With all the talk of diversity within the workforce of the National Park Service, I thought I would reach out to my friend and fellow nature lover, Mashawn Butler to get her take on the National Park Service and to ask, how her experience has been working as an African American ranger in a remote part of the country.
Mashawn Butler is a newly appointed interpretive ranger at Rainbow Bridge National Monument who has spent several years working in the field of outdoor recreation and education. Her excitement in her new role is palpable, as she describes her new surroundings and experiences in the park.
What has your experience been like working for the park service?
My experience working for the National Park Service has been a great one. This is my first park service position and I pinch myself daily . My day begins with the uniform and ranger hat, which I am in love with. My title is an Interpretive Park Ranger, which means I help people understand the cultural and natural resources of the area. With this position I am able to help visitors understand the resources at Rainbow Bridge National Monument and how the Glen Canyon Dam helped shape this environment. On an average day I talk to about 300 visitors who come from all over the world to see the bridge. The cultural history, geology, water ecology, and paleontology of the area , offers me various topics to cover on any given day.
How has your experience been working in an area where African American visitors are in short supply?
It’s been interesting. I definitely notice when I see another person of color walking down the trail to see the bridge. I get so excited and I want to share with them all the things I know about the bridge and the area. We get into conversations about where we’re from and how they heard about the place. But it doesn’t happen that often. I’m at the bridge 4-5days a week and only see about one or two African Americans in that time frame, if that. I also know that Rainbow Bridge is not the easiest place to get to. You can’t get to it by car, so visitors have two options to choose from. Visitors can hike 20 miles from Navajo Mountain or they can come by tour boat or private boat, both of which will take approximately 2 hours. Most people are unaware that Rainbow Bridge or Lake Powell even exist. So it’s a bit of a challenge, but once people know about it they are really excited to come visit.
Moreover, when I first started traveling around the country as an Environmental Educator in outdoor residential school; I was a little worried, being a Florida girl from a town like Tallahassee. I knew for certain that I would be the only African American for miles. But I made friends, my co-workers and supervisors had my back and furthermore, there was always a school group coming from an urban setting that were so happy to see a person of color, in the role of an instructor, teaching predominately kids of color. I think about those students and the people who come to the parks. They too are looking for a familiar face to talk to about the park. So it’s always a win win for everyone.
How was your experience in applying for the National Park Service? How long of a process was it?
My experience applying was a long one, but the process can differ from person to person. It took me applying every winter for 5 years to get a summer position. But my co-worker applied once and got a position at a park right away. Some people get lucky the first time they apply, while others must work at it for years, but for those who are determined and committed to the process, they are eventually hired. For each position posted online, hundreds apply, so don’t be discouraged, keep an open mind and apply for any position that looks interesting to you.
What is the most challenging and rewarding part of your job?
The most challenging and rewarding part about the job can be easily summed up in one word; transportation. (This might be easier for your readers to understand if they use Google Maps)
My park housing is at Wahweap Marina in Page, AZ. This is the housing I have when I’m down lake. Each week I pack all of my personal belongings and re-supply of food to head up lake to Dangling Rope Marina, UT. This is my second home when I’m up lake. It’s about a 2 hour boat ride from Page, AZ. Once there I unload my stuff and prepare for my weeks stay and my work week ahead at Rainbow Bridge. During that week my partner and I drive our boat for a 30 minutes commute each morning to Rainbow Bridge dock, then hike 1 mile on the trail to get to our Ranger Station. We are like a visitor center to the public and we give formal programs and answer questions for 7 hours each day. Once our day is over, we hike a mile back to the dock and drive 30 minutes back to Dangling Rope Marina and then back to our housing. At the end of each week I head back to Page, AZ for a 2-3 day weekend and start it all over again on Tuesday.
It’s challenging because I’m moving in an out of housing each week. So I had to set up my systems of changing from one place to the next, fairly quickly. Then it’s incredibly rewarding because I get to drive a boat everyday on Lake Powell. This lake is so beautiful you can’t help but say, “Wow” at every turn. There are so many canyons to explore, water falls, and the rock formations are epic. I feel so luck to have been able to spend my summer here.
What advise would you offer others who are considering a position with the park service, but are a little hesitant, knowing positions available are in areas they may not be familiar with?
I would say be open-minded and don’t limit yourself to popular or local national parks. The National Park Service and the places they manage are as diverse as the people who work in them. Anytime that I’m going to a new place that I’m not familiar with, I try to find out as much information as possible. I would suggest they check out various locations and be as thorough as possible in their research, to make sure it’s a fit they can live with.Working in this type of environment you learn a lot about people and yourself. So just go for it! Explore America and Find Your Park
How it is calling Utah, home?
I am truly in love with this state. I first moved here back in 2010 when I came to visit a friend in Moab for a weekend and ended up staying for six months. I only left to go to grad school at the University of Washington, in order to join the IslandWood program. Any opportunities afterwards to visit Utah, I jumped at . The red rocks here are gorgeous and southern Utah has the most national and state parks in one section of the country, than anywhere else. The people here are very nice and friendly, which makes it easy to call Moab, home.