Q&A With Ranger Veronica Verdin
Veronica Verdin is a recent graduate of Bowdoin College in Maine where she studied anthropology and history.
Originally from East LA, she has worked at Zion National Park and is now a park ranger at Grand Teton National Park specializing in education and outreach.
We chatted with Veronica about her experience in the National Park Service and how she’s helping introduce the parks to new audiences.
Where did you first find your park?
I first found my park at Zion National Park in Springdale, UT. I was nine years old and obsessed with the idea of ‘discovering’ something while we hiked, in particular, projectile points or other artifacts. Although I only discovered a few vaguely triangular rocks, the beauty of the place stayed with me. Eleven years later, I landed an internship at Zion working in cultural resources, discovering actual archaeological materials and sites! When it comes to parks, Zion will always be my first love.
Why do you think the Find Your Park/Encuentra Tu Parque movement is important?
I think it’s immensely important because feeling at home in the natural world is one of the most amazing and humbling experiences a person can have. In addition, the Find Your Park/Encuentra Tu Parque campaign isn’t just about the huge monolithic parks that you think of automatically when you think of national parks, it’s about finding that green space in your city that calms you, about finding the battlefield close to your town that makes you reflect on the human condition, or noticing the beauty of a historic building that you pass by each day.
National parks, historic monuments, and even city parks or other spaces hold a piece of our collective American story that we can take pride in, and can remind us to remember the big picture in our hectic lives. They are perspective changers.
What’s one thing you wish people knew about your job?
That it’s hard work! It is true, part of my job is to hike with kids or rove within our park (which I can’t complain about!) but it takes dedication as well, and we park rangers take the work seriously.
What are three things you tell visitors they can’t miss at your park?
At Grand Teton: The smell of sagebrush, The Tetons (quite literally), and an afternoon by the Snake River.
At Zion: The canyon lit by moonlight, sacred daturas, and Hidden Canyon.
You've mentioned that it’s challenging to get Latino families to visit national parks. What are some successes Grand Teton National Park has had in doing so?
Pura Vida is definitely one of the programs I am most proud of when it comes to Grand Teton successes. Hearing Pura Vida students say they’d like to be park rangers one day, and having them actively seek out new experiences such as participating in other youth conservation programs or taking the initiative to bring their friends or family camping for the weekend warms my heart, and assures me that the program is affecting lives.
What is Pura Vida?
Pura Vida is a program that brings local Latino youth from Jackson into the park. Middle and high school students learn about the ins and outs of running the park, meeting park personnel and rangers that do everything from fight fire to maintain the trails. It’s an incredible opportunity for these students to learn about the park, with the hope that this can help bridge the gap between the park and the local Latino community, who - despite comprising almost 30% of Jackson’s population, are reflected by only a fraction of that percentage in park visitation.
In short, the program empowers students to grow and strengthen leadership skills that allow them to become ambassadors and conservation stewards for the park, furthering this influence into the Latino community.
What’s the best memory you’ve had of interacting with youth through the program?
My best memory would have to be Pura Vida family night, watching parents and families listen to the students’ experiences throughout the week with the look of pride and amazement on their faces growing. It was incredible to have them experience the wonderment of the park through their children’s eyes, and know that from then on, experiencing the park would be a family affair!
In two sentences, how would you describe national parks to those who’ve never visited before?
National parks are beautiful, historically significant, awe-inspiring places that encapsulate pieces of our collective American history and spirit. The purpose of the National Park Service is to preserve and protect these places so that future generations can experience them as we do today, and learn from the same stories.
Veronica’s love of parks began at a young age, when her family embarked on cross-country road trips, allowing her to be awe-struck by ancient ruins, sheer sandstone cliffs, vast plains, and mountain ranges. In her spare time you can find her in the pottery studio, writing music, playing basketball, or painting the Teton Range on hikes and excursions throughout the Jackson Hole area.