Social Media Specialist, some might call you the voice of the national parks. What does the typical day look like for you? What is it you look for in social media and how do you connect with the public?

Matt: For us, it's all about, you know, engagement and being social. And I spend a lot of time on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram. I'm looking for opportunities to create content. I'm also curating from all the different accounts being, you know, managed by parks and programs out there. So, it's definitely seeing, you know, what kind of stories we can elevate to our national channels and help, again, share more of all of our story.

Another part of my job too is a lot of administrative tasks, maybe not some of the fun stuff all the time, but I help parks with a lot of troubleshooting. So, passwords and emails, there's always going to be glitches with the platforms themselves. I work in the communications office, you know, we're almost 24/7. There's always something going on and during the work week, lots of meetings. Lots of, uh, you know, talks about messaging and policy and guidance that we can kind of help share with the field.

Dave: You are an incredible resource. When I was in the field, I was at a park in Louisiana, Jean Lafitte, and you were an immense resource to me as I tried to connect with the public, in this case during the pandemic when social media was so crucial for that communication. I want to know how you, how you find your humor because you have this incredible way of teaching people and educating the public while using tweets and posts that engage and make us laugh. So where did this incredible sense of humor come from?

Matt: Oh, I hope people enjoy the humor. If you don't, it was someone else who was tweeting it, so... it wasn't me. But yeah, I think a lot of my kind of humor just comes from observing the world around. It's kind of maybe dry, maybe, some sarcasm at times. But I think definitely my experience working in parks and just pulling from that. You know, I've worked at an e-booth, I've, I've given guided tours, I've been with people on vacation, and you know, I've seen how people kind of interact with parks and with Rangers. So, I definitely pull from a lot of that experience when I'm thinking about that monologue in my head to create a longer post or a tweet, and how can I insert, you know, maybe a little pun here, or you know, a reference? I'm also always just pulling from pop culture, you know, what's kind of trending out there? What's something that we can kind of repackage for the Park Service to kind of make that connection and really create that shareable content that I think hopefully will kind of go viral, but also, you know, have that educational component as well? So, it's a lot of edutainment in a way.

Dave: And I think that's so crucial because you've had so much experience in parks working with the with the public face to face. Your style isn't just coming from a place of social media where it's you're here and they’re there. You know how to talk to people in person and that really comes through in the warmth and the style of your tweets. It's as if we're just like hearing from a friend and they are making us laugh and making sure we are safe and doing the right things in national parks. Speaking of which, what is your favorite tweet you've written? I'm guessing you’ve written thousands, but I named a few earlier, but like, what's your favorite?

Matt: It's always hard to pick and choose. I think one that has really just gone viral, not too long ago as well, you know, we've always done a lot with bear safety. We did one where if you come across a bear, never push a slower friend down, even if you feel the friendship has run its course. And I think that really surprised some people and got people's attention. You know, that was kind of the hook of that tweet. So, we did attach with it two other threads that really shared, you know, safety tips and also provided a link to our website, which had more resources. And that's kind of our strategy is to use those kind of, you know, hopefully funny or really, you know, exciting first tweets or posts and then we hook people and get them to learn more. You know, they read the whole post, or they click that link and go back to our website. So, we're always trying to have that educational component as part of that kind of experience.

Dave: And what I've noticed you also do, and you've touched on it a little bit, is a lot of your tweets and your posts have a call to action. And in this case, you were talking about, you know, clicking on a link towards bear safety that will give them like the real information, the real meat of what they need to know. Are there other types of calls to action that you find have been successful?

Matt: Yeah, for sure. I mean, social media is all about being social. We want that engagement. We want to have these conversations. So again, a lot of these calls to actions, it's simple questions. You know, we want to ask people to share their stories, their experiences, you know, share us your great photos, share your tips. You know, a lot of people are out there on the trails. They have their favorites. They have, you know, they're kind of tips and tricks for a most successful experience. So, we really want to have our entire kind of online community really come together and again share what they, you know, think is special about our national parks.

Dave: You've talked about bears. They are popular online. What other animals get people's attention?

Matt: Well, obviously the big animals, the bears, the bison, definitely an iconic symbol of the Park Service. So definitely, we're always doing a lot of, you know, wildlife watching tips and kind of a safety with a smile with trying to get people to stay safe around these animals. It's almost like the bigger the animal, the closer that the public wants to get to them. So, we're trying to warn them about, you know, you don't want to injure vacation too soon. So definitely, you know, use your zoom on your camera and keep your distance, and hopefully you'll have a much better experience in your parks.

Dave: Great. Speaking of experiences in parks, you told me once that you met Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones at a park, and I want to know, were you on Wall Street? Or were you in Chicago? That's a good joke.

Matt: That was an epic, epic moment, nah. It was actually in Savannah, GA. They actually stopped by for a tour, and I happened to be the Ranger to give them a tour. And it was one of those things where it was really kind of cool to have someone of that stature want to take a tour of the site. And I wanted to make sure and treat them like normal people, you know, they just wanted to see the park and experience it. So, I didn't ask for a photograph or anything, which I now regret, but they actually had a good tour and we walked around the Fort, they saw a cannon firing demonstration. So, I think it was just a cool experience to see that, you know, everybody loves their parks, no matter, you know, kind of where they come from or who they are.

Dave: Celebrities. They're just like us, right? So, what does the future hold for Matt Turner and social media with the National Park Service?

Matt: Yeah, hopefully a lot more puns, a lot more tweets, a lot more safety. You know when will they learn not to pet the fluffy cows and get too close to the bears? So, we're definitely looking to continue our strategy and see what best fits for us going forward with social media and again also sharing stories. Again, we really want to hear from the public, you know this year especially with the YourParkStory/MyParkStory theme, we want people to, again, share their stories and experiences and really show us why they enjoy visiting their national parks, and social media is just a great way to do that.

Dave: Matt that's great, to borrow a phrase, I hope that you continue every day to wake up and choose chaos because you do it so well.

[outro music starts]

Matt, thank you so much for being with us today. This has been an exciting conversation and very illuminating for me and I think for our listeners. Thanks for being here, and we look forward to more humor and information and edutainment from you in the future. Thanks, Matt.

Matt: Thanks, Dave.

[outro music stops]

In this episode, host Dave Barak speaks with the National Park Service Social Media Lead Matt Turner. They discuss Matt's history with the park service, where his humor comes from, the ins and outs of writing a viral tweet, and more!