Miriam in the welcome tent at the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.
In this interview series, I’m going to introduce you to park rangers across the United States. Today’s post features Miriam Hornstein, a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park.
What is your name and job title? My name is Miriam Hornstein and I am an Interpretive Supervisory Park Ranger at Yellowstone National Park.
Is this the first National Park you’ve work at? If not, tell me what other parks/nature centers you’ve worked at.
Nope, this isn’t my first National Park; as a matter of fact, this isn’t even the first time I’ve worked at Yellowstone as a Park Ranger! I’ve worked at Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Joshua Tree NP, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, Big Cypress National Preserve, Colorado National Monument, Yellowstone NP–all as a seasonal ranger. Then I spent four years with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on the island of Kauai at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. I worked at the National Park Service at the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C., for five years, and then moved to Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area for three years. Finally, I returned to the West for my current position as a park ranger at Yellowstone.
Where did you grow up? The country, the city or the suburbs?
I grew up in a combination of places. Mostly suburbs/smaller cities in MN, TX and ND. When I graduated high school in ND, I went to college at Oberlin College, near Cleveland, OH. It’s a small town with a focus on green, environmental-type living. I also spent a year living in Munich, Germany, when my father was a Fulbright Exchange Teacher. That taught me that I wasn’t cut out for the big-city life pretty quickly. Too many people and too loud!
What did you love about the outdoors as a child?
What I loved about the outdoors as a child was that it was an endless playground filled with adventures. There was always something to see and do to spark my imagination.
When did you know you wanted to work in outdoor education?
I didn’t consider a career in outdoor education until I graduated with my degree in Geology. I did a three-month-long internship at Arches NP through the NPS’s Geo-Scientists-in-the-Parks program. Half of the time, I worked on synthesizing information for an interpretive trail exhibit, and the other half I worked as an interpretive park ranger. My eyes were opened to a whole new world. Interpretive park rangers are the ones who focus on outreach and education. We’re the ones visitors meet in the Visitor Centers and give the guided hikes and programs.
We work to help visitors form intellectual and emotional connections to the resources that we’re charged to protect because people are far more likely to protect what they care about and understand. After I worked in my internship for about a month, I realized that National Parks were a classroom that changed every day, filled with students who wanted to be here and who wanted to learn. And I haven’t stopped loving that feeling since.
Who encouraged you to pursue a career in outdoor education?
I’ve had multiple mentors in the NPS who took me under their wing to help me learn and grow as a park ranger, but ultimately the strongest mentors would be my parents, specifically my mom. She was a Girl Scout herself and was determined that her daughter would at least have a basic appreciation for the great outdoors if not the basic skills to handle it. My mom enrolled me in Girl Scouts at an early age and even became a troop leader despite her busy working schedule to help keep me involved and to ensure that the experience was about the outdoors.
She and my dad always found a way to send me to camps and encouraged me on adventures like canoeing the Missouri River from below the Garrison Dam to the Bismark-Mandan area the summer between 7th and 8th grade with the Girl Scouts. And when I talked with them about becoming a ranger, both of my parents always encouraged me. They admit that they love having an “in” at all these parks and a reason to visit them.
What is the most common question you get from park visitors?
Without a doubt, the number one question at any park is, “Where’s the nearest bathroom?” But for me as a person, visitors are very curious about how I got started as a ranger. And as I’ve gotten older, they want to know what it’s like trying to juggle a personal life with the remote conditions that I live in. I’m always happy to answer their questions about how I got started, but I draw the line at the questions about my personal life. It gets a little irritating to get subjected to questions like, “What does your husband think about you living out here?” when my male coworkers are never asked questions like that.
How can parents raise kids to love the outdoors?
From what I’ve observed, the best way for parents to raise their children to enjoy the outdoors is to take them outside with them and have adventures together. We all spend too much time attached to our various devices and too much time indoors these days. Let your time with your children be your time to get out there and have fun.
If it’s cold, bundle up and enjoy it! Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular wintertime activities for a reason, but even something as simple as sledding can be great fun. I can’t tell you how many great memories I have of sledding with friends and family, laughing until we all fell off the sled!
One of the best gifts my parents gave my brother and I was a huge sandbox in the backyard. We played for hours in it and most of the neighborhood parents knew that when they couldn’t find their kids, they would check our backyard. Hours of imagination and fun!
If it’s spring, get out and enjoy what’s blooming. There are so many free to low-cost apps for phones that help you identify a plant, flower or bird. And most of them don’t require cell service once you have them installed. I use these ID apps a lot and I don’t have cell service where I live and work!
Anything else you want to share about your job or what you love about nature/being outside?
I think what I’d like to share the most is that it doesn’t take a big, expensive, once-in-lifetime type trip to a National Park like mine for families to fall in love with the outdoors and nature. No matter where you live, there is nature around you. Take advantage of your city, state and county parks. Get to know your neighborhood and what type of outdoor volunteering opportunities there are available. And take the time to step away from your electronics to experience your world around you. It’s such a beautiful, wonderful place. I am so lucky to find my calling and be a park ranger. I hope that if we teach our children to love the outdoors, there will be future park rangers to follow in my footsteps.