Park ranger intern has her dream job
“Hello. I’m Ranger Kristin.”
Kristin Vinduska of rural Lincolnville always greets visitors to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, with a smile.
Kristin is a summer intern at the park. Proudly wearing a park ranger uniform, she does everything a park ranger would do. She will be a senior this fall at Kansas State University.
While Kristin was growing up, her parents, John and Gerry Vinduska, took her and her brother, Ken, on family vacations to national parks, sparking her dream of becoming a park ranger.
She is well on her way to making that dream come true. She worked last summer at Marion Reservoir, doing maintenance and mourning dove research for Kansas Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism. That gave her an advantage when she applied for work at the National Park Service, she said.
Arches National Park contains more than 2,000 arches and many other rock formations. It is described as “a wonderland of red rocks and blue sky.” Scenic drives through the park are wonderful, but more can be seen on its hiking trails.
Kristin seeks to fulfill the National Park Service’s mission, “to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
She said she spent her first month becoming familiar with the park.
At the visitors’ center, she answers questions and plans tours. She also recruits young people for the Junior Ranger program. They receive a booklet of suggested activities as they go through the park. When they complete the course, they take a pledge to protect the park and are sworn in as junior rangers. Kristin presents them with a badge.
She works as an interpretive guide and stresses the importance of preserving the park.
“I try to give them a deeper meaning and create in them an emotional and intellectual connection, so they become advocates or stewards in protecting the park for future generations,” she said.
Sometimes, she visits area l schools where summer lunch programs are in progress. On one such visit, she presented information about porcupines and did activities with the children using porcupine quills.
At other times, she walks the trails and checks to see that rocks marking trails are in place and visitors are not disobeying the rules.
She said it is important that people not stray from trails because of the delicacy of the soil. “Don’t bust the crust,” she says. She explains that stepping on off-trail soil can lead to erosion.
The biological soil crust is a living groundcover that forms the foundation of high desert plant life in Arches and the surrounding area. This knobby, black crust is dominated by cyanobacteria, but also includes lichens, mosses, green algae, microfungi, and bacteria.
Soil crust binds sand and rock particles together which allows plants to establish roots. They also provide desert plants moisture and nutrients in an otherwise inhospitable environment.
When conducting guided tours, Kristin talks about “home,” noting that creatures that live in the park have Arches as their home and need it to be protected, just like their own homes. Pointing out the hiking shoes they are wearing, she says, “We need good ‘Arch support.’”
When someone approaches her with a question, she gives a five-minute “pop-up” talk that focuses on trail safety. She talks about wildlife in the park and the fragile nature of the park and its rock formations.
Along with many other national parks, Arches has been designated an International Dark Sky Park, where the nighttime environment for sky watching is free from distracting manmade lights.
Kristin has received search and rescue and CRP training.
She is responsible for opening or closing the visitors’ center.
Interacting with visitors is her favorite part of her job. She also has enjoyed learning to know how two other interns and 15 staff members arrived at their current positions.
“This is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done,” she said. “My dream is coming true. I’m fortunate to be in the position I’m in.”
On her days off, Kristin likes to hike in a mountain range about a mile away. The Colorado River, famous for its river rafting, runs by the park, and other national parks are in the area, so there is plenty to do.
She will graduate in May with a major in park management and conservation and a secondary major in natural resources and environmental sciences.
She also will have a minor in agronomy.
“I grew up on a farm, so I decided to learn more about it,” she said.
Kristin hopes to pursue a career as a park ranger after she graduates.