We’re excited to bring you this new series to introduce you to the park rangers who spend their days protecting and showcasing your OBX national parks. Be make sure you’re subscribed to our email list to get future Meet Your Ranger profiles!
*Please note: Ashley accepted a new position with the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2021. We miss her and wish her the best!
Education: Studied Communications and History at Asbury University, Wilmore KY
Where you’ll find her: Lead Park Ranger, Wright Brothers National Memorial
Other national parks Ashley has worked at: Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
When did you know you wanted to be a park ranger?
There were two moments really. Growing up my family traveled to national parks all the time. Our goal was to visit all 50 states before my brother and I grew up – before we went away to college. When we were planning our trips the main thing we looked for in each state was a national park. As a kid I thought park rangers were the coolest people – they were so interesting, they would teach you things and help you learn something new. It was one of my many dreams jobs as a kid.
In college I knew I wanted to major in history, but I never thought there was a place for history majors in the National Park Service. In my mind I thought of the rangers I had seen as being biologists. So, my idea of park rangers is that they had a science background and since I wasn’t pursuing that I thought being a park ranger wasn’t an option for me. During my senior year of college I started looking for internship opportunities. I had studied Elizabethan History, so I came across Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and I asked to do an internship with them. During that internship I was introduced to the field of interpretation – I loved the idea of connecting visitors to the resources that we have at our national parks and that you can have a history background, a biology background, or really a wide variety of backgrounds and still be an interpretive park ranger. Once I realized that, I decided I wanted to be an interpretive ranger and started from that point on pursuing my career in the park service.
What is your favorite thing about being a park ranger?
Oh gosh, there are so many things! One of my favorite things is getting to meet people from all over, especially here at Wright Brothers. You have people who visit from the county – just coming to the park in their backyard, you have people coming from Ohio, from California, and then you have people who visit from India and China and all around the world. It’s so neat to get to interact with people from all these different places and get to share the story of the park – stories that really matter and have significance. But also, just to get to share a love for the park service with them.
What is your favorite program to give to visitors?
What is one of your favorite memories since you’ve been at your current park?
There have been so many great interactions with visitors, getting into great conversations about Wilbur and Orville and hearing from people what those stories mean to them is always one of the neatest things for me. When you think about our parks, as park rangers we’re doing our work to preserve and protect the resources that we have, but really we’re doing that for the public – because these are their parks! So I love hearing from visitors about what this park means to them. How flight has inspired them or how the dedication of Wilbur and Orville have been an inspiration in their life. That’s been something that really connects with me and has been meaningful. I recently got into an in-depth conversation with a visitor from New Zealand about wing warping – he was just fascinated by how that works and how Wilbur and Orville discovered it. It was so much fun because I was also learning from him and we were talking out this amazing invention together.
Another part of my job is that I work with school groups and I would say from that standpoint we go into classrooms and we talk about the Every Kid in a Park program – which is changing its name to Every Kid Outdoors – but it’s a program that the National Park Service has that allows 4th graders and their families to visit any national park for free. It’s an awesome program and every fall we take that program into the local 4th grade classrooms. We talk to students about this opportunity that they’ll have to visit the parks, but also the National Park Service itself and what it is that we protect. One of the activities is we ask them to do is fill in an arrowhead outline (like the National Park Service logo) with things they think are worth protecting – so we get all kinds of things from ‘Fortnite’ to ‘my grandma’s house’ to a certain animal or plant they think should be preserved. Hearing those things and hearing the passion and ideas these 4th graders have around preservation has been an inspiring part of my work.