Caring for Parks, Caring for Nature

By: Tiffany Soukup

I had been hearing about "The Project" for weeks. My nephew Carsten made a project that everyone in his entire school in Pennsylvania could see and we were in it. My husband, Chris, and I have been working seasonally in Vermont State Parks for years. We've moved around to a handful of different parks, most recently calling Seyon Lodge our summer home. Most years our family has been able to come up to visit and see each place we've been fortunate to live and work at. So far, Seyon Lodge has been their favorite.

If any of you reading have ever worked seasonal jobs or jobs with distinct ebbs and flows in your workload, you know how extreme it can be. Seasonal work is great because it's for a specified period of time and then it's over, but it can be pretty intense and exhausting at times. When I think of carloads of family members coming to visit on our limited off time during the season, a tiny part of me cringes at the spare, precious hours of my off time I have could easily spent sleeping, buying more toothpaste or washing my socks. The thought of spending extra time to prepare food and things ahead of time for family to ensure we can have a nice visit together seems daunting. But I do and here's why it is so important:

We never really know the effect our actions will have on other people. When our visit was over and my posse of a family all piled into their cars to make the eight hour drive back to PA, I breathed a sigh of relief that we had had another family visit without any major blowouts, where everyone was fed and happy, and we also got to do some neat things around the area. More than worrying if everyone had a folded cloth napkin to eat with, memories were made and lives were impacted.

I realized this when my nephew Carsten included us, Seyon Lodge, and the White Mountains for his school project. Bursting with enthusiasm, we talked on the phone a few months after our visit, "Yeah, Aunt Tiff, I did my project and I got an A! It's hanging on the wall in school and everybody in the whole school can see it! I told them how my aunt and uncle have the coolest jobs ever and work in parks in Vermont." Next to the picture of Chris and me, Carsten wrote, "Caring for parks."

In that moment I realized that's how these young people, in this case our own nieces and nephews, view us. We are the aunt and uncle who live and work in a beautiful park, take care of it the best we can. and are a part of helping hundreds of other families and people enjoy these natural spaces. Being a park ranger has got to be just about one of the coolest jobs there is. We help make it possible for people and families to have positive experiences in nature. It doesn't get any better than that.

Sometimes, as adults, it's difficult not to get caught up on how high the grass is growing, if the laundry's folded, if the house is perfect, and digress to letting kids watch hours of tv instead of going outside to play with them. Kids don't remember folded napkins, kids remember awesome experiences that engage them. Getting young people outdoors to see things, touch things, get dirty and create their own journeys is one of the best investments for our future. If the young (and old alike) don't have a chance to crawl around on their hands and knees looking for red efts, or come to an abrupt halt to ask what noise they just heard and learn it was a loon, or have the chance to go boating and realize they love it, why would they want to care about parks and support them?

We need people to be excited about parks, so excited they base their projects around them for their entire school to see. Although I may have been tired and had a growing pile of dirty socks, as a family we went out into nature to seize the day. The first time I saw Carsten when we went to PA to visit after the season ended he went bounding upstairs to grab his project and show us everything about it in great detail. Then he said, "Guys, I want you to have it so we can always remember that time together." The gesture brought tears to my eyes and I will remember as I now have the project hanging in our work room. Every time I may be feeling a bit tired and in need of motivation, I will look at the picture of us that says 'caring for parks.' It is through this work we hopefully are engaging the next generation to want to do the same, and that is a great honor worth having a pile of dirty socks for.

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