On a beautiful spring Sunday Catherine Staley admits visitors to Saint Vrain State Park, answering any questions they have. During a typical day she checks out people camping at the park, checks fishing licenses, and ensures that visitors are following the rules and being safe. This is her second season working at the park.
Statistically Staley represents a small demographic of the park ranger workforce. About 66% of park rangers are men and about 91% are white. Diverse representation is lacking within the field, but she hopes that she can represent the diversity the field can embody to those visiting the park, Staley said.
What got you into this field of work?
I went to school for wildlife biology at CSU and primarily was in research and was actually out in Reno and just wanted to come home and was applying for state jobs because I’m from Longmont. This state park was close to home. I was applying around and happened to stumble upon this place and got accepted here. This is my second season.
Do you work all year?
It’s just seasonal. The temporaries are only contracted out for nine months, and we have a three-month break. We are working full time throughout those nine months.
Do you take additional jobs during your off time?
This past winter I was working a little bit. I was substitute teaching. We don’t get paid a whole lot, so you kind of have to do winter work. I think having to do the winter work in order to do this job is totally worth it.
What are your favorite aspects of the job?
I think getting to interact with the public. It can be very rewarding. Obviously we have people who are frustrating at times, but being able to talk to the public and be their point of contact, especially in the field, and educate and make sure that they are being safe and following the rules and having a good time out here is kind of my favorite part.
Do you find that you can use your wildlife biology background in this job?
Not as much as I would like. Being at an entry-level point, obviously I don’t have a lot of the administrative authority to make projects for myself. I do feel like when people ask me questions about the ecosystem here, I’m able to talk about what I learned in school. Having an interest in herpetology throughout my undergrad, it’s cool to be able to see and actually identify the animals that we’re seeing and let everyone else in the park know a species catalog. That way they know and can let others know.
Do you feel like you face any barriers in the field?
I don’t feel like within this job I have a lot of obstacles. I feel like if I do ever come across them, our senior ranger and our park manager are always willing to listen and have conversations how, for me being a woman of color, I can come out into the park and be able to do my job well, especially with the other staff here, just making sure that everything is very cohesive for everyone, and no one is feeling uncomfortable or restricted in any way.
Do you feel like it was harder for you as a woman of color to be in this field?
I was very fortunate in my undergrad. I had a mentor who actually reached out to me and pushed me along to get to this point. I don’t feel like it was very hard, but had I not had that mentor, I would not be in this spot at all. I’m very grateful to have had those opportunities with that mentor. Before that I had no idea what I was doing. It was an opportunity when he would take specifically women in ecology and take them on research trips, and we would publish papers based on those excursions. Just having that experience and that opportunity almost placed into my lap, I feel like I was very fortunate to be in that position. All of the other rangers I work with are white men. The only other woman I work with, who is full-time staff, is a gate attendant and then our admin, but we don’t get to see them all the time, so at least as far as the rangers are concerned, I kind of have to hold my own a lot of the time with them, but I’m very grateful that they do listen and they understand the woes of being a woman.
Do you have any favorite memories of working at the park?
One actually just happened. We had a little gosling that had fishing line stuck around his leg, and he was not able to walk, so I was able to net him and get the line cut and reunite him with his family the other day. It felt really good to be able to do that. That’s definitely one that I’ll hold on to. I think that will motivate me for the rest of the season for sure.
What does a typical day on the job look like for you?
It’s usually different. In the morning we’re doing camping stuff, just with checkouts. Every day can look different, even if we’re doing the same thing like checking fishing licenses or making sure people have life jackets. Every conversation is different because every person is different. That’s why I like being out here. I like having time to walk around and talk to every single person who comes out to the park because you just never know what kinds of conversations you’re going to have with people, and I think even just being out here asking people how their days are going when they’re out here, it can brighten their day just a little bit.
Do you see yourself working in this field long term?
Yeah. The fall applications for full-time employees are going to open up in September. I wholeheartedly am going to apply. I really want to get in as a wildlife officer. I like working at the park, but we don’t get a lot of hands on with the wildlife, so that’s something that I’m really passionate about. I want to make sure that I can continuously work with wildlife throughout the rest of my career. I do want to keep at this. I’ve really fallen in love with the job and want to go on full time with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Is the field sustainable for those entering into it?
I think so. I feel like especially with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, there are a lot of different steps you can take to stay within the agency, whether you’re working with admin, you’re working as a gate attendant, or you’re a maintenance worker or a park ranger. There’s always a next step you can take. A lot of people will start out in the entrance and then maybe next season they apply to be a park ranger. That’s absolutely doable. Even just being in the park in any aspect can help you transfer really well into other departments. There’s a lot of different avenues where people can stay with the agency, and they usually end up doing it.