Changing Lives

This summer, “Changing Lives” became a rallying slogan for interpreters at the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center in Newhalem.  This phrase reminded us of the impact that a single experience in a national park can have on an individual.  In The National Parks:  America’s Best Idea, National Park Service interpreter Shelton Johnson inspired many, including myself, with a lasting experience in Yellowstone.  Six years ago, an interaction with a ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park changed my life, set me on a course to pursue a career in interpretation, and, through this pursuit, led me to another experience North Cascades National Park that would change my life.

Crossing back into the North Cascades National Park during one of my field days in Stehekin.

During the summer, graduate students at the North Cascades Institute undertake a leadership role, applying the skills and knowledge gained during the residency portion of the program.  The partnership between the North Cascades National Park and North Cascades Institute provided me the opportunity to pilot a new leadership role: an internship with the interpretation team at North Cascades National Park.
One of my first solo backpacking trips during a field day to Desolation Lookout

Rangers throughout the park radiated an appreciation for this place that transferred to visitors.  These talented professionals served as mentors during my internship—bolstering my own passion for the North Cascades and also my passion for interpretation and education in public lands.
My summer schedule was far from routine.  Some days I would assist visitors at the visitor center in Newhalem, recommending a day hike or two in our park that would best suit their needs.  During one week, I was able to shadow interpreters at the Golden West Visitor Center in Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.   This unit of the park is only accessible by boot or boat, a different experience than the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, in which Highway 20 stretches through.  On field days, I hiked on the trails in the park, allowing me to gain a better understanding of the biodiversity in the park but also building my knowledge on trails to recommend to visitors.
Some of the inspiring members of the interpretation team at the Newhalem visitor center!

Stehekin District interpretation rangers showing me how to assist visitors at the Golden West Visitor Center

At the Wilderness Information Center, I learned from backcountry rangers, issuing permits for visitors venturing into the backcountry.  Through shadowing a law enforcement ranger on patrol and a wilderness ranger up Boston Basin, I developed a better understanding how other divisions in the park utilize educational techniques in their interactions with visitors.
Wilderness ranger Rob Burrows talk with climbers at the lower Boston Basin camp

The mission of the National Park Service is to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”  I enjoyed interacting with future generations, especially during the Jr. Ranger programs.  I took pride in swearing-in countless of eager young park stewards who pledged to continue learning about the park and their own communities.
The view from the mule as Gerry Cook shares about the park with North Cascades Wild participants

Mike Brondi and the YCC crew watering native plants on Ross Lake

Some of the most iconic images of the National Park Service are of the evening ranger program.  I always looked forward to the nights that I would rove the campground, checking in with campers as they finished their meals, and mentioning that there would be an evening program that night—“It’s about finding the plants and animals in the movie Avatar, right here in North Cascades National Park!”  After such a formal form of interpretation, I also enjoyed the informal moments of interaction after the evening program, with the coals of the fire glowing and the stars twinkling.
At Colonial Creek Campground, ready to begin my evening program “3D Glasses Not Required.”

While it is hard to know if I have changed any lives as an interpreter with North Cascades National Park, I am able to quantify how many National Park Service Rangers have changed my life.  From the interpreters at the Newhalem Visitor Center who served as mentors and answered my questions as I developed my programs, to the Junior Rangers who asked questions about the North Cascades ecosystem that I never before thought to ask.  These rangers had a profound impact on my life—inspiring me to continue to pursue a career in interpretation, and, someday, wear the green and gray.


  1. Leslie Franzen

    Nice job on your blog Brandi and good luck with the rest of your program. Derek and I spent time in Boston Basin and it is one of the best memories I have of our climbing days…although getting there was the biggest challenge-glad you got to see it. Enjoy B-ham!

  2. angela

    Very good job Brandi, I am proud of you!

  3. Clayton

    Here’s to next year’s “senior staff!”
    Take care until then, Brandi!

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