Interview with interpretive park ranger Vivian Wang

Ever since I started watching documentaries about food waste, climate change, fast fashion and others, I began to really look at how my actions were in connection to these issues. I believe this really sparked my passion for nature more than I ever have. I developed a new appreciation for the world.

a Redwood tree I saw during my trip to the Redwoods

National parks and hiking locations became the focus for (almost) all my travels and as a result, saw the most magnificent views I’ve ever seen in my life. My trip to the Redwoods is a great example. Seeing the redwood trees in person was such a moving experience for me. I am specifically grateful for the helpful park rangers who informed us of some amazing hiking trails. Without their passion and knowledge, I think my time there would have been less fulfilling. I found out that one of the bloggers I follow happen to be a park ranger. That’s why I am happy to welcome Vivian Wang to this interviewing series.

Vivian works at Yellowstone National Park as an interpretive park ranger. She and her friend, Jennifer, also founded the website, Tinycaravan. Their passion for the environment and hiking is infectious. I asked Vivian if she could answer a few questions about what it’s like to be a park ranger and the experiences associated with that position. Check out her answers below :)

Connie: First thing, for those of us who don’t know, what is an interpretive park ranger?

Vivian: The goal of an interpretive park ranger (interp) is to positively enhance a visitor’s experience. We do that through leading ranger programs, helping at the front desk, answering general questions, and simply engaging with visitors throughout the park. We educate the public by allowing them to form their own intellectual and emotional connections to their surroundings and meanings to certain resources. We want you to learn, appreciate your surroundings, and ultimately, have a great time.

Vivian Wang in uniform (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

How did you decide on the path to becoming a park ranger and what is the process like if someone was interested in becoming one?

I love the outdoors and everything that comes with it. Ever since my trip to Yosemite three years ago, I became hooked on national parks. I’ve always thought it would be so cool to be a park ranger and live in a national park. You see them everywhere and they just looked so cool with their flat hat, badge, and uniform.  My co-worker saw an opening at Yellowstone and encouraged me to apply. I thought, “Eh, why not. The worst that can happen is that I get rejected. Not much to lose.” I applied and the rest was history. There are tons of different park ranger positions ranging from law enforcement to trail maintenance to wildlife biologist to interp. You can find park ranger positions at usajobs.gov and type in ‘park ranger’. Depending on the position, there are different qualifications and requirements for them.

You mentioned in your blog (and with several beautiful photographs on your Instagram) that Zion National Park is your favorite, as well as, Yosemite being a second. How do these parks differ with others you’ve visited and why are they so special to you?

The first time I went to Zion, I was absolutely blown away. I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley of southern California where there are no massive red-colored rocks like Zion. Having never seen such natural structures like that, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was shocked that a place like Zion existed — so sacred and special in every way. During that trip, my friends and I hiked Angel’s Landing, Observation Point, and the Narrows; all challenging but so so fun. Combine my initial feeling and a memorable, thrilling trip, Zion tops the cake. Yosemite is special because it was where I found my calling for the outdoors. I had a lot of “firsts” with Yosemite. It was my first visit to a national park, my first time camping, first time seeing massive waterfalls (Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall), first time seeing tall tall trees, and first time hiking long full-day hikes. It was honestly a life-changing experience and part of the reason why my friend and I started Tinycaravan.

The Narrows of Zion National Park (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

To have a fun, yet safe, experience while hiking, what are the tools and supplies one should carry with them during their trip?

The most important thing is water. Bring at least 2L of water or more depending on how long your hike is. For day hikes, I usually bring food (nuts, snack bars, sandwich), first aid kit, jacket, swiss army knife, map (depending on the hike), headlamp, sunblock, camera, trekking poles, and of course, water. It’s also important to wear the right clothing, socks, and shoes. Always check the weather and terrain of your hike.

Can you list some tips or advice about visiting national parks?

– Depending on which park you go to, their national park website is super helpful in planning your trip to one. It’ll answer most of your questions.
– Always check weather, road conditions/closures, and trail updates.
– Google Maps does not work well in national parks; a paper map is the way to go. The map park rangers give you at the entrance gate should be good enough.
– Read the newspaper they give you at the entrance gate. It has lots of useful information about the park, safety, service, and amenities.
– Respect the rules and regulations of the park. Simply doing this helps preserve the park for future generations.
– Pack your patience. If you’re going during peak season, expect large crowds. Avoid them by starting your day early.
– Don’t expect to have cell service or WiFi in or around the park. Enjoy the outdoors!

Vivian at Half Dome at Yosemite National Park (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

Is there any fun/interesting fact that you can share about being a park ranger that maybe most people don’t know?

Especially during the summer, there are lots of seasonal rangers. If you go early summer like around June, interp rangers only had about a month to prepare their multiple programs and cram as much information in their head. It may even be their first time in the park or presenting their programs so be nice to them; they’re trying really hard. In general park ranger don’t know everything; it’s impossible.

What does a typical day look like for you and what’s been the best thing about the position?

My schedule looks different everyday, but the tasks we do are similar every day. Each day we have certain hours on the desk, certain hours walking and talking with visitors around the district, and present at least one ranger-led program. The best thing about being interp is that you get to create your own programs however you want. There are certain layouts and information that you have to incorporate in your programs, but other than that it’s a free-for-all. In my programs, I always incorporated messages along the lines of sustainability, preservation, and visitor use in the park.

Yellowstone National Park (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

Were there any things that you learned about yourself or the environment that you did not know before obtaining a position at the Yellowstone National Park?

One thing that Yellowstone has taught me is the importance of keeping things wild. Yellowstone is big on keeping everything as natural as it is and as it should be. Sometimes when people go to national parks and see road signs, visitor centers, restaurants, hotels, and gas stations, they tend to forget that they are in a natural place. People start to have expectations that they should have cell service or WiFi or easy access to things you normally find in the city. It’s important to remember that you’re in nature where dangerous things can happen out of your control. I always say, “Expect the unexpected.” You never know what is going to happen so the best thing is to be prepared. One of the reasons national parks are so special is because there’s not a lot of these natural, wild places left on Earth — untouched by human civilization. These natural formations can’t be found elsewhere in the world. I can’t stress enough how important it is to preserve these places or really, what’s left of it. Though it can be annoying and frustrating, following park’s rules and regulations is key. There’s a reason why they are there, both for your safety and the park. If you’re going to Yellowstone, I highly recommend reading the book Death in Yellowstone. It’s a little morbid and dark at some points in the book, but I think it’s an eye-opening and necessary read for the public.

Lastly, if there was one thing you’d want readers to know or to do about the environment, what would that be?

To know that you play a large part in preserving these natural places even by visiting them. We rely on the environment for everything from food to shelter to medicine and more. Why would we not want to protect the only thing that can sustain life? There are so many beautiful natural places all over the world; take the time to simply appreciate it for what it is. Don’t get caught up in the social media and what you’ve seen or heard. Cherish the experience and make it your own. After that, leave it better than it was found so future generations can enjoy it too. The environment is an open space for everyone and that in itself is pretty great.

Vivian, I was excited to read your answers. I think a lot of us, including me, had very little idea of what a park ranger has to go through. Thank you for the care and work that you do!

To connect with Vivian, check out her Instagram account at @vivwangg.

Vivian Wang (Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)

My hope is that when more people expose themselves to the outdoors, they are willing to learn about the area, and then want to protect it.  – Vivian Wang

To see more interviews in this series, click here.

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