Rangers help keep visitors safe, teach nature, history in must-see parks

IMAGE: CNS/Nancy Wiechec

By Nancy Wiechec

TETON NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (CNS) — Kristen Dragoo came to Grand Teton National
Park in 2002 for a college internship and never left.

with a degree in natural resources and environmental management, Dragoo has
worked her way up the ladder to become a park ranger, education coordinator and
a lead interpreter for the park’s Moose district.

her husband and their 2-year-old daughter live in Jackson, an ideal location
for their lifestyle. The Catholic wife and mother said her family loves to
hike, camp, boat, cross-country ski and watch wildlife.

News Service spoke with her at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in
Grand Teton in August. (Questions
and answers have been edited for clarity and flow.)

What does a ranger interpreter do?

We help visitors with what to do while they’re here in the park, let them know
about the park resources and what makes Grand Teton special. We help them
connect with the park on a larger level than they would if they were just on
their own.

What do you tell visitors?

One of the more important things is helping people understand how to be safe in
the park, from letting them know to stay hydrated while hiking to keeping an
appropriate distance from wildlife — at least 100 yards from bears and wolves,
25 yards from all other wildlife. We also tell the park’s history, and help
visitors understand how wildlife interacts with each other and the plant life.

How did you become interested in being a park ranger?

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. I spent a lot of time outdoors and in nature.
That was part of our family life. As I was looking at colleges, I knew I liked
teaching, but I also really liked the outdoors and wildlife. I couldn’t quite
figure out how I could combine those interests. I ended up working for county
parks in Ohio doing interpretation and then realized I could get a degree in
that and turn this really cool summer job into a career. During college, I came
out to Grand Teton to do an internship in interpretation. I came here and
basically never left.

What makes this park special?

The combination of a lot of amazing things. We’ve got the amazing scenery, a
huge diversity of wildlife and an almost complete ecosystem, which is fairly
unique. And the types of recreation here are endless, from hiking and
backpacking, to water sports like canoeing, kayaking and rafting. There’s
horseback riding, and of course, the winter sports — downhill skiing, cross-country
skiing, snowshoeing.

What’s the most frequent question visitors ask?

At the visitors center, the most common question is, “Where can I see a moose?”

Where can one see a moose?

I usually tell people to look near water — rivers, marshy areas, sometimes
lakes. The timing of day is really important. The mornings and evenings give
you your best chances for sightings.

How does the National Park Service view stewardship?

It means that we’re preserving these places and the resources for future
generations. It’s not just ours to have. It belongs to the young people and
people who are not even here yet. It’s our job to help take care of these lands
so that we can enjoy places like this and we can pass them on.

With that in mind, what can visitors do to help?

There are basic things like staying on the trails, keeping your distance from
wildlife and keeping food properly stored while in the park. We have grizzly
bears and black bears. Making sure that those bears eat only their natural
foods and not people food is important for their safety and ours. The other
thing people can do is to tell other people about these special places, about
their experiences here, and pass on that knowledge.

Do you have a favorite spot in Grand Teton?

Gosh, that’s kind of hard to answer. There are a lot of very special places. I
think that more than a favorite spot, I kind of have a favorite time of day in
the park. Even though I’m not really a morning person, I love being out here in
the early morning hours. It tends to be a little quieter and there’s lots of
wildlife activity. The Tetons at sunrise is just such a beautiful thing to see.

Any parting words?

Come out to Grand Teton National Park! Places like Grand Teton and Yellowstone
are a must-see, even if it’s only a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

– –

Wiechec on Twitter: @nancywiechec.

– – –

Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Original Article