Life In The Park: Finding Meaning In Park Service Work

There’s a popular refrain among National Park Service employees, one that doubles as a reminder, of sorts, after a long, wearisome day: “We get paid in sunrises and sunsets.”

For many park employees, the pay is seasonal and not great. The hours are long. The question is usually the same (“Where’s the bathroom?”). And no matter how many pamphlets you pass out, instructions you give or “Attention!” signs you put up, people still wander off trails, carve their names in trees and get too close to the bears.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited park in the U.S. Tag along with the park’s employees and volunteers — releasing rescued bear cubs, welcoming delegations of foreign diplomats, hunting for invasive feral hogs and cleaning bathrooms — to try to get an idea of just how much work goes on behind-the-scenes in our national parks. (Spoiler alert: It’s a lot.)

But what strikes you the most are the reasons why — outside of the stunning sunrises and sunsets — people decide to work and dedicate their lives to a place like Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Here are some of their stories…

 

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