GTNP (written 4.30.14)
The story really begins with my freshman year of college at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. I knew that I loved the outdoors and I really really wanted to work in a national park in some capacity. One day, I passed a recruiting booth for A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP). It immediately caught my eye, but I had to subtly walk by a few more times eying it up before I actually got the courage to walk up and write my email down on the sign up sheet. I started getting emails telling me that I should apply, and while I really wanted to, I didn't. I was going to school in Oregon and at the time I had a boyfriend who lived in California, and summers were really the only time I got to see him. So I put ACMNP in the back of my mind and said maybe someday. That summer, I bought my first real camera and took it on our family vacation. It just so happened that we went to Rocky Mountain National Park during that vacation.
While taking photos of the landscape there, I knew that I had discovered my passion. I really was meant to be in the National Parks. It didn't matter which park or how I got there, I was just supposed to be there. This was my future. I talked to a young ranger there and asked her how she got her job. She told me about the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP), and how you had to get started while you were in college if you really wanted a chance at this highly competitive job. I kept that in mind, and when I got back to school I kept applying to the STEP program as well as applying for ACMNP.
I didn't hear back from either, and thought that maybe I was wrong and that I wasn't going to end up in the national parks. That just added more disappointment to what was already an extremely tumultuous year. Everything about my life was pretty much turned upside down with that summer being the absolute worst summer of my life.
But it was a summer that needed to happen, and looking back it was a summer that I needed to be home to experience. There was a reason I didn't hear back from those jobs and was forced to be in California that awful summer. The ties that were holding me back previously were cut, so now I was free to follow whatever path I chose. When September rolled around, I was starting school at a new college -California Baptist University. I turned a new leaf and grew much closer to God than I had ever been before. I knew I was finally actually ready for ACMNP, and with STEP program in transition that year switching to a new program for students, it seemed like it was clearly meant to be. I applied putting Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone and Blue Ridge Parkway down as my three choices in parks to be placed at. To my delight, I got a placement with them. Only it was a placement in some location I didn't know much about, and frankly was a tiny bit disappointed in getting -Grand Teton National Park.
However, I still prepared for the summer with much excitement. Now, I had lived in Southern California pretty much my entire life up to that point (besides those two first years of college), and it had never once felt like home. The moment I drove into the Tetons on May 29, 2012 I knew instantly that I was home. The feeling of home for the first time in my life quite literally brought tears to my eyes. This was the reason I didn't get placed in any of the other three locations, because I was clearly meant to be in the Tetons. That summer in Tetons was the absolute best summer I have ever experienced. The ministry I was doing there with ACMNP was so fruitful, and three months wasn't nearly enough time to accomplish all that I wanted to accomplish. I seriously considered dropping out of school to stay there, and even had the paperwork to do so filled out. But I was convinced to return to school to finish my senior year, and return to the Tetons the following summer instead.
Once I returned to school, it was time to focus on a concentration for the senior capstone of my double major in history and political science. I knew my dream, I knew my passion, and so I knew what I had to focus on -even if it was extremely narrow and probably wouldn't result in many other jobs. I didn't really care. I spent 8 months in private independent research on the history of Grand Teton National Park and the struggle it was to create the park.
Anyways, back to the story. Following my graduation, I moved back to the Tetons. Only this time I was working at a different smaller lodge (Signal Mountain Lodge) that the majority of the friends I had made the previous summer would be returning to. My love for the Tetons was reiterated, but at the same time I kept thinking that I probably needed to explore different places and promised myself I wouldn't come back unless I took a job that was a step up. During my senior year and throughout that summer, I had started applying to hundreds of ranger jobs. Literally. I had an alert on USAJobs that would send me an email anytime a position opened up and I would apply right then (USAJobs saves your application so it was very simple to apply to multiple jobs). However, since I had not started training as an undergrad and this was a highly competitive job, I didn't have much luck. In fact I pretty much gave up on the whole idea.
With hundreds of applications in and zero interviews. I was extremely discouraged. I started looking at other options. I considered going back to school to get a teaching credential, joining the military to get that Veteran's Preference for the NPS, and even at one point committed to a seminary in Montana for a Masters of Divinity in Outdoor Education. All of these options still led to an end goal of someday working as a park ranger, or at least working in a national park. But my heart wasn't really in them. I still wanted to be a ranger.
In October 2013, I thought I had my answer. At least for then. I accepted a job with FEMA that would start in the spring and stopped applying for ranger jobs. This job would give me federal government experience, and after my contract ended, I would definitely be more marketable for a ranger job. When that happened I would begin applying again. But until then, I was committed. I accepted a crappy job with a concessionaire in the Grand Canyon for the winter and thought I would be set.
Until I arrived in the Grand Canyon. The job and people there were awful, and the desert just didn't do it for me the way the mountains did. I had never been more homesick for the Tetons than in those two weeks in the Grand Canyon. I had a dilemma now. I had to keep working in order to pay for my upcoming New Zealand trip, but at the same time I could not stomach another day in the Grand Canyon. Luckily, I was offered a photography job at exactly the right moment up in Lake Tahoe and I left the Grand Canyon in November thinking I would start immediately and be fine for money. That was not the case.
I actually didn't start until December 20, and spent an entire month not working, waiting to start. This was a month in which I made no money at all. It was becoming clear that if I started the extremely low paying FEMA job when I was supposed to, I would dig myself into a financial hole with the New Zealand trip that would take years to climb out of. That combined with the absolute love I had for my photography job in Tahoe led me to pull out of FEMA. That morning, confused about what to do over the summer and with my life, I pulled up USAJobs and saw that four ranger jobs in the Tetons had opened up that morning and would close the following day. I applied immediately, still not thinking much of it. Even though the year before I had sent out hundreds of applications, these were the only applications I would submit for summer 2014.
A few days before this, I had gotten an email from ACMNP asking if/where I wanted to serve in the summer that I had not yet responded to. Now that I was free after giving up FEMA, I responded with Rocky Mountain, my original first choice when applying with ACMNP before. I was placed pretty much immediately and was at complete peace regarding my summer. I had a plan now. But as the summer got closer and closer, I got more and more homesick for my Tetons. I was always missing them, having dreams about them, and getting depressed that we would be separated for the summer. I voiced these concerns to my close friends and my parents. They reminded me that I hadn't yet received a no regarding the positions I had applied for in the Tetons and to keep praying. I did and had come to the conclusion that after my summer in Rocky Mountain, I would move to Wyoming, get my masters and teaching credential and just be a teacher in the Jackson Hole area. It wasn't ideal, but at least I would be home where I belonged. Still, they reminded me not to lose hope.
So I kept praying. On April 8, 2014, I finished my job in Tahoe and began the drive back to Southern California. I would drop my car and belongings there before flying out to Colorado for a week to see friends and train for my summer with ACMNP in Rocky Mountain National Park. On the morning of April 9, as I was sorting out my belongings for Colorado and dreaming about the Tetons, I got an email asking if I would be available this summer for the ranger position. After I said I was, the hiring manager called right away and interviewed me. Turns out he knew about me already from a couple of my managers at Signal Mountain, and said I had a reputation as an extremely hard worker. He also mentioned he was impressed with the knowledge I had of the Grand Tetons, gained through my eight months of intense research on them. He ended the call by saying that I should expect an official job offer by Monday. Now I had a problem, I was leaving the next day for Colorado to train for a job and with a team I would probably not end up working with.
I couldn't say no to the job offer of my dreams, but I also didn't want to let down ACMNP and my Rocky Mountain team. However, I went into the weekend with this knowledge and told myself that no matter what I was just going to be honest. The moment I saw the national office staff and my team, I told them about this dilemma. Instead of being disappointed like I expected, everyone was extremely happy for me. ACMNP was more than willing to work it out so I could still be serve with them from the Tetons. And it seemed everything had fallen into place, I just needed that official job offer. That Monday was the longest day of my life, just waiting to see if I got the job. At 2 o clock I went into the guest bedroom where I was staying at my friends house in Colorado to take a nap. I had given up hope that they were going to call, and just needed to rest and process it. But instead of taking a nap I ended up praying. I prayed for an hour and half until 3:30 when the phone rang with the official job offer. I don't think I have ever been as happy as I was when I got that phone call.
After I accepted the job offer, it became clear. All the little things that have lined up in my life in order for me to get this -ACMNP, The Tetons, The Grand Canyon, FEMA, Signal Mountain, My lack of money, New Zealand. All of it. It was leading here, to this. The way the dates lined up perfectly so that the only day I was uncertain about my summer was the only day this job was open on USAJobs, and so that I was actually in Colorado in person to talk to ACMNP about this. Clearly, this is God's purpose for me. And while ranger jobs start off seasonally and I will still be bouncing around from place to place over the next few years. I am confident that I am exactly where God wants me. I am only 22 and have accomplished my single lifelong goal. I am so excited for the new chapters that lie ahead in my life. And to this I have one thing to say,
All the Glory be to God!