HARDY: Dream of being a ranger comes to life | PostIndependent.com

HARDY: Dream of being a ranger comes to life

Kevin Hardy

Editor’s note: Kevin Hardy, fourth grade teacher at Broadway Elementary, was accepted into the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program at Colorado National Monument for six weeks this summer. “I have always loved the outdoors and had a dream of working at a national park/monument.” Each week, he will share his experience with Free Press readers

In 1974, when I moved to the Redlands, I was bussed to Fruita Junior High. As we drove along the Monument, I would sit and gaze out the window at the magnificent canyons and mesas situated atop the cliffs. The beauty I saw made me dream of becoming a park ranger.

During my senior year, I intentionally tweaked the answers on my high school career interest survey so when the counselor called me back into her office she would unequivocally announce, “Your future lies in the great outdoors.” Eventually, somehow I fell into my true calling and a profession I love with a passion — teaching. To this day, though, I am still enamored with the Monument. I have extensively hiked the canyons and mesas that called to me all those years ago. The dream of being a ranger remained tucked away deep in my heart.

For the next six weeks, that dream comes to life. I have been accepted for one of two Teacher-Ranger-Teacher positions. The goal of the TRT program is to expose teachers to the National Park experience and for them to share their experience by taking it back into their classroom and community. To begin meeting that goal, I will be writing a series of articles for the Free Press sharing my experience, relating interesting information about our special ecosystem, and sharing opportunities the Monument has to offer.

Our community offers many possibilities for families to experience the great outdoors, yet every school year, I am amazed at the number of children that have never experienced driving over the Monument, let alone walking one of its trail. As a teacher, I strive to find ways to incorporate the outdoors into the curriculum I teach. In addition to covering required curriculum, I hope to share with the future stewards of our public lands, the sense of wonderment being in nature brings to people.

As you read the subsequent articles in this series, I will endeavor to enlighten, encourage and entertain. As I strive to do with my students, I hope through my experience I can expose more people to the wonderment that one can find in nature. Although visitation to national parks is up, there are several distressing statistics. Visitors are spending less time actually visiting our parks. Many visits today are limited to individuals or busloads of tourists simply driving through. More upsetting is the trend that visitors tend to be older. Although annual spending on outdoor activities continues to increase every year, the 20- to 29-year-old age group, the same age group that makes up families with young children, has nearly disappeared from our parks.

In my opinion, one of the reasons baby boomers continue to visit our parks is because like me, they were introduced to them as children. Most people my age have a story about their family packing up the station wagon for a cross-country trek to visit one of our iconic parks. The storyteller might weave their tale with backseat sibling rivalries, wildlife encounters, and near death disasters, but no matter how painful their story might be, these trips not only created family memories but also instilled a love for our national parks.

We live next door to one of the gems of the U.S. National Park Service system. John Otto, considered by many to be the Monument’s founder, strived to have these canyons declared a national park. He wrote letters to the local newspaper trying to convince the residents of the Grand Valley to visit his canyons and hike his trails. He knew once introduced to this astounding land they would be enticed to not only come back, but also protect it. During the next few weeks, I hope, through my experiences, instead of being happy with the red canyons of Colorado National Monument decorating their backyards, I can encourage a few families to visit and form a lasting relationship.

Kevin Hardy has been a teacher with School District 51 for 27 years. Equaling his passion for education is his love of the outdoors. For more information about hiking in our area, contact him at rangerforasummer@gmail.com or follow his daily blog at rangerforasummer@wordpress.com.

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