It has always been my dream job to work as a ranger for the National Park Service. Anyone who has visited a national park and is gifted with the travel bug would understand how a career working in some of the most beautiful areas of the U.S. would be appealing. Problem was, I never expected that dream to be attainable, especially after establishing a career in a different field several years out of college. It wasn’t until I became a Volunteer Naturalist at Bernheim that my perception changed as my training and experiences gradually prepared me for a career transition into the NPS.
There is a special focus on Audience Centered Engagement (ACE) with Naturalist training at Bernheim that is a foundation for interpretation in the National Parks. ACE is a practice that incorporates the experiences and perspectives of audience members to enrich stories and programs to create strong emotional ties with the location. At Bernheim, Naturalists are given the opportunity to develop and assist with programs on topics that they are passionate about. One of my favorite tours to give went through the Sensory Garden (which is currently under renovation and slated to open in spring 2022) providing children and adults the opportunity to touch, taste, and smell the world around them. I always enjoy watching people as they reminisce on past moments or share their curiosity with their kids. It becomes not just a bonding experience between people and place, but also with nature itself.
Being a Naturalist allows you to develop skills to connect with visitors, but it also provides you with an opportunity to connect with other Naturalists. Collaboration is key in being a successful Naturalist at Bernheim and each Naturalist brings their own passions and experiences into the program. You find yourself in the middle of this little community who is passionate about sharing their experiences and knowledge. This collaborative culture allows for Naturalists to grow and experience new avenues of interest providing experience with programs you may not otherwise have the chance to try.
As an NPS intern, I was responsible for developing programs that engaged local youth and visitors in the cultural and natural resources of the park. I had to quickly learn how to fill in for interpretive rangers who provided programs on the town’s historical sites and provide directions in a town I was just becoming familiar with. Because of Bernheim’s training, I was prepared for these situations and knew how I should develop programs for our visitors. I learned how to be a leader, collaborate, and become adaptable when circumstances changed. The foundations of the Naturalist program prepare you to provide great experiences for those visiting Bernheim, and provides a solid platform for success for those who may one day want to also share the stories of the resources of our public lands.
-Theresa Figgs, Volunteer Naturalist