In this interview series, I’m going to introduce you to park rangers across the United States. Today’s post features Curt Dimmick, chief park ranger at Mt. Rainier National Park.
What is your name and job title?
Curt Dimmick, Chief Park Ranger, at Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington.
Is this the first National Park you’ve worked at? If not, tell me what other parks/nature centers you’ve worked at.
No, this is actually the ninth. I have worked at Coronado National Memorial (southern Arizona), Grand Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Big Bend National Park, Everglades National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I have been the Chief Park Ranger at Great Basin National Park (Nevada), Crater Lake National Park (Oregon) and now at Mt. Rainier National Park (Washington).
Where did you grow up? In the country, city or suburb?
I grew up in Illinois in a very small town called Thomson that has a population of about 550. I consider it the country as we lived on the edge of town without many close neighbors.
What did you love about the outdoors as a child?
I loved playing in my parents’ large yard (we had over 3 acres). I loved riding bikes and playing all sorts of games and acting out fantasies. I loved animals (we always had a dog growing up and cats) and became interested in wildlife and nature early on. My mother loves birds and always had bird feeders around the house, and I enjoyed watching and learning to identify birds. I loved spending time along the Mississippi River, which was less than a mile from my parents’ house.
When did you know you wanted to work in outdoor education?
Unlike a lot of my colleagues, I never thought about being a park ranger while growing up. I did know I wanted a job where I could work outdoors at least some of the time. When I started college, I was interested in being a wildlife biologist. I studied and have several degrees in biology and zoology. As I went further in school, I thought I would be a college professor. I got interested in the park ranger profession after I started graduate school and worked seasonal (temporary) positions for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and then later for the National Park Service as a park ranger. I got hooked and eventually landed a permanent position as a protection or law enforcement park ranger with the National Park Service. I have worked as a ranger ever since. I grew up interested in law enforcement too and it is in my family. Both of my brothers are police officers. So this career as a park ranger has combined my interests in wildlife, nature and biology with my interest in law enforcement.
Who encouraged you to pursue a career in outdoor education?
My parents always supported me and my siblings in whatever we wanted to do. I had several science teachers along the way who helped stoke my interest in the outdoors and nature. Several college and graduate school courses and professors further fed my interest. In the end, it was probably my own internal desire that most led me to this type of career more than any other person.
What is the most common question you get from park visitors?
Where are the restrooms? Actually, that is something of a park service joke, but it does ring true as that is one of the most asked questions at visitor centers. At Mt. Rainier National Park, it is usually, “How high is the mountain? How many people climb the mountain every year?” The answers are 14, 410 ft. and of about 10,000 people who attempt to climb it each year, about half make it to the top. The others get turned around for various reasons.
How can parents raise kids to love the outdoors?
Get them outdoors early and often. Don’t let weather stop you. Get them rain clothes for the rainy days, snowsuits for the winter days and get them out in all sorts of weather and in all sorts of places. Take them to local, state and national parks. Take them camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking, whatever you are in to and get them started. Read books and stories about the outdoors, animals, nature. Teach them about what they see around them and if you don’t have a nature background, learn with them and take them places like nature centers, children’s museums and programs in national parks to learn more.
Anything else you want to share about your job or what you love about nature/being outside?
Being a park ranger for the National Park Service, living in or near and working in national parks, is one of the greatest jobs there is. Being part of the mission to preserve and protect the natural resources in our parks and to serve and protect the visitors who come to enjoy the parks is one of the proudest accomplishments I can think of.