Letter from a Shenandoah National Park Summer Intern

Fall 2015AS@

To The Shenandoah National Park Trust-

Throughout the course of this summer I have had the privilege of working as an interpretive intern at Byrd Visitor Center. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity of living out my dream of working in this park. Odds are if you are reading this letter that you have developed a particular love and affection for this park and the treasures within it. I have done the same. I grew up just outside of Richmond, Virginia where there are no mountains and few places you can go to truly feel “away”. Shenandoah National Park has always been that place for me.

I have grandparents who live near the park and our typical weekend at Grandma’s consisted of venturing up to the park and exploring for the day. Fast forward a few years and I was working on my undergraduate degree in Geographic Science at James Madison University, bringing my college buddies up to the park on weekends to show them my favorite spots in the park. You can imagine my elation when a few weeks before graduation I was offered a position here for the summer. At 22 years of age I don’t claim to know much but I know that if your favorite place in the world and your office are one in the same that you are doing something right. It has been an amazing experience to spend every day in this beautiful park and it would not have been possible without you all. So again, I would like to truly thank you for providing the funding so that young people like me can gain some experience and spend their summers in such a beautiful place.
As part of my thank you letter I would like to highlight some of my favorite times this summer so I can share my experience with each of you. I prepared a multitude of programs including The Wild Side of Shenandoah (I did my talk on butterflies!), Ancient Volcano Hike, Blackrock Summit Hike, Stony Man Hike, Massanutten Lodge Open House, Appalachian Trail Hike, and a Junior Ranger Program. My skills as an interpreter were increased tenfold from my first program to my last. I met a wide variety of people and had guests from 9 months to 90 years old attend my hikes and talks. One of my favorite moments was getting to talk with a man who had attended the park dedication ceremony when he was 11 years old. Hearing a firsthand account of the moment this park came into existence was a special experience for me.

newkids2I spent a great deal of time this summer learning and practicing interpretation for children. It was something I struggled with at first but feel much more confident with today. I worked with experienced staff members to learn the best ways to facilitate activities for children and incorporated those skills into each of my programs to keep kids active, engaged, and learning about the park. I wasn’t expecting to find so much enjoyment from working with kids, from my experience working with them has always been exhausting. But this summer I gained a newfound appreciation for children and the way they interact with nature. I took a great deal of pride in trying to instill the next generation with an interest and appreciation for nature.

 One of my favorite memories was conducting a Junior Ranger Program where the children found a small red bellied snake, a wood frog, a red back salamander, and got to see a black bear run through the woods near the program! Seeing their excitement reminded me of what it was like to be so young and interested in everything. Another one of my favorite days was when I got to attend the butterfly count at Big Meadows. Each year volunteers go out into the meadow and keep a tally of the number of species and the abundance of that species. I had a blast and could hardly keep a smile off my face for the entire day!

scartanThe last memory I will share happened early in my season. I was assigned a short amount of rove time and headed out on the Story of the Forest Trail. Shortly after I started my walk, I spotted a Scarlet Tanager in a nearby tree. As I was observing it through my binoculars a family started heading down the trail toward me. There was a young boy, his parents, and his grandmother. I was able to show each of them the Tanager. For the grandmother, a bird lover, it was only the second she had ever seen. If I hadn’t been there they would have walked right past it. It was at that moment that I realized the true value of the work of interpreters. On top of all the interesting people and fun memories I genuinely feel like I have gained a better knowledge of how to interact with the public on a professional level. I have always been a little shy and quiet but this job really helped push me out of my comfort zone and talk to all kinds of interesting people.

As I move forward with my life and career I will hold all of my memories from Shenandoah very close to my heart. In a few short weeks I will be starting a new position in Richmond doing GIS (Geographic Information Systems) work for the state of Virginia. Though this job will be much different, I feel I am much better prepared to provide excellent customer service. Though I will be back in Richmond and a little further away from the mountains, I will still venture out to Shenandoah for my rest and relaxation time, just as I did when I was a child. I will always think fondly of my days working here in Shenandoah and hopefully someday I will be back to continue working to educate the public on everything this amazing place has to offer.

Hopefully this note has given you a little bit of an idea about what this internship has meant to me and how much I appreciate each of you and your donors. Feel free to share this letter with anyone and everyone who contributed to turn my dream into a reality this summer and never hesitate to contact me with anything I can do to contribute or help with the Shenandoah National Park Trust

Endless Thanks,

Allison K. Smith

“I am well again, I came to life in the cool winds and crystal waters of the mountains…”                  

– John Muir