Reflections on a Season at Rocky by Adam Auerbach
This summer and fall I have had the privilege of serving as one of Rocky’s interpretation interns. Fresh out of completing my undergraduate degree, I headed out to Colorado for an adventure in the mountains. Duties at Rocky throughout my June-October season have varied. Our first two weeks were our training period, in which we were exposed to the latest guidelines in interpretive techniques from the National Park Service and got a whirlwind introduction to the park. At the end of the training period, it was time for all the new seasonal staff to research for and write our own unique programs for the summer. As an intern I gave four summer programs, a bear talk, a bighorn sheep talk, a discovery hike for families, and a Jr. Ranger program for kids. The very first week out of training (and after lots of practice) I gave all four of my new programs to park visitors. Presenting to park visitors involves some nerves the first couple weeks, but quickly becomes comfortable.
Beyond giving interpretive programs, other duties in the summer included staffing the three visitors centers on the east side of the park to answer visitor questions, provide basic orientation to the park, and offer suggestions for hiking trails and scenic drives. Throughout the summer, interns also staff the Sheep Lakes Information Station, an area where bighorn sheep descend into a meadow to access a series of mineral licks. In addition to giving the bighorn sheep talk there, we also help stop traffic if the sheep want to cross the road, and educate visitors about the sheep and answer questions. Similarly, interns staff the Jr. Ranger Headquarters at Hidden Valley throughout the summer, where we give our Jr. Ranger programs, hang out with kids, and help them complete their Jr. Ranger activities. Lastly, a major perk of the job is two or three half day rove shifts per week. When out on rove, we get to simply go out and hike in the park. This familiarizes us with the trails and lets us make visitor contacts with any park guests who might have questions, need directions, or require any other sort of assistance.
As summer turns to fall, intern duties shift a little bit. Jr. Ranger programs conclude as children head back to school, and bighorn sheep talks make way for elk talks. In the fall, the elk have their rut, or mating season, and interns give an elk talk. Personally, for the fall season I kept my bear program from the summer, and wrote two new programs, one for elk and the other for a nature walk. The elk shifts are particularly different than summer duties. On elk shifts, we start around noon and work until around 8 or 9pm, as the elk do not come out and begin their rut activities until the evenings typically. During these shifts, interns give their elk programs and work with a team of volunteers called the Elk Bugle Corps to help make sure park visitors are giving the elk enough space, to keep guests parked in legal spaces, and to educate visitors about the elk rut. The elk and the changing colors make the fall a truly magical time at Rocky.
That about covers the job duties for an intern, but what happens in your off time? Interns are provided free park housing. Personally I was stationed in the Llama house with another interpretation intern and one of the environmental education interns. The llama house gets its name based on its location across a dirt road from the Park Service llama pen. Don’t expect lots of luxury, but there is running water and electricity, and it’s plenty comfortable. The llama house is also only a short walk to McLaren Hall, where interns generally report to work. Hiking opportunities are endless on days off, and Boulder and Fort Collins are only an hour away for those with a taste for the city. Interns and seasonal staff hang out from time to time either in the park housing area or in the town of Estes Park right outside the park border.
A season as an intern at Rocky is not without challenge (we get over 4 million visitors a year!), however it is an incredibly rewarding experience in one of the most beautiful places in the country. Moreover, interns learn tons of great interpretive skills and gain exposure to the National Park Service as an agency. The opportunity to work at Rocky is once in a lifetime, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.