Season 1 Episode 1: A Love of the Mountains with Kathy Brazelton

June 15, 2017 Posted by: Rocky Mountain National Podcast
Click here to listen (50MB MP3)

Our first episode! We join Kathy Brazelton, East District Naturalist, in Upper Beaver Meadows to chat about her life as a ranger, what an "interpreter" does in the National Park Service, ranger programs, signs of spring, and more. #rmnpod

Online events calendar
Party with the Stars (June 16, 8:30 pm, Upper Beaver Meadows)
Weather in Rocky Mountain National Park

A female ranger standing on snow
Kathy Brazelton

A green mountain meadow is backdropped by rocky peaks
Upper Beaver Meadows

A broad-tailed hummingbird hovers above a branch
Broad-tailed hummingbird

Two magpies fight on a coniferous tree branch
Black-billed magpie

An american robin on a branch
American robin

[Host: Miles Barger]
Hello world, and welcome to the Rocky Mountain National Podcast, the official podcast of Rocky Mountain National Park. This podcast is something totally new for us. We're just getting started—this is episode one. We're going to be running in a seasonal format, so we'll have a whole season, and this season we're going to do ten episodes. What we're trying to do with this podcast is connect you to Rocky Mountain National Park through sounds and stories with things like days in the field with climbing and backcountry rangers and park researchers, interviews with rangers about both their own lives and what they do in the park and key park issues, soundscapes from around the park, news, upcoming events, tips for your visit, all that kind of stuff.

I'm your host Miles Barger. I've worked as a guide in Yellowstone, Denali, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks. I've also worked as a cartographer for the NPS (NPS is park-geek speak for the National Park Service, so you're going to hear a lot of people this season use that acronym— NPS, National Park Service). I made maps for the NPS brochure program, which makes the official brochures for our national park service units, and now I'm here at Rocky where I manage our web page, social media, audio/video production, waysides and signs, printed publication, and other stuff. I'm not going to go too much into my story here right now because as you'll see the interviews on our podcast are not going to be formal and stuff the. You know we're not doing highly produced stuff we're doing conversations with real Rangers with real park staff volunteers out in the field and we want it to be like you're sitting at a picnic table with you're sitting around a campfire we're just having an interesting conversation so I'm sure that in those conversations details about me will naturally emerge So for today's episode I spoke with Kathy Brazill to and the east district Nat. Shrillest the east district of Rocky Mountain National Park is the estis Park side of the park Cathy has been a long time resident of Estes Park and as you'll hear in our interview has been in love with Rocky and the surrounding area for a long time we chatted in upper Beaver Meadows a beautiful meadow backdrop by dropping mountain views where we look for signs of spring and learn about Kathy's lifelong passion for sharing with the world Rockies unique beauty we hope you enjoy.

Welcome to the Rocky Mountain National Park pass.

Miles Barger: Thanks for joining us out here. Where are we right now? We're in Upper Beaver Meadows in the picnic area. I like Upper Beaver Meadows. I think it's a beautiful place. Good birds up here.
Kathy Brazelton: I'm nodding!
MB: Yeah, that's OK. We'll have nod on audio. So, how's that big snow? For those of you who might be surprised, it's—what's today, May 23rd? And we're standing in snow.
KB: Because it's springtime in the Rockies!
MB: Exactly: because it's springtime in the Rockies. We just a few days ago had... Gosh, my house we had over three feet. I think in the park we had
KB: Over 34
MB: Yeah, over 34 or something like that.
KB: Craziness.
MB: Allenspark had like forty two. Have you seen a lot of snows that big here in the spring.
KB: Not quite that big. You know one year in March we got fifty six inches. It was phenomenal. Those are odd little weather events.
MB: Yeah, it's amazing how it will snow and then melt very quickly. It's kinda nice. A little hint of winter. All right. We'll just head into background stuff. So Kathy, what do you do here at Rocky Mountain National Park.
KB: I am the East District Naturalist. I supervise all of the interpretive stuff on the east side of the park from the Continental Divide down.
MB: And what is—I don't know our listeners might not know, we use the terms interpretation—what's an interpreter in the park service? You know, we don't translate stuff... well we sort of do!
KB: I look at it... My grandmother to her dying day asked me what language I spoke. I think it is kind of being an interpreter. I take my knowledge and love of this place and put it into language that the visitor can understand because it's new to them.
MB: So interpreters would do stuff like ranger programs that people go on. What other kinds of things?
KB: Walks, talks, hikes. And then there's the non-personal stuff that you'll see around the park. The brochures and wayside signs and things that help you understand where you are.
MB: Yeah I know a little bit about that. So let's see. Where are you from Kathy? KB: Originally?
MB: Originally.
KB: Born in Memphis, Tennessee.
MB: Memphis, Tennessee! But no accent?
KB: I lost it on purpose when I moved out here to go to college. But I was a child of the South.
KB: I grew up in the South, too, actually, and I was kind of the same way. I had I didn't lose on purpose, but I had a thick accent and. Kentucky plus Mississippi plus Tennessee, so that was a good mix.
KB: That's a doozie.
MB: Then I moved to Iowa when I was like eleven or twelve and it went away. Memphis, Tennessee. Huh! How long did you live there?
KB: Two years, but all my family was from there. Daddy's company moved him all around and my family loved to travel and we came west. In the station wagon with the wood paneling on the side.
MB: Like, uh, National Lampoon's Vacation style?
KB: Exactly! And three little girls in the backseat driving my parents crazy. That's when I fell in love with the West.
MB: So it was you and two sisters, is that right? Ever since you can remember he took trips out West? How did your parents get into that?
KB: I'm not quite sure. Dad was a crazy birder. He wanted to get lots of new species. And mother was really enthralled with the beauty of the Native American lands. so we did a lot of poking around down in Monument Valley and Gallop watching the dances. Yeah yeah, I had a blessed childhood, but it turned me on to my love for the national parks.
MB: Yeah that sounds great. What's the first national park you remember visiting? KB: Rocky. I was eleven years old. And I fell in love with these mountains.
MB: And that was a family trip?
KB: It was.
MB: How long were you here? Did you camp?
KB: No we didn't camp. We hiked in the snow. We all fell through. We had on our cotton jeans and our cotton boots. It was May though, you know. Coming from the South we thought it would be warm but no. We just we had so many good experiences here. Then later we camped and backpacked and hiked all through the park.
MB: So you came here a lot?
KB: We did.
MB: Like how often did you come? Yearly or?
KB: You know I think we came once a year for... probably eight years. And then once I came out here and went to school my parents kept coming back to visit.
MB: So you went to college here?
KB: Uh huh, I went to Colorado State.
MB: Colorado State. Did you come... was that because you loved Rocky so much or do you love this area so much or did it just was it coincidence?
KB: It was a combination of things. I adored the area, and I was going into forestry and natural resources, and CSU was the best school for that.
MB: So do you think... I guess it's hard to say. I mean it seems like your parents. and visiting all the national parks would make you like resources and all that. Were you into that ever since you can remember?
KB: I wanted to be a ranger ever since I was a little girl. We went on a hike at the Grand Canyon, and I remember trotting along behind my wonderful ranger, and I asked him, "Do you really get paid for this?"
MB: We still ask ourselves that sometimes don't we?
KB: But I knew. I knew. And I was so lucky and blessed to have it happen.
MB: That's great. So you went to school at Colorado State in Fort Collins. Did you work... When was your first job as a ranger?
KB: As a ranger?
MB: Yeah or in a national park. Did you ever do an internship or...
KB: I did internships. I worked for state and national parks. I worked for forest service. I worked anywhere I could find a job in the biz.
MB: What was your first thing in the biz?
KB: Parents don't let your children listen to this! haha When I was halfway through college I took a semester off, and I worked at Lory State Park, our wonderful state park just down the hill. I worked for the young adult Conservation Corps. So it was a break from school. but it was also doing something that was. My goal was always no matter what job I had was to put some kind of a spin on it that would benefit the environment and benefit my career.
MB: What kind of stuff did you do in that internship?
KB: I made some maps and I worked on some trails.
MB: That sounds interesting. Got to make maps. I like that. I've made some maps in my time. I mean it's interesting I think because with this that question comes up a lot with visitors, I feel like, like how did you do this or how did you become a ranger and what was involved? I feel like those types of summer jobs and internships are so key.
KB: My first intentship—you will love this—I went to Southern California and it was the Louis Robidoux Nature Center with Riverside County Parks and I was in madly in love with a California boy at the time. So I did my internship down there. And the day that I got there, maybe within two or three days, my poor boss, who ended up being a wonderful friend of mine, was in a terrible accident and handed me the keys to the center and said, "Have a nice summer." So I learned from the kitchen sink on up. It was the best experience ever. I learned everything.
MB: Yeah that sounds great. Sometimes that's... I've had a few internships like that. Yeah, let's see. So what's the first time you worked at Rocky Mountain National Park?
KB: So I came here in the year 2000.
MB: The year 2000. And what were you doing then?
KB: Oh it's a crazy story. I was chief ranger in several parks—chief of interpretation—and I wanted to move up here and my husband got a job and I didn't have a job yet, so I handed in my badge and moved up here on a leap of faith. But I wanted to raise my children up here. It's the scariest thing I've ever done but again...
MB: It worked out?
KB: Well, yeah, yes, wonderful. I had actually a summer off which I haven't had since I was sixteen. And I hiked and hiked and hiked.
MB: Got to know—I mean you already knew the park, but
KB: Got to know it so much better, yeah yeah. I'd sit down every morning with a topo map and a cup of coffee and just go, "Here we go."
MB: It sounds like heaven.
KB: It was. It was heaven. And then I got hired on as a seasonal again so I got to have all the fun and none of the responsibility of a supervisory position. And then just moved on up.
MB: I guess that's something too we should explain for listeners because this is the first episode of the podcast, so you know people are new to this stuff. We kind of have different groupings of—types of employees. We have interns that are through different programs: Student Conservation Association at some parks, or here we have our own programs And then we have seasonal employees which are actual official government employees but they're just working for up to six months or less. And we have term employees which are on kind of multi-year projects but they're a defined limit. And then we have a permanent employees, which is like what you normally think of as a full time employee. So you start out seasonal again and you're doing that. But you've been a chief in other places? Where did you work before that?
KB: I have worked... I started in Redwood National Park. I was going to graduate school in the Pacific Northwest. It was beautiful.
MB: When was Redoowd created?
KB: '78, I think?
MB: It seems like it's always an evolving place. So you were at Redwood...
KB: And I went from living redwoods to petrified ones. I went to Florissant Fossil Beds. I'm looking at the fossils like, "I know this ecosystem!"
MB: Wow that's really interesting.
KB: It was! huge petrified stumps.
MB: And Florissant is in... Oregon right?
KB: No, it's down in southern Colorado just outside of Colorado Spring.
MB: I'm thinking of different fossil beds in Oregon.
KB: You're thinking of John Day. Yeah.
MB: Yeah, I'm thinking of John Day.
KB: So that, it was a wondrful thing. And then I went from there to Curecant National Recreation Area which is different yet.
MB: That's in Colorado right down by...
KB: Between Gunnison and Montrose.
MB: Yeah I worked at Black Canyon of the Gunnison for for a winter.
KB: That's right. I was your neighbor.
MB: I love that part of the state. Curecanti's beautiful. I think a lot of people don't realize that the National Park Service manages a lot of National Recreation Areas. Not all national park service units are called national parks. We have tons... I don't even know how many types of units.
KB: National Historic Sites, National Monuments, National Battlefields, National Seashores.
MB: Yeah exactly. And for people, if you're listening and you're curious about that go to... if you search the terms "Find Your Park" you can actually find a big map. We have over four hundred... four hundred something units and I think a lot of people don't even realize that we manage all that stuff. Anyway: Curecanti.
KB: From there I went to a little bitty place in Utah: Timpanogos Cave.
MB: I've heard of that. What's that like?
KB: It's a little jewel box of a cave.
MB: Is it a dry cave, wet cave?
KB: It's a wet cave, still alive, with doors in it to help maintain the moisture ratio. It is way up high on a cliff so people show up and expect it to be like Carlsbad where they take an elevator or some stairs down to the cave. Instead they have to hike a mile and a half up.
MB: What part of Utah is that in?
KB: Just south of Salt Lake City. In the Wasatch Range there. It's beautiful. OK MB: I love that part of the country. Where after that?
KB: From there I went to Great Sand Dunes. Now it's national park and preserve.
MB: At that time was it uh
KB: A pational park.
MB: National park and then they added the preserve later. That's also a fascinating place. If anybody's coming to Rocky and you have a longer trip you know you should visit some of these places around us. I mean, Great Sand Dunes is bizarre.
KB: It's phenomenal. It's phenomenal.
MB: It's just these, you know, hundreds and hundreds of foot tall sand dunes up against the Sangre de Christos and there's a fourteener like right behind sand dunes. It's very bizarre! And what's that creek that flows down
KB: Medano.
MB: Yeah it flows like under the sand and kind of emerges on the other side.
KB: Yeah it comes in and out...
MB: ...and emerges in a wetland.
KB: There's secret pockets back in there.
MB: Yeah it's a bizarre place.
KB: A bison herd and an elk herd.
MB: Yeah it's definitely worth. I mean all parks. I've literally, every park I've been to, even when I'm like, "Ehhh, I don't know about this place." It's always interesting.
KB: Yes every park has some beauty.
MB: Yeah it's really fascinating. And so then after that you came here to Rocky?
KB: Uh, uh, Rocky.
MB: That's great. You got to be in some nice place.
KB: I'm a happy ending. I have been in wonderful places.
MB: You like it here OK.
KB: Yeah I do!
MB: So how did you get into interpretation specifically? Is that what you'd always wanted to do you?
KB: I've done lots of jobs in the national parks: resource management, law enforcement, cleaned my share of toilets. But my passion was to get people excited about these beautiful places. and to me interpretation was the key to that. Just to share my love for and knowledge of and watch that glow spread across their face. That's the best thing in the world.
MB: Yeah I have to agree. I love that, too. So you talked about taking trips with your family. Was there anyone specifically, like a specific ranger, that you remember. Or someone in your family specifically that really inspired that desire to communicate and inspire people?
KB: My mom was a professional Girl Scout, outdoor education, and I was a Scout myself, and that offered me many wonderful opportunities. And then my dad being a birder that's what we would do together. We'd go out on Saturdays and go birding when we could. So he taught me a lot about the different you know birds and why they were there and the ecosystem idea. And I just loved science in school. I was a little science nerd. Just adored it. I had a hard time deciding whether I wanted to go into research and because I just love immersing myself in resource knowledge but I really wanted the other piece, too, the communication of, the sharing of. That's important to me.
MB: I feel like that happens a lot for people in the park service. They kind of have a lot of interests. It takes a little bit to figure out... you know do you like being out in the field collecting data all the time kind of on your own? Or do you like interacting with people?
KB: Yes! Both!
MB: Exactly.
KB: And you know the old time ranger—hah, old—when I started, ywas more of a general ranger, generalist. We got to do a lot of the different things and we've gone a little more peged now into different categories.
MB: Yeah I've heard a lot of people mention that I've... I guess I've only been doing park stuff for about... ten years, but I've heard a lot of people say, "Yeah, used to be much more general." And it's just gotten more specialized over time. Why do you think that is?
KB: Well a lot of my first first parks were smaller parks, so you wear a lot of different hats because you don't have a lot of staff. And then if you move into a bigger park there's just more people to assume more roles.
MB: Yeah makes sense. A lot more... everything. I mean at Rocky we're... just a little under a quarter million acres and a lot of visitors.
KB: Yes we do!
MB: I bet that's changed a lot. Do you know what the visitation was when you when you were here like in 2000? Approximately?
KB: I think it was still... Don't quote me on this, but I think we were still under three million at that time. And now we're at 4.5 million and growing.
MB: Yeah so what what kind of changes have you seen at Rocky since you've been here.
KB: Oh I think the interpretive role becomes more and more important because we are trying to help people understand where they are so that their visit can be as low impact as possible and they can see the beautiful places and enjoy it but still in the spirit of national parks leave it for that next generation. So even though there's a lot of visitors, most of them really want what's right for the park, and we just help them understand how their behaviors can help the park.
MB: So. Again just in case some people listening don't know all the details, what are what are some things that we mean by impact, or like remaining low impact while we visit?
KB: Well it can be as simple as going to the bathroom in the correct place or in the correct manner. There's nothing worse than thinking you're in God's own wilderness and looking down and seeing a big pile of human leavings. Or a pop top or things like that. So you know that whole Leave No Trace idea is a good one.
MB: Yeah I know that that's a big one and one that we've been having to work with people on just because we do have so many visitors now. And you know it's understandable but...
KB: And using trails. If there's a trail available use that don't make your own and that can really help the undergrowth and vegetation around our heavily used areas. Things like that. And people need to remember that it's a little thing but it really does make a difference becaise we have 4.5 million people doing that little thing.
MB: That's what I always try to think about because you know, it's understandable why people do little things and you don't think about it. I always try to remember like, "OK what am I doing right now times 4.5 million."
KB: That's a good way to look at it.
MB: It can make a pretty big difference. And the other thing I try to think about too that I think, and I think you're right, this is where interpretation is so helpful, is that national parks are really fun and they're fun to come to and they're fun vacation, but they're so interesting because they're set aside forever. They're supposed to be here forever, for everyone, every generation, you know. Grandkids, great grandkids, everybody. And So that always helps me, to.
KB: I mean, isn't that the best dream ever? It is! It's an amazing idea.
MB: When you get up in the morning and put on your green pants, if that's the reason we're getting up and putting on our green pants: we could have a lot worse troubles.
MB: I agree.

[Host] News Break
OK! Time for a little break while we give you quick news and announcements about things going on in Rocky Mountain National Park.

First of all: summer is here. So it's hard to believe it was not long ago we had a huge late Ma snowstorm, over three feet of snow in Estes Park, way more up in the higher elevations. But Trail Ridge Road is now fully open for the season. Roads are clear, but watch out for ice. It can get below freezing at night and any water from melting snow can freeze. And be prepared for cool temps and high wind. It can really surprise you. For example on Monday I went to the Alpine visitor Center. When I left Beaver Meadows Visitor Center it was seventy six degrees, light winds, sunny. Up at Alpine Visitor Center it was forty six degrees and very windy and pretty clouded over. So the weather changes really quickly and temperatures always get colder as you go up in elevation. I was really glad to have a jacket, hat, and gloves, and to not be in sandals, and we recommend that any of you coming to visit bring all those items as well. Warm clothes, hat, gloves, and if you're wearing sandals, some extra shoes in case it's really cold up there.

Wildflowers are starting to bloom in the lower elevations of the park and wildlife are out and about with new elk and moose calves being spotted around the park and lots of species of birds joining us from near and far including the hard to miss ruby throated hummingbirds. They buzz and chirp. You hear them through the air.

Ranger programs. Have you ever joined a ranger-led program? They are a great way to learn about the park and have fun doing it, and they're free. So on a ranger-led program you show up at a location, a ranger is there with you. We have walks and hikes. We have evening programs. We have more like presentation style, hands-on. We even have things especially for kids. They're absolutely a great benefit and no cost to you.

We have a special program coming up on June 16 at 8:30 pm at the Upper Beaver Meadows trailhead, and we call it Party with the Stars. So if you have not been to Rocky Mountain at night and seen our night skies, they are incredible. The Milky Way, all the stars, it's just... I can't even describe it to you. You have to see it yourself. So on this program you show up—8:30 pm, Upper Beaver Meadows trailhead—and you watch as night descends on Rocky Mountain National Park, and then when it's dark there's actually going to be volunteers available with big telescopes that will help you experience the magic of the night sky. They can point things out to you, or you can just look through the telescopes and get some great views. So I highly recommend you check that out. June 16, 8:30 pm.

We also have all of our summer programs beginning this Sunday, June 18. There are way too many for me to talk about here, but you can find them online. For a full list of our ranger programs, check out our online calendar at Or if you're here visiting us in the park, you'll get a park newspaper when you come through an entrance station. Turn to pages three through seven in that newspaper, and you'll see our full list of programs for the summer.

Finally, a few updates on our park roads. Old Fall River Road is currently closed to vehicles. It's open to bikes and walkers. It is set to open as usual in early July, weather permitting. So stay tuned on that. There's construction going on on Moraine Park Road from the intersection with Bear Lake Road to the Moraine Park Campground. You can expect delays of up to fifteen minutes there during the day while construction is going on. And all throughout the summer we have a park-wide project to repair and preserve pavement in the park, and that also might cause short delays in a few sections of road. Those sections of road are changing throughout the summer, so just something to be aware of as you visit us.

All right, there is all the news that's fit to speak for you this week. Let's get back to our interview with Kathy.

MB: Since it's spring, throught we could talk a little bit about spring in Rocky.
KB: Spring in Rocky? Be ready!
MB: Yeah when you think about spring in Rocky Mountain National Park, what do you think of? You think of: be ready.
KB: The first thing I think of is change. Because it's going to be changing either by the minute our day or you can have a fifty degree day one day and be sitting and getting sunburned on a rock, and the next day you are in three feet of snow, so be ready. Folks who come visit us you know they have their shorts and sandals on and they're ready to climb Longs and we're saying you know that's still a winter climb. They forget how far north we are and how high we are it really makes a difference.
MB: Yeah, it... it makes sense to me. I totally get. I remember the first time I came out West because being from Kentucky, you know like it snows a little bit, but you know, May is warm. It's summer basically. I remember we came out here... I think it was early June, we went to Yellowstone and a snow storm was coming in and they were basically, "You can either stay here for three days or you can leave. But you're not going to get in or out." And we were like what? It kind, of kind of blew our minds. So that's a good tip for everybody: be prepared for anything. Like you said, sunburn in sixty or, yeah you know, twenty degrees and dumping snow or... Three feet of snow like we just had in May. What else do you... what other things are changing here? I think it's interesting when you live in different types of environments, you know. There's always change happening and we have spring, but I think a lot of people maybe wouldn't think of it as spring or recognize it as spring.
KB: It's not a long drawn out spring like other folks have. I think of my senses when I think of spring. There's things you smell. You can smell the currant blossoms or the currant leave. That's one of our shrubs. You can smell the willow catkins and that green meadow waking up smell. It just really is strong scents in the spring. I think of sights. I think of the blue of the bluebirds comin' in and they're in their breeding plumage and they are an incredible color blue. Your eyes just can't register it.
MB: Yeah it is shocking when you see one and you think "whoah, is that real?"
KB: Extremely pregnant cow elk waiting to drop their babies.
MB: I've seen a lot of those around town.
KB: I think of sounds. WE have the red-tailed hawk coming in to build their nest and they do a lot of calling back and forth the breeding pair. I think of the broad-tailed hummingbird when he swoops down the male, the wings vibrate and you hear that funny little noise.
MB: It's always exciting when those show up. Maybe we'll be able to drop some of these sounds in to the podcast so you can kinda know.
KB: To me it's all about timing, because when the ribes, the currant, when it puts its little blossoms out it's one of the first ones. It's about the same time that the hummingbirds show up and it's a vital food source for them, so it's all about—we call it phenology. We study the timing of different events and springtime is boom boom boom event after event.
MB: Yeah, it can happen really quickly once it gets rolling. Yeah we're feeling the sun right now. This is actually  exactly what we're talking about. In the short term because when we first came out here we were pretty cold, it was cloudy and everything, and now the sun's out and we're like hot, almost. Espeically with the sun hitting it below your face. That's another tip for people: when you come anytime, sunscreen. In the summer, in the winter. I think some of the worst burns I've ever had have been in the winter because it hits you from below. I like the sunburn in the nostril. That's always a good one. I remember the first time that happened to me, I was like, "What's going on?!" Yes, plan ahead. Yeah, those are all great things to listen for. We hear a robin right now right. So the hummingbirds.... Red tails...
KB: Robins are our noisy little neighbors. They call loudly. This time of year you see a lot of juncos, finches, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches. And the red-breasted nuthatch, speaking of sounds, who sings it's beautiful little call: ewwwwwhhhh eh errrhhhh. I always just say, "OK honey."
MB: Sounds like a trombone with a cold or something.
KB: It kinda does. And who else is here? Green-tailed towhees are doing their little dance. The magpies are nesting. They build that huge nest with the front and a back door.
MB: Magpies are fascinating.
KB: They are my favorite bird.
MB: And so smart.
KB: Oh and beautiful.
MB: Yeah they are, they're beautiful. I guess on the blog we'll try to put up a picture of magpies for you to watch after. They're pretty unmistakeable. You know they've got their big white body, long kind of blue-black irridescent tail. And yeah they build—if you see a nest, it's pretty unmistakable.
KB: Big dome.
MB: They're just big dome structures.
KB: And they're corvids so they're smart smart smart along with the jays.
MB: Yeah, or Stellar's jays. All the corvids.
KB: Ravens.
MB: So you like birds a little bit I get the impression?
KB: I like birds a lot. I like everything! That's why I'm a naturalist.
MB: Well that's true, it is a generalist thing.
KB: I have a real plant obsession, and I love the trees, and I love the rocks, and it all works together to make a very nice world.
MB: Do you... Have you always led  spring bird walks in the spring here?
KB: Yeah.
MB: Tell people about that a little bit.
KB: Oh it's a wonderful time to get out and see what's going. On our calm spring mornings there's no place more beautiful than out in the meadow listening and watching and again smelling. I love to smell everything, too.
MB: That's an important sense that people forget about sometimes.
KB: It is! You know how it's so linked to memory? So I think folks will come here and they'll smell something and later they'll get a whiff of it and go, "Oh yeah, Rocky." The spring bird walks are at seven—or ecxus me, they're at eight now and they'll be at seven in the summertime. We have wonderful mix of rangers and volunteers, our wonderful skilled volunteers helping us lead these, and this is the time of year when the migrants the folks who the bird folk who go thousands of miles away come back up and come home to Rocky, so it's great to see them arriving.
MB: It's amazing. It's really amazing. Yeah you know bird walks are one of many types of walks and talks. We have so much stuff going, on especially in the summer. When you arrive at the park, for listeners, you will get a newspaper when you go through the gates, and that will have all the programs. But if you want to look ahead of time or while you're visiting if you're back in your hotel or whatever, if you go to our website there's actually a calendar up on the right hand corner and you can search for specific dates and it'll tell you everything going on those days. And all of our ranger programs are free.
KB: Yes, all included in your price of entry. And boy I sure want to encourage you to plan ahead if you can, because we are getting so busy, and there's times when there's no parking, and I know how frustrating that can be, but if you plan ahead you can be where you want to be before the crowds get here.
MB: Yeah, that is a really big thing as it gets more popular. I mean it's great that we're more popular because that's what we want. We want more people to come earn about not just this park but this place as a representation of you know the southern Rockies, the Colorado Rockies. But yeah. Planning ahead is so key. Our website's great for that. You cand do a lot of research. We actually are going to have an article up there that you can go and see about planning ahead, and a lot of it is, you know, look at ranger programs you might be interested in, see exactly what time they're going to be, kind of think about your day.
KB: We want to give you all the tools so your visit will be very successful and fun.
MB: Exactly. I think that's the thing. We want everyone's visit to be great. We really do. That's what I think about all the time, is is all of you who are coming to visit us, we want you to have a beautiful visit.
KB: I see people who get grumpy with the traffic in town, and I always just laugh because I say, "That's a mom and dad and three little kids just like my car, and they're all having the adventure of their lives. I'm not going to get mad at them.
MB: Yeah, just think back to that time. What are some of your favorite visitor questions ever? Are there some that come up on a regular basis that are...
KB: You know, there was one time that I gave terrible misinformation to a lady without thinking about it. She came to me at the front desk, and she said, "I've been here looking for elk, and I can't see any of them." And it was a very warm spring day, so I said, "Oh, you know, they're up in the trees. Their coats are so hot." And she said, "I didn't know they could climb trees!" So I misspoke. By being up in the trees I meant taking shelter under the forest canpopy. I said it poorly. She was very surprised.
MB: Therea are so many animals and things here that a lot of people aren't familiar with. Maybe elks do climb trees. Elks... elk. That's pretty funny. If you could give listeners one—you can give more than, but—one piece of advice for their visit, let's say this summer, because we're gonna put this podcast up in mid-June. What do you think it would be? Doesn't have to be practical. It can be anything.
KB: Probably my biggest piece of advice is just come with an open heart and open eyes. Look around and absorb this place. It's yours, and it is magical. Be open to that. Don't get caught up in the traffic and where we're going to eat lunch and all the day to day things. Let those slide to the back of your mind and your heart and just BE HERE NOW.
MB: Yeah that's a great piece of advice because I... I experience that too in the part. You know sometimes you have an idea of, "I want to do this specific, to go to specific place, and yet, everywhere you go in the park, anything you do, I always find beautiful and enjoyable.
KB: In the mountains, John Muir Suid, and their peace will flow into you. It's that, I find myself on the way to work thinking about getting the kids to the dentist, and I look up at the mountains and go, "Oh yeah, that's what's important."
MB: Let it kind of, like you said, let it flow into you, let it calm you down. It's important to remember sometimes. All times! We already talked about bird walks. What are some other events this summer that listeners might want to know about? Like what about summer night sky stuff?
KB: Oh we have several. They're primarily on Friday night, and I have a wonderful ranger on my staff who is a Dark Ranger as well as a park ranger, which means she is highly skilled in astronomy and the skills to teach that. We go out into these matters here, and we look up, and I promise you you've never seen stars like this. It is so magical. There are thousands. And we have a wonderful cadre of volunteers who come and bring their telescopes so we can all get a look. Last summer I set out here, probably til about 2 am watching Saturn, and you could see the rings and, it's just, oh, it's impressive.
MB: It is stunning. It's really amazing. And even the difference between nearer into town and when you drive intp the park a little ways.
KB: If you're used to a lot of light pollution in your urban sky, when you get out here and look up, you're going to be just amazed.
MB: A lot of times you can see the Milky Way before your eyes even get adjusted. You just look up and there it is, you don't even have to adjust. Those are great programs. We like to say "Half the park is after dark." But it's really true. It's really true. There's just so much amazing stuff. And in the winters we do some full moon walk sometimes.
KB: We do. It's a magical night to be out. Sometimes we have to go in snowshoes, but we're out in the winter landscape under that full moon light learning about how the planet works and how the moon works and it's just wonderful.
MB: So yeah we have our night sky programs, and again, if you go on our website you'll find all of those listed. We also have evening programs, so not quite... well around when it's getting dark. Can you tell people about those?
KB: Those are primarily located in our campground, but you don't have to be staying in the campground to come. You can pull in and attend the campfire program as well. Actuall,y we call them campfire programs, but we don't do the fire part anymore because of fire danger. We have wonderful evening programs on every topic imaginable. A great way to learn about the park.
MB: And so those are in our campground amphitheaters. All kinds of different topics, different people...
KB: Different show every night.
MB: Those are nice because there's a lot of visitors around. I'ts kind of a nice fun a way to meet people, communal spirit.
KB: They're very family-oriented and some we do early before the sun goes down because we know we have some campers who need to be in bed, and then some we do as it gets dark, and we use a slide projector, Power Point projector, for that.
MB: I'm trying to think of some of our other programs. We have lots of walks...
KB: We have walks. We have programs that are tied to the visitor center because we know you're busy and you might want to learn something but don't have time to go on a long walk. Walks, talks, everything imaginable. Just again check out those web listings and see what fits your needs.
MB: We also some kind of fun... like "Coffee with a Ranger."" I think that's kind of an interesting program.
KB: That's a fun one. Meet the ranger at seven o'clock in the campground.
MB: We try to keep it informal, just a chance for you to talk and ask questions.
KB: It is question, and you know what we really use it for? We use it as a chance to really put our finger on the pulse of what the visitor is doing, thinking, feeling, and we really like the feedback of what your experience is like and how we can do better.
MB: That is; that's true. I hadn't even thought about that part of it, and that is a great opportunity to talk and see how things are going with people. And then, visitor centers. We also staff those.
KB: Oh yes. Swing in and you can find maps, information, trail information, anything you need.
MB: And then also the book stores.
KB: Oh yes, wonderful sales items with our partner.
MB: What are your some of your favorite books about Rocky? Anything.
KB: Yeah well field guides yes, 'cause that's what makes my knee go. Anything by Enos Mills. He was such... he's the father of our national park, and he was the father of really the rangering profession of taking people out into the field and learning. And he writes lyrically. You will fall in love with the mountains by reading anything Enos wrote you know. Maybe we can talk about him for a little bit because I think that's pretty, that's pretty fascinating, and definitely I courage anyone to read, because it's like halfway to poetry. Kind of half way between prose and poetry. When did he come to this area?
KB: He came when he was a little kid.
MB: Same as you!
KB: Same, well sort of, but he came for different reasons. He was quite ill back in Kansas where he lived, and they had thought that maybe if he came out here and lived with his uncle in the rarefied mountain air, he would get better. And he did. He got strong and wonderful and set up a mountain school—nature school on the side of Longs Peak. And I can't remember how many times he climbed Longs Peak but it in the three hundreds, four hundred. He was like the king of that area. He knew it. He was such a good naturalist, and he could tell it in such beautiful ways that everybody got excited. And then he used that skill to get the idea of the national park going and campaign for us all across the nation.
MB: It's amazing to me how many national parks have that sort of story. They have you know a person or a small group of people that recognize the beauty of the place, and they really work hard to have it protected. I always find that really inspiring, because it's just, you know, it's just a few people who spearhead it, and now we've had this park for 102 years.
KB: Thanks to their efforts. Exactly. And so never think that you cannot help or make your dream come true. You can.
MB: Yeah. Yeah, it really is amazing to read about all those folks. And so Enos Mills, basically, I mean... What would you say? Did he create the idea of a naturalist as like a defined profession, or do you think he pushed it forward?
KB: Nature guiding is what he called it, and he said don't tell them so much the what, but get 'em' excited about the how and the why and what it means to them. So he had the answers way back then. And his nature school was just a wonderful place to come and learn that people would go up.
MB: You know I think that's an interesting thing for me that maybe surprises some people when they go on interpretive programs and that's why we I think that's part of the reason why we have our own term interpretation as opposed to education, because we're not just trying to bring people out and just throw facts at you all day. You know could you talk a little bit about that.
KB: Our... I think our main goal is, we know that people want to learn—we like it, too. So we do that part, but we don't let it end there. We try to take it to that next step, which is something transformative, something inspirational. That's where people's hearts are touched. And our goal is to touch you in your brain with the intellectual, in your heart with the emotional, and we want you to leave this place a steward. We want you to leave this place a champion for national parks and for Rocky and to do everything you can to help protect us.
MB: I think. Not to get too much into technical verbiage, but we're also that, that's I feel it's a growing thing in the park service, you know these more interactive programs with rangers where again we're not just talking at you, but we actually want to have a conversation not just between the ranger and the person but between everybody that's in the group. And I've been on some of those programs, and it's, it's amazing what comes out you know.
KB: Oh, we learn so much from our visitors. And we look at it as being more of a dialogue than just the, "I'm gonna stand up here and tell you everything I know now." And through that dialogue everybody is enriched, everybody learns, and everybody has a chance to be heard.
MB: I feel you know so many ranger programs—I mean not just guiding them but also being on them—it's amazing how you can have more energy and excitement when you're done than when you start. So it's very different than a class almost because you're like, "OK I'm taking it all in, so by the end you're like oh excited."" I've had experience in a lot of parks where you go on a ranger program and it... it just, it opens your eyes up to things you hadn't even noticed maybe or...
KB: And it's the same thing for the rangers. The visitors keep our pilot lights lit. They keep this excited and enthused and in love with this place. Seeing it through their eyes is just wonderful.
MB: And I love kids, too. All of our programs are all ages, correct?
KB: Sure, sure.
MB: So any any kids are welcome, and I think a lot of times they have some of the most insightful comments and questions.
KB: Oh, they do. I'll never forget the time. I had an environmental education contact with a kid. We were doing all these great programs, and he goes, "That was great." Then he looked at me, he goes, "Hey... you were teaching us stuff!"
MB: He saw you, huh?
KB: And I thought, "OK, my job here is done." He had a good time, but he learned. And our Junior Ranger program is one of our most popular programs in the park. We have wonderful books, and then we have programs up in our Hidden Valley area where we have Junior Ranger headquarters. And kids, that's just for you.
MB: So Junior Ranger. Yeah, can you explain it a little bit, like the details of it?
KB: We do four programs a day, and it's just a way to... kid-level learning. The fun stuff. A way to learn about the national park and what's here. And then the kids can fill out their books. There's all sorts of fun activities and things to color and match and draw lines to. And then they get their badge. And kids, your badge is bigger than my badge, so it's cool.
MB: Yeah, you go to a visitor center or to Junior Ranger Headquarters.
KB: Or a junior ranger program, uh huh.
MB: It's great. I mean, the books are so... I love the books.
KB: Oh they're beautiful. Our partner helped design those out at Rocky Mountain Conservancy.
MB: They're all hand illustrated.
KB: They're gorgeous.
MB: Yeah they really are.
KB: And kids are really excited when they open it. It's not, you know; it's summer often times when the kids are here and they don't want to do homework, but it doesn't look like homework.
MB: No, it's fun. And there's searches and puzzles.
KB: Games. Beautiful colors.
MB: It's just a great way... I mean the kids learn about it but the parents learn about it, too, because they're helping the kids. And then you get a badge, and—it's just a great program. And it's free! So there's...
KB: We have some kids who hit our desk, they are showing up little vests on with over a hundred junior ranger badges, and they just inspire me. They gave me hope for the future.
MB: Yeah, it's incredible. So we have junior ranger books for different age groups so any... whatever the age of your child or yourself, we have something...
KB: I was about to say: literally whatever the age. I awarded a Junior Ranger badge once to a 91 year old gentleman and that was just a high point in my life Miles: Yeah, that's amazing. Wow, what a good story. 91 years old?!
Kathy: He was grinning from ear to ear.
Miles: Yeah. Yeah, it's a great program I feel like. I'm thirty two—I have tons of friends in their twentyies, you know, who go, and they collect them just like and eight year old. Like it's just as fun.
MB: This is going to be a complicated answer maybe, but that's OK. We can kind of... we can muse on it until we're done. You've been coming to Rocky for a long time. What does Rocky mean to you? What are...
KB: Oh...
MB: I know I know I know I know, it's an impossible question but. So many.
KB: Rocky is part of the fiber of my being. Something—this is gonna sound all woo woo—but something physically literally happened to me the first time I saw these mountains. I just fell in love. I just said, "They are the most beautiful." And everywhere I've worked with the National Park Service... Like I said, every park has been a gift in some way, but I always thought these mountains here in Rocky—the Never Summer range, the tundra—it touched me in such a way. My mom and I spent so many happy days with our noses to the ground and our butts in the air up on the tundra and learning about the botany up there, and it's just such a special place. It's inspiring to me. It gives me strength. It grounds me. I have a real mountain fetish, and I love to visit any mountains I can find. But these are the home range and, ah... Our poet laureate Thomas... You'll have to dub this in, I can't think of his last name right now. But he said, "You can say that I have loved arange of mountains so much that I could hardly breathe." And that's what this is. And to have the honor, and the glorious experience of sharing this with the park visitors? That's the best thing I could ever do with my life because they're gonna help me protect it, and then it will be just as special to them. It's not mine. I just happen to love it.
MB: I think that's such a important point for everybody is that, this park belongs to everyone, you know. It's all of ours. Connect with it however it connects to you. Find the place that speaks to you. I had a similar experience the first time I went to Yellowstone. I mean I'd never been in the mountains, from the East Coast, I think I was sixteen or seventeen. And I just was like, "This is it. This is what I wanna do."" And I just, I've been working in national parks at least seasonally, ever since then. There's just something about it, you know.
KB: And you know, that's one of the biggest things I want to tell people. Jobs are hard right now. But please don't let anyone tell you that you can't be a park ranger if you want to be a park ranger. You can. And it's my job and the rest of the rangers to help you get there. People helped me every step along my career, and I'm so grateful. So if you have a real itch to do this, if it's really in your heart, get in touch with a ranger somewhere, whether it's out here or in the park that's closest to your home, and just say, "What can I do?" And you can start as a volunteer—I did when I was a master's student I was volunteering at Redwood. Just get your foot in the door. This can be yours if you want it.
MB: Think that's a great message, and I totally agree, you know. Every person I've ever asked my whole career or as a visitor has always been so warm and welcoming and excited to have someone interested in it. So definitely if it's something that you're interested in... You know, for some people it ends up being a career, for some people it ends up being a few summers that they never forget. Or winters, if you work in southern parks, you know, Everglades or...
KB: You know just because you come out here doesn't mean you have to grow up to be a ranger. You can grow up to be a dentist. But you're going to be a dentist who loves national parks. Who will help protect them.
MB: Yeah that's great. I think this has been great! Thank you, Kathy, so much for coming out, talking to us.
KB: Oh, so great to be out here with you.
MB: It's been super fun. Who knows... maybe we'll get together another time.
KB: Sure. Bring coffee next time.
MB: OK, good note, good note, we'll bring coffee next time. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
KB: Thanks guys.

MB: And that's our show! Thank you for joining us for our very first episode of our very first official podcast. We hope that you'll join us for the rest of the season. We have so much stuff lined up for you, it's going to be really fun and interesting and varied. Our next episode is on June 30. We really hope that this podcast grows into something that's useful to you and useful to people all across the country and the world. So if you dig our show, please tell your friends to join us, too. You can tell them in real life, or if that's getting too passe, you can tell them on social media or however else you want to tell them. And if you really want to help us out, please make sure to give us a review on iTunes. Reviews make it easier for people to find our podcast when they do searches in their podcast app or on Itunes or whatever platform they use.

For show notes, transcriptions, and to learn more about our show, you can visit our home page at The Rocky Mountain National Podcast is a product of Rocky Mountain National Park, one of 417 units of the National Park Service that preserve America's heritage for all, forever.

Thank you so much, and we'll see you in a couple weeks.

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Last updated: June 15, 2017

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