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Becoming a Park Ranger: An Artistic Journey

by Elijah Prince & Alanna Sobel
Elijah Prince stands in a hallway next to one of his paintings depicting a park ranger
National Park Service Guide Elijah Prince
NPS Photo

It’s certainly powerful to see one piece of art. Now envision an art series, mapping out an individual’s life, giving people a glimpse into what that journey was like and what was experienced along the way. It’s the type of art that invites people to see themselves within the story. Now add bright, bold colors to the canvas – it can stop you in your tracks.

That’s exactly what happened when we came across National Park Service Guide Elijah Prince’s artwork outside a classroom at President’s Park in Washington, D.C. His paintings made us pause and imagine – imagine our own national park journey and dream about where we’d like to go and who we’d like to be. We’re hoping it’ll inspire you to do the same.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with Elijah and hear all about the inspiration behind his artwork. Seeing as his paintings are currently on display in an area reserved for student field trips, many of them funded through the National Park Foundation’s Open OutDoors for Kids program, we are excited to be able to bring his artwork to you digitally so everyone can experience it. We hope you’ll enjoy this glimpse into our conversation and the gallery of images.

How did you get the idea for this series? Why is this series important to you?

"Park Ranger" by Elijah Prince (NPS Photo)

The idea for the series of pieces came from the #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque initiative of the National Park Service and National Park Foundation; the idea being that anyone can step out of their door and interact with the natural and cultural resources found in each and every one of our national parks. It shows that anyone can find these places, provided they get a ride.

This series is important to me because it highlights the beautiful vistas as well as the histories of our land, and it also exemplifies the journey of an individual and their growth through these special places.

"Park Ranger" by Elijah Prince (NPS Photo)

I think that it is very important for people of all ages, ethnicities, and races to enjoy the beautiful lands of the national parks. I depicted a black girl "growing" through the places that she visited due to the fact that inclusivity is an important factor in not only my personal work, but also for the National Park Service as a whole. Historically, some national parks had segregated facilities for black and brown citizens; so I felt it was crucial to depict a black woman's experience of these places as it is not just one group’s right to them, but all groups.

How did you select the national parks you painted?

"Park Ranger" by Elijah Prince (NPS Photo)

The National Park System is home to a variety of different sites other than the usual places people typically think of. I know when I think of national parks, Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon come to mind, however, there are so many more "hidden gems" that the public can explore. When selecting the parks, I made sure to try and get a slew of different sites based not only on the scenic views but also on the history that is found there. This is why I showcased places like the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, along with places like Antietam National Battlefield.

"Park Ranger" by Elijah Prince (NPS Photo)

What do you hope people will walk away with after seeing your artwork?

My hope would be for people to see a small piece of what, in my opinion, makes the National Park Service so great. You can literally go to the places depicted and see an entirely different side of the world. You can almost travel through time, in a sense, and these places are preserved for people from all across the globe to experience.

What other national park-inspired art are you working on/hope to work on?

"Park Ranger" by Elijah Prince (NPS Photo)

In the future, I hope to work on a larger scale, creating a space where you (as the viewer) almost feel physically transported into another space entirely.

Beyond being artistically inspired by parks, what else do you love about being a national park guide?

"Park Ranger" by Elijah Prince (NPS Photo)

My favorite part about my job is going on school visits and talking to youth about President’s Park and the National Park Service as a whole, as well as listening and answering all of the wonderfully unique questions they have. There is something so incredible about sharing the past with the children of today and I love every minute of it.

If you had two sentences to entice somebody who’s never been to a national park to visit, what would you say?

"Park Ranger" by Elijah Prince (NPS Photo)

If you love history, archeology, sociology, biology, and anthropology, come. If you don't like any of that, come anyway!

The National Park System is so vast and diverse, as are the many experiences and opportunities that each park and program offers. We’re thankful for the thousands of National Park Service employees, like Elijah Prince, who are so incredibly passionate about sharing their love for national parks with all of us and inspiring all people to #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque.

Elijah D. Prince started as a Youth Conservation Corps intern (YCC) for the National Park Service at President’s Park. He learned the ins and outs of what it meant to work in a national park and, upon completion of the program, joined the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to continue his learning. Later, he transitioned into a student worker as a Pathways Park Guide at President’s Park.