Welcome back to another Ranger Talk, my national park ranger interview series! This week I’m featuring a blogger friend, Riley from Riley’s Roves! She’s currently working in Alaska. If you want to see more interviews, head over here. Just keep in mind, the views expressed here are her own and are not reflective of National Park Service in any way.
Name: Riley Hays
Where are you from: I grew up in a suburb of Orlando, Florida. I currently live in Alaska.
Favorite book: The Harry Potter series, specifically Prisoner of Azkaban.
Favorite color, constellation, and conspiracy theory (you don’t have to believe it, it can be one you just like reading about or think is interesting): Teal, the big dipper (since it’s on Alaska’s state flag), and the theory that the earth is flat (for the hilarity – I definitely don’t believe it).
What is your dream trip outside of the parks: If I weren’t a park ranger, I’d love to be a travel writer.
Where do you work, how did you end up here, and what do you do: Currently I’m in Denali National Park as an interpretive park ranger. I assist visitors in planning their trip to the park and provide programs and guided hikes for the public. Ending up here was pretty easy, like any other job interview. I had lived in Alaska before, so that experience definitely helped when I was considered for the job.
What did you do to get the job (degree? volunteer experience? other relevant work experience?): To become a park ranger, I started out as an intern with the Student Conservation Association. I interned with them three times in various states: Oklahoma, Alaska, and Delaware. I also have two Bachelor of Science degrees in Environmental Studies and Geography.
Where else have you worked: Other than outdoor work, I’ve held smaller service and retail positions. I was also a transcriptionist once upon a time.
What is your dream park to work at: Is it cheesy to say Denali? My next dream is probably Mount Rainier or Glacier. I’d also love to live in Utah.
Why did you want to become a ranger: I always loved the outdoors growing up. On a family trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we hiked to Laurel Falls. I was sitting there with my mom, and I remember telling her how cool it would be to work at a place like that. That’s when she looked at me and said, “You know, Riley… people do work here.” The rest is history. My favorite thing about my job is living where people vacation. Some will travel across the world to see the amazing sights I’m lucky enough to wake up to every morning. I try not to take that for granted.
How did you get interested in the parks: My family went to a bunch of national parks growing up. I went to Rocky Mountain and Grand Canyon before I could even walk. A lot of our family vacations were planned around visiting the national parks, too. I remember seeing Mammoth Cave, Mount Rainier, Crater Lake, and Redwood all before I graduated from high school.
What do you love most about the parks: What’s not to love about the national parks? While there are so many reasons to appreciate them, I think most importantly they exist for the greater good of everyone. They protect America’s greatest natural and historic treasures. I don’t think our nation would be so beautiful if these places hadn’t been preserved early on. Many of them are even preserved for international citizens and not only important to America or this continent. They set the example for national parks worldwide, and are beloved universally. It’s hard to think of anything else that every single person on Earth can appreciate.
Top tip for visiting the parks (don’t touch wildlife, go early, avoid holidays, etc): Be safe, and be smart. Use your common sense. Should you approach a wild animal that is four times your size? Absolutely not. What are the consequences of feeding wild animals? What happens if I step off this trail? Think about these things before you take actions that have lasting, damaging effects.
Top five parks so far: This is so tough! Of the 61 National Parks, I’ve been to 41 so far. Each one is so special. Of those 41, I’d have to say that Denali, Arches, Dry Tortugas, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Theodore Roosevelt are among my favorites. I tend to prefer parks that aren’t over-crowded.
Coolest park experience you’ve had so far (climbing the Teton, rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon, seeing a pack of wolves attack a moose, etc.): On a recent backpacking trip in Gates of the Arctic National Park, we saw two wolves bounding up a mountainside. I’ll never forget that moment.
Dream park experience (rim to rim to rim, climb Half Dome, road trip to all the parks, etc): Just visiting all 419 of them is my dream. Some specific dreams I have are hiking Rim to Rim in Grand Canyon, climbing Half Dome in Yosemite, and climbing Mount Whitney on the border of Sequoia National Park. There are so many iconic hikes and backcountry trips I’d love to accomplish.
Favorite hike and/or activity in a park: I could hike to Delicate Arch every day and be in wonder of it every single time. Backpacking in the Alaskan Wilderness is another one of a kind, life-changing experience.
Favorite outdoor activity: Hiking and backpacking, hands down.
If you could only visit one park for the rest of your life, which and why: That’s such a tough question. I’d want to pick a park with a good variety and lots of trails to explore so I wouldn’t get bored. I’d probably choose Glacier or Yosemite.
Anything else you want to share? Thanks for taking the time to ask me some questions! This was fun, and also quite challenging. I hope it inspires more people to get out and find their park.
What else would you like to see in future interviews? Have you ever wanted to be a park ranger?
Are you a ranger or do you know a ranger that would like to be featured? Send me an email! I would like to branch out into forest rangers and state park rangers as well, so get in touch if you’re interested!