The National Park Service is usually not the first thing that comes to mind when one hears the word “government.” This is most likely because the NPS and its 413 “areas” (including 58 National Parks) represents a retreat from modern, hectic entities such as our ruling law making and enforcing body. NPS sites provide the public with access to unique natural and historical places across the United States. The northern Outer Banks is a hotspot for these sites, having three: the Wright Brother’s Memorial, Fort Raleigh, and my internship home, Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS).
Every monday and every other wednesday morning, I travel over the Roanoke Sound via the Washington Baum Bridge before the sun rises and head to the CHNS headquarters on Bodie Island. Upon arrival, I meet up with my mentors and wait for the sky to start showing color. Once it is light enough to walk outside without tripping and running into things, we head for one of our trusty Chevy trucks. While they only stall during the first few seconds of driving, and usually start, the loud, sputtering sound is eternal. Trucks are not meant for driving on the beach. Yet beach driving is a daily routine for the CHNS park service crew. We patrol stretches of beach ranging from the northern tip of Bodie Island down to Buxton; always on the lookout for sea turtles (and nests), threatened shorebirds, stranded animals, and misbehaving beach-goers. One thing I have learned in my few months on the job is that there is no typical day. The day’s work is many times solely influenced by what we see.
There really is no telling what will happen each time I shut off my 5 am alarm and head over to the beach. One day, we may excavate a turtle nest, the next save a cormorant flapping around helplessly on the highway, another may be spent nicely explaining to the nice locals how we would appreciate if they nicely move off the section of this nice beach that they are not supposed to be on. My internship is always varying and changing, however there is one rather constant component, my mentors.
Paul Doshkov is the head honcho of the Bodie Island division. His laid back personality and dry humor do little to mask his immense knowledge of and respect for wildlife. The ability to slice open a dolphin and assess its innards in mere minutes and ID little shorebirds from hundreds of feet away are just two of the many seasoned skills I have been lucky to witness. Almost all the questions I think to ask on the job are thoroughly answered. If it involves the CHNS, Paul knows about it.
Amber Rhodes is the other permanent worker at the division. Amber loves sea turtles. Amber knows sea turtles. Amber may in fact be a sea turtle. How else could a person know so much about a species while simultaneously caring about its young as if they were their own children? In all seriousness, her passion is contagious. She works with a doggedness that is quite rare and it’s obvious the job is not work to her, but a fun game that she enjoys playing over and over again. The NPS is to Amber as the NFL is to a meathead.
Additionally, I had the pleasure of working with three seasonal employees (Rob, John, and Katie). Meeting and working with these people was a grand (Canyon National Park) experience. All came from different places, with different backgrounds, and brought different personalities. But each and every person carried out their job in a professional and efficient manner. It was extremely valuable to be a part of such a cohesive and efficient working environment. My internship was a beneficial balance of knowledge on wildlife and a successful work environment with perspective-changing relationships thrown in for good measure. I will be able to use what I have learned at CHNS for the rest of my days whether those are spent chasing down sea turtles and gutting dolphins, or not.