The everyday adventures of a parks interpreter

Story by Scott Sunderwald – Alberta Parks Interpreter

20170708_185052I often say that being an interpreter for Alberta Parks is more of a calling than a job. It takes many years of dedicated seasonal work to prove your salt, and, even then, only a few people are lucky enough to build a full-time career from interpretation.  I try to remember that every day and count my blessings.

It’s the diversity of this job that gets me out of bed in the morning—breathtaking landscapes, intriguing wildlife and ecosystems, mixed with a blend of outdoor recreation, and, all the while, educating enthusiastic people from all walks of life from different parts of the world. Who could ask for more?!

Yet, like everything in life, being an interpreter is not all a bed of roses.  We have our bad days too. Stormy weather, pesky mosquitoes, rowdy kids, leaky chest waders and projection systems that break down in front of giant crowds. Not to mention the constant pressures of public speaking to groups of all sizes with hopes of inspiring every person in the audience. And we are expected to know everything about everything… rocks, fossils, mushrooms, birds, history, mammals, medicinal plants, parks legislation and much more. But who am I kidding? Of course it’s still the best job in the world!

I have so many memories. Like the time I had to explain to an excited little girl that the beautiful flower she was admiring was actually moldy coyote scat. “Yes, fungus can be beautiful and colourful”, I explained. Or the time I watched a deer give birth to a fawn right in front of me.

196But the best memories I have are about the people in the parks who have truly been inspired. You can see it in their eyes and in their great enthusiasm.  It’s like a light bulb has switched on and you know that they may never be the same again.  Sometimes they will write back after their visit and send a thank-you note, or sometimes a family will rush up to you in the grocery store to shake your hand eagerly and carefully recount their fond memories with you. That’s deeply rewarding.

parks-100As interpreters we have the privilege to open the doors to the natural world and invite people to see and experience things they’ve never seen before. We are a small army combating nature deficit disorder one person at a time.

For the record, Alberta Parks is the best place to be, with some of the most talented interpreters in the business. I wouldn’t trade this career for anything, and I’m truly honoured to be part of this 50-year legacy.

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