My Kind of Weird

Message From The Director

Last night I had the good fortune to stay overnight in a park.  I stayed with two other members of our leadership team and we made plans for our park visit with the new manager before heading to bed.  Days on parks are generally a little later start, we try not to make the park manager or staff have to interrupt their daily schedule too bad for us, so we planned on meeting around 8:30 a.m.  When I woke up and stepped outside just after 6:00 this morning, I discovered I was the last one up and about, and we were all eager to see a sunrise on the coast.  Parks people are just weird that way.

As a child, I always liked different things than most of my family.  I spent summers working at a camp, teaching scouts and school children alike. Some of my memories include winter survival camping and paddling from that camp, through creeks and streams until we made it to the ocean.  My idea of a good time was a little different.  As a young man, I got lucky enough to find a career, working with people who liked similar things, and the longer I work with people in parks, the more I feel at home.  People who work in our parks, or for that matter people who love spending their free time outside in nature, are just slightly different.

As I engage with more and more people in my job, from employees and visitors to peers from around the country, it continues to solidify my resolve that these people are just slightly different.  I often refer to this group as parks people, and it includes many of our employees, our users and supporters.  The group is made up of people from every corner of life representing a wide range of jobs, backgrounds, beliefs and experiences.  They have many different, and occasionally conflicting, outdoor interests.  They are campers, bikers, hunters and hikers, but they are also biologists, birders, botanist, people geo-caching, hammock enthusiasts, equestrians, rock climbers, lepidopterists, geologists, foresters and so much more.  Sometimes they make a profession of it, but often it is just a hobby. But whether full time professionals or passionate hobbyist, they are all parks people.

As a park professional it easy to get wrapped up in this world. I see so many people loving the parks and using them, and so many of my interactions are with people like this, that I tend to forget they are different; however, there are people in my life who aren’t parks people. Although it’s a small group, I do have friends and family in this category.  These are the people who call me for camping advice and gear, to retrieve owls from their fireplaces or send me pictures of snakes or bugs they are worried about.  They are not at all envious of the stories I share about my close encounters with wildlife, or tales of camping trips where I didn’t shower for days. They love my Facebook posts of park pictures, but a hike to the top of Table Rock, a paddle anywhere near an alligator or to look at a shell midden isn’t necessarily on their to-do list.  In short, they think the things I like are kind of weird!!  And you know what, they’re not wrong.

The people I work with know more about aspects of the outdoors than I ever will, and being around them and learning form them is one of the things I love most about this job.  Whether it’s a park ranger or a park visitor, these people share something with me.  We are all passionate about our outdoor experiences, and in some way, all of us enjoy something just a little weird.  Our parks team includes avid birders and people who can study mosses for hours on end.  We have people who love to sit and watch sunrises and people who love to rock climb.  There are paddlers, bikers, campers, boaters and so much more.  While I may not understand the thing that inspires them, I do understand the deep need they have to be outside.  It is the common thread that links us to each other and the thing that makes many people look at us as differently.  We are all-in for a night around a fire over fine dining in a restaurant, or time in the woods doing what we love over time almost anywhere else, be it an amusement park or ballgame.  We are a bit weird compared to most people, and our families and some of our friends recognize it.

After 26 years in this profession and a lifetime of enjoying the outdoors, I am pretty sure I am not going to change.  I enjoy and I am passionate about our parks and what they have to offer. I am going to continue to offer advice on opportunities to get outside to everyone, and going to do my best to engage in fun outdoor experiences.  So, this morning, as I stood with coworkers to watch a sunrise, or the next time we share stories around a campfire or a hike up the mountain, I will rest comfortably after knowing I have found my people, the ones who are my kind of weird.  Hope to see you weirdos out there with us soon!

Are you a state park person?  Proclaim it with this t-shirt!