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Photo by Patrick Rodden

Learn Your Park

Fantasizing about a visit to the next national park is something I often do on an almost hourly basis. It is easy to picture oneself within beautiful scenery basking in the glow of sunsets reflecting off of red rocks or becoming drenched from the spray of a 700-foot waterfall. Planting feet firmly on a trail and taking that first step on a journey through the backcountry of a national park the size of a small state is one of the most invigorating and life-changing experiences one can ascertain. We become one with the natural world and find ourselves grounded in what it is to live the human experience. 

Photo courtesy of Patrick Rodden

In this underlying excitement, we often forget that our most formidable National Park Service comes with a history. Within each of the (now) 419 units, there is a story, an ecology, a natural existence that we do not often see with the naked eye. When one steps back and looks at the park experience, it is easy to forget that there is something grander than towering cliffs, glowing night skies banded with the Milky Way, lapping blue bioluminescent waves, and a primal desire to explore. There is an education to be had. 

Be it geological, historical, ecological, anthropological, or biological, every park withholds momentous educational opportunities. The core of the National Park Service wields the highest principles of education, providing park-goers with the ability to create the ultimate cognitive experience while savoring the physical excitement of exploration. Oftentimes, the learning aspect of a park, the trip planning, the reading about niche subjects, and the exploration of a park either, in a book or online, matches the feeling of experiencing a park. 

Where does education begin and how does one “learn a park?” In a time of quarantine that we are currently living, I have found myself sitting on a couch; that is the perfect place to begin diving into park educational opportunities. Our attraction to national parks usually begins because of a family vacation as a child or for late-comers, because of Instagram. From there, we find ourselves diving into a wormhole of information, either on the entire National Park System or for one specific park. As we continue flipping pages or looking through old photographs or clicking on links, the desire to learn builds.

Photo by Patrick Rodden

The purpose of my contribution to Hello Ranger is to be a resource for people wanting to learn about parks and find educational opportunities within. Over my course of time, I will cover everything from finding resources to how to approach volunteers and rangers. I have found that my experience of education in parks and educating others as a volunteer in parks has been one of the most beautiful parts of being in a national park. These places provide the chance for everyone, from toddlers to 100-year-olds, to learn something new. In the Hello Ranger community, we are all here to help you make your overall park experience better. 

Let’s begin this journey and “learn your park.”

Header photo: Courtesy of Patrick Rodden

Patrick Rodden is a full-time educator and a volunteer for the National Park Service. Learning about parks and playing with his Nikon are his hobbies. He’s been to 156 NPS units and counting, and loves sharing his passion with others.

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