Week two at Appalachian National Scenic Trail (APPA) was one of excitement and action. Well, you know, in a federal agency kind of way. People are eager to hear my ideas and happy to have my input. Something I’ve learned not to take for granted after years of entry level positions where that wasn’t the case. Discussions are had and plans of action start to take shape.
Week two was also one of realities. A small budget means a small staff. A challenge NPS units face all over the country after budget cuts during the recession. I can’t qualify saying APPA is hurt by this any more or less than any other NPS unit, but it certainly presents difficulties. With more than 2000 miles of trail and hundreds of agencies to work with in order to maintain it, every staff member seems to have about 50 different projects going on at any given time. An overwhelming task list is one thing any working adult or student will face, but at APPA maintaining the communication to complete everything successfully could almost be a job in itself. This week alone, I meet several new people, contact several more people I should meet, and manage an ongoing stream of phone calls and emails to maintain contact with those who I am already collaborating with. All the while continuing to add names to the list of people I should reach out to.
The component of distance introduces me to the world of conference calls. Already, I’ve held meetings with up to 10 people at once, spanning from North Carolina to New Hampshire – so far. As I delve deeper into the structure of the organization I sometimes find my head spinning after meetings. My contact book is filled with addresses, names, and titles of faceless peers. Right now my mind functions like a social network on dial-up. I’ll be in a call and someone will say “So-and-so just got the _____s they need for their project.” The conversation continues while my mind scrolls to “So-and-so” in the index. I double click and a blank silhouette pops up while the modem grinds and whirs struggling to provide details. Even though I much prefer to meet in person (so I can remember who all I’m talking to), a bonus with conference calls is that they give me the ability to multi-task. Already I find myself saving less complex projects (data collection, etc) for such times so I can maximize my day to day efficiency.
Although these insights could seem like a disappointing reality compared to the happy-go-lucky ideal of a ranger most of us hold in our minds, I find them encouraging. It’s clear that everyone in this office is here for a reason. Whether it’s a love for national parks instilled in us as a child, a desire to preserve and protect America’s wilderness, or simply the need to contribute towards a greater good – we all came here looking for more than a job. As with all jobs it may have its ups and downs, but at the end of the day I think it’s safe to say we’re happy to have contributed to something that can positively impact the lives of others.
Til next time!