Ranger Macey teaches summer campers about the impacts of pollution to waterways on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo courtesy Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)

Ranger Macey teaches summer campers about the impacts of pollution to waterways on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo courtesy Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)

Refuge Notebook: Working at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is more than a job

The annual rush of tourists and new explorers coincides with summer days when the sun never really disappears. So when I showed up in Alaska in the middle of last winter’s dark people frequently asked, “What brought you here?” To this I answered, “Well, to see the last Blockbuster in America of course!”

The even more exciting reason was that I got a nine-month internship through the Student Conservation Association at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. My official title is Environmental Education/Visitor Services intern but when I visit schools, “Ranger Macey” is on my name tag. I get to hike trails during work hours, perform raps about animal scat, get kids excited about nature, and learn something new every day.

At the Refuge, I’m surrounded by some of the most environmentally knowledgeable people, who constantly inspire me and make me more certain of, and excited about, the career path I am on. Everyone has ended up here for unique and beautiful reasons, intentional or not. I decided to ask some staff what brought them here, why the Refuge is important to them, and why they stayed. One thing was clear — you fall in love with this place fast.

“The Refuge was my backyard and I didn’t even know this job existed. This position has given me a new appreciation for the place I grew up in” said Donna Handley, Administrative Technician. Feeling a strong connection to the conservation goals the Refuge holds, she states, “You don’t just work here, it becomes a part of you,” something I can already attest to. Entomologist Matt Browser reflected on the Seven Lakes Trail being his first date location with his now wife. He speaks to the value of the recreation the Refuge provides, as well as the “beautiful landscape.” We live and work in the kind of place people dream about visiting; the gratitude is daily.

For Ranger Leah Eskelin, it was love at first site. She came to the Refuge as part of a volunteer trip during college. Alaska had always been a fairytale idea for her, and then it became a goal. Not only has the Refuge stolen her heart, but the community of the Kenai Peninsula as well. “The community was attractive; people take care of each other around here.” I smile as I recall her having me over for family dinner to try my first moose meal in the winter, agreeing there are so many kind people.

Leah also said “I have stayed because my job protects the lifestyle that I was attracted to in the beginning. Other land is being turned into subdivisions and we get to protect this landscape that we all love.” She appreciates the endless outdoor activities, breathtaking sights, opportunities for harvesting food for the fridge, and general well-being that comes along with a dose of nature.

Even more, education and constant learning are bonuses for all of the Refuge divisions. “We are educating the public which is crucial for conserving, but even I am learning constantly, which makes my position even more enjoyable”, said Debbie Perez, Refuge Clerk.

I found many themes while engaging staff during these reflective conversations. The people who work at the Refuge love nature. They want to encourage a lifestyle that understands our environment and lives to preserve it. They find purpose and passion in coming into work every day, earning their titles as environmental stewards.

The people who I work with have taught me that if I love the mountains, trees and rivers, it’s so important to connect others with nature because when you love something, you’ll take care of it. One of my favorite quotes by Baba Dioum, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” I specifically enjoy working with kids (which is where my position is focused) because it is extremely refreshing to experience people so excited about learning, exploring what’s around them, and discovering themselves and their interests.

The Refuge is important to me because the role that nature plays in my life is big one— we’re in a pretty serious relationship. Though going to Blockbuster and renting too many seasons of Greys Anatomy is tempting (and has happened before), I cannot think of an instance I regretted my time in nature. The wilderness makes me wonder, question, and feel beautifully lost, but it also brings me clarity and peace like nothing else does. Though nature is more complex and bigger then I can comprehend, it also has a way of reminding me to enjoy the simple things. These are all thoughts I believe everyone deserves, and need to benefit from. Whether the Kenai Refuge was on a to-do list or stumbled upon, the staff behind the Refuge come to work thankful and determined to protect and conserve for generations to come, and these feelings are pretty contagious.

Macey Hoffman has been a Student Conservation Association intern at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge since February. You can find more information about the refuge at http://kenai.fws.gov or http://www.facebook.com/kenainationalwildliferefuge.

More in Life

File
Minister’s Message: Who is this man?

Over and over again, they struggle to rightly name who he is and what he’s up to

A still from “Casting Maya,” a film about Ascension Bay on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is seen in this screenshot. From Pure Films, the short will be one of nine shown at the International Fly Fishing Film Festival on Aug. 10 in Kenai, Alaska. (IF4/flyfilmfest.com)
Anglers’ night out

Annual International Fly Fishing Film Festival returns to Kenai

Candy pecans make a sweet snack to enjoy on excursions. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Road trip reimagined

Candied pecans accompany more subdued wandering

Robert C. Lewis photo courtesy of the Alaska Digital Archives 
Ready to go fishing, a pair of guests pose in front of the Russian River Rendezvous in the early 1940s.
The Disappearing Lodge, Part 1

By the spring of 1931, a new two-story log building — the lodge’s third iteration — stood on the old site, ready for business

Viola Davis stars in “The Woman King.” (Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.)
On the screen: Women reign in latest action flick

‘The Woman King’ is a standout that breaks new ground

Artwork donated for the Harvest Auction hangs at the Kenai Art Center on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Auction, juried show to showcase local talent

Kenai Art Center will host its annual Harvest Auction this weekend, juried art show next month

Sweet and tart cranberry pecan oat bars are photographed. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Cranberries to match the bright colors of fall

Delicious cranberry pecan oat bars are sweet and tart

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Take a chance

The fact of the matter is, you can find a way to hurt yourself in just about any athletic endeavor.

Alaska Digital Archives
George W. Palmer (left), the namesake for the city in the Matanuska Valley and the creek near Hope, poses here with his family in 1898 in the Knik area. Palmer became a business partner of Bill Dawson in Kenai in the last years of Dawson’s life.
Bill Dawson: The Price of Success, Part 5

Thus ended the sometimes tumultuous Alaska tenure of William N. Dawson.

File
Minister’s Message: Plenty

The Bible story of Joseph in Egypt preparing the harvest in the seven years of plenty teaches us some vital lessons

A still from “Jazzfest.” (Photo provided)
DocFest could be the golden year of documentaries — again

Homer Documentary Film Festival returns for 18th year with solid mix

From left: Lacey Jane Brewster, Terri Zopf-Schoessler, Donna Shirnberg, Tracie Sanborn and Bill Taylor (center) rehearse “Menopause Made Me Do It” on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Applause for menopause

Kenai Performers’ new play takes aim at ‘not the most glorious part of womanhood’