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A River-Related Break From The Daily Routine

November 14, 2013Reba JuettenGuest PostsComments Off on A River-Related Break From The Daily Routine

In the day to day drone of class after project after exam, sometimes it’s easy for me to forget why exactly I come to school every day and what great ideas I dream of accomplishing on occasion.  I find that attending events on campus where I get to hear amazing writers, thinkers, musicians, and doers talk about their ideas is the perfect antidote to this habituation.  It reminds me what a wonderful opportunity attending a nationally ranked research university in a major metropolitan area within a national park affords me.

One particular opportunity has been meeting Dave Wiggins.

Dave, a park ranger in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, definitely falls into the doer category (though dreamer might be be appropriate too). Hearing him talk about the projects he has worked on while employed by the NPS makes me want to have his job (a common theme at these talks by campus visitors).  Luckily for me, part of his discussion included just that—ideas about ways to get into the National Park Service.

Following the government shutdown last month, Liz thought it would be interesting to get the perspective of someone on the inside.  In all actuality, Dave didn’t have much to say on the matter other than he missed his job while he wasn’t allowed to work, and the vacation was nice because he has a never-ending pile of things to do as a ranger.  Mostly, he used the shutdown as a jumping-off-point to talk about the future of that NPS.  Between the overall low cost of National Parks compared to other parts of the federal budget, an upcoming centennial of the Parks, and a large wave of retiring rangers in the near future, Dave painted a pretty optimistic picture of job prospects for aspiring rangers.

Screen shot 2013-11-14 at 8.27.18 AMMy favorite question (well, answer really) of the evening was, “what is a typical day as a park ranger?”  Dave’s answer, in a nutshell, was that a typical day doesn’t exist, but he didn’t say that until the end of his answer.  In the meantime, he shared with us the numerous different kinds of things he does over the course of a day, week, or year.  One of his current favorite projects is clearly building forts with fifth grade students, but he generally likes to plan all kinds of long term, large scale, idealistic projects.  Again, this thinking up ideas and actually being able to make them happen is where his job sounds like one of the best on earth.

Dave also shared with us his path to becoming a ranger and how we might do the same.  As an undergraduate at the U of M a…few…years ago, he started out as a medical school hopeful.  Instead, he decided to look for a job where people were happy, less stressed, and didn’t need expensive calculators and landed at the Minnesota Historical Society when he graduated.  After working there for years, he jumped into the park service where he now works with a river his family has lived near for generations.  While touting the job security and pensions benefits that come with a job in the NPS, Dave suggested working our way up in related jobs and jumping into being a park ranger like he did might be a good strategy.  Jumping between parks, especially smaller, more remote ones, was also a suggested strategy.

As someone who doesn’t particularly expect myself to be a park ranger in the future, I have to admit, my favorite part of talking to Dave Wiggins came at the end of the evening.  We mentioned to him that we have been thinking about doing some kind of native planting along the river near campus, and he immediately came up with names of people who could help us do that.  He also dreamt the project up a little bit bigger while he was at it.  I’m very excited about the prospect of getting our project off the ground and getting to work with Dave in the future.

I hope you enjoyed my enthusiastic summary of Dave Wiggins’ visit with River Rangers!  More than that, I hope it inspires you to get out and join us at River Rangers event in the future or some other talk or performance on campus. The daily routine of work and/or school can get monotonous, but there’s nothing like hearing someone completely enthusiastic about what they do with their life to remind you that you could be just as engrossed and enthusiastic someday too!



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