20 Jun Rom(o)ing Around the Rockies
Toto, we’re not in New Jersey anymore.
It’s a strange feeling to look out toward the horizon and be greeted by a vast expanse of grassy foothills and the outlines of mountain ranges. Here, in Rocky Mountain National Park (ROMO), the ponderosa pines smell of vanilla and butterscotch, and locoweed populates roadsides with gentle sprinkles of fuschia, violet, and white. 1,794 miles to the east, my hometown in New Jersey sits a cool 7,338 feet lower in elevation than the lowest point in the Rockies. Back at home, if you look toward the horizon, all you’ll see are trees; the terrain is flat but still lovely. The beauty of the mountains drew me to spend my summer here. Although I’d never formally been to Colorado before (I’d driven through the state when I was younger, but never stopped for a visit), I had always hoped to visit. As an extrovert who has always been interested in conservation, sustainability, and education, I knew I had to apply when I came across the listing for the Fish and Feathers internship. Though I didn’t have extensive experience birding or fishing, I was eager to learn and share that knowledge with others.
I didn’t realize this when I applied, but there are very few teenagers working in the park service. I probably should’ve expected it, but walking into the first day of training at my site, I was surprised to be greeted by a room full of people ranging from their early twenties to mid-sixties. Having just finished my freshman year of college, and having not even formally declared my major (Environmental Science and Anthropology), I was definitely feeling a little daunted by my lack of experience and knowledge in the field. Most of my colleagues have worked with the park service for a few seasons already, so the imposter syndrome was definitely hitting a little bit. Building programs and working the visitor centers seems so much harder when it feels like you have nothing to go off of. Sometimes, it feels like you’re expected to know everything; visitors will often treat you like an omnipotent database of all the ins and outs of the park; hikes, “secret” trails, the name of the “prairie dog” they saw on their way up to Trail Ridge Road (it was probably a Wyoming ground squirrel). But it’s honestly quite fun to learn as you go. My coworkers are incredible; everyone is so kind and so willing to help each other answer questions and share their knowledge of the park. One of the benefits of having coworkers older than you is that they’ve spent many more years working in the parks and studying the natural world, so they usually have the answers to any questions you might have.
Though it doesn’t feel like it, I’ve already been at ROMO for about a month, and it’s honestly been great. Whether it’s the amount of new knowledge I’ve gained about the wildlife or the visitors I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with, I’m incredibly excited to continue learning more throughout the summer and going on new explorations in the park.