National Parks Service Intern Shares Her Experience In Seattle
It’s my third day in Seattle, my second time utilizing public transit, and the first day of my internship with the National Park Service. “In four hundred feet, turn right,” Siri prompts me. Despite my unwavering loyalty to my handheld lifeline, I manage to get lost anyway.
I’ve got all the makings of what Judith Viorst and Alexander would call a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” Still, I journey on. The wave of relief I feel seeing the green “Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park” text over a set of double doors washes me up on the shore of reality as these same doors fail to open. I turn in confusion and despair and see excitement personified in a 5’3”, red-haired woman. “Chanara?!”
The South in me wants to hug her upon meeting, but I’ve noticed that people don’t do that sort of thing up here. Thinking on this, I realize that there are quite a few disparities between here and home. I, Toto, am no longer in Kansas.
For clarity, I have no actual ties to Kansas. My hometown is Lake Wales, Florida, and I attend Spelman College in Atlanta, which is a partner institution for the Greening Youth Foundation’s (GYF) Historically Black Colleges and Universities Internships program (HBCUI).
HBCUI connects students from HBCUs to National Parks, creating a mutually beneficial relationship – the Park Service is diversified in age and race, GYF furthers its mission of developing a diverse next generation of environmental stewards, and students are able to gain experience while broadening their horizons.
My experience at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park – Seattle Unit (KLSE) has been particularly engaging. Half of my time is spent offering front-line interpretation services, which is interpreting Seattle’s story and being a resource for visitors. The other half of my work is dedicated to the development of programs to engage communities of color and the youth with the National Park Service. The fruits of my labor are scheduled to be implemented next summer, in the form of a mentoring program for high school students. The goal of the program is to serve as a space in which young people, particularly those who are members of groups typically underrepresented within the National Park Service, may become more culturally and environmentally aware and affirm them in their belonging not only in the National Park Service, but in environmental education/justice as well. (Those interested in becoming mentors may reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about applying.)
A typical day of working towards bringing this vision to life starts with grabbing a coffee with the outreach team, then bouncing ideas off of them once we make it back to the office. I’ll do a bit of research relevant to the task, which aids to the development of its structure and content. By afternoon, I’m heading downstairs and work in the visitor center with a National Parks Service ranger or volunteer. I am blessed to have developed a network for guidance and support here in Seattle, both in and outside of KLSE.
While the folks at KLSE have always been more than warm and welcoming towards me, it took me a while to adjust the overall culture and social climate of Seattle. To be frank, Seattle is overwhelmingly White. I may be exaggerating this due to my nine-month immersion in the sea of Black excellence that is Atlanta, GA, but either way, it was a bit of a culture shock to see so few people who look like me. I was further disheartened when I attempted to connect with local undergraduate members of my sorority and was made aware that, due to the low number of Black students at the colleges and universities in Seattle, fraternities and sororities in the National Pan-Hellenic Council – historically Black Greek lettered organizations also known as the Divine Nine – have not had an on-campus presence for a number of years. Just when I thought I couldn’t be in a place any more foreign, I made the shocking discovery that there was no Popeyes or wing spots that could be reached from my Pioneer Square work site within my lunch time. For a girl whose heart once beat for the five dollar box and a good JR Crickets combo, the lack of comparable places to eat close to downtown is arguably Seattle’s worst offense.
What I failed to find in cuisine, however, was made up for in natural beauty. I have yet to encounter a space in the city that doesn’t offer a picturesque view of mountains, beautifully inviting waters, or trees galore. Before coming to the Pacific Northwest, my experience with the outdoors was comprised almost entirely of family cookouts, city parks, and beach trips. These things have always been a part of my life, but I never considered them enough to call myself an outdoors person. Thankfully, my perception of the value of my interaction with the outdoors was changed after taking a camping trip to Mount Rainier with this year’s cohort of interns in the “In My Backyard program”, which focuses on conservation leadership development and youth outreach. While seeing Mount Rainier in all her glory and watching the never ending Nisqually River flow effortlessly was awe-inspiring, it also evoked a sense of familiarity.
During my self-reflective wandering, I veered off of the paved trail, finding a nook that offered a view like nothing else I had seen that weekend. In that moment, cautiously balancing on rocks and peering between trees, I was taken back to a fall afternoon in 2006. I was in the third grade, and my friend and I were in the neighborhood park looking for adventure. Somehow, we convinced each other that it would be a great idea to squeeze through a locked fence that led to trees and a huge hill. After stumbling through the trees and summiting our own little mountain, we had a bird’s eye view of the thing that our town is best known for – orange groves. Lake Wales houses the world headquarters for Florida’s Natural orange juice, so it’s not like we’d never seen orange groves, this was just different. We’d worked so hard and the phenomenal view was our reward. Thinking back on this moment, I realized why the outdoors are the beating heart of the Pacific Northwest. At every turn, there is opportunity to experience that inexplicable wonder and joy that we sometimes feel is lost in childhood. There is always something new to find, and I can’t wait to explore further.
Chanara Andrews is an English Major at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA.
By Chanara Andrews
Special To The Medium