During this past summer, I had the pleasure of working at Leesylvania State Park, a local State Park right in my hometown of Woodbridge, Virginia. While applying, I had a couple of options of where I would like to be placed for a position in the park. One was working in the park store, and the other was Maintenance Ranger. So instead of being cooped up in a building all day, I decided I wanted to be outside all the time and work hard as a Maintenance Ranger. Judging by some of the questions they asked me in my interview started to worry me. Asking me about my experience in electrical and plumbing work was zero to none, but I said I was willing to learn. Luckily, I ended up not having to do anything like that while employed there.
Most of my work included cleaning bathrooms and changing trash bags during the weekends since that was when it was most busy. And during the weekdays would be our hard working days of weed-whacking, mowing, cleaning boat launch ramps, pressure washing, mulching, weeding, and picking up PLENTY of litter off the ground. Working there really gave me the idea of how much work is really put into maintaining a park that no one really ever sees. From what I thought, a park is how it naturally is, letting nature take its course. While for trails, that may be truer, but for the more public land and picnic areas, there is a lot to take care of as more people use them. Every weekend would be packed with people, no parking spots left and every picnic area filled to the brim. While I was glad to see more people being out in nature and using it for recreation, it seemed like it still didn’t make that connection of protecting it while there. While picking up trash on the shoreline of the Potomac River that the park sits on, I found all kinds of things just left there to be washed away, including diapers even! This is really no wonder why I heard that you could only eat a couple of fish from the river a year or else it might adversely affect your health due to the bio-accumulation of chemicals in your body from the fish that are caught there. Yet I see numerous fishermen coming back week after week to take home some food for their family. There are more implications towards why they do this action. Maybe they do this because it is cheaper and cannot afford safer, healthier food, but it is hurting their family in the long run.
Another aspect that was emphasized to me while working there was the abundant waste of food and packaging. Picnics and parties are the biggest waste generators and what’s worse is that it’s in a park, where trash can destroy habitats, wildlife, and natural cycles. I have seen perfectly good food being thrown away or whole cans of soda or water being left like trash. Plastic packaging is a serious epidemic. I couldn’t count how many little plastic straw wrappers I have had to pick up there. I even found packaging for a limbo pole once. I can’t even imagine why anyone on Earth would first off BUY a limbo pole, nevertheless have packing for one. And don’t even get started on recycling, it is a joke! The park’s initiative in having recycling bins and waste diversion stations was a great idea, but people don’t have enough sense to know what they’re putting in what, so the streamline gets highly contaminated and it’s all ended up being thrown away in the end.
….But I digress..
Working at the park was sometimes a real heart breaker in terms of seeing humans and their utter ignorance towards their actions and the very same environment they come to for enjoyment. Even some of my co-workers shared that ignorance as they litter themselves, even if they might be the same person picking it up a week later when they’re assigned to do that. I think this is because they see how much trash is around, which makes them think there is no point anyways but to do the same. This is most discouraging to see that even the people who need to clean up for other people’s actions, don’t change their behavior as well. In the end, I really did enjoy most of the people I worked with as well and gained a lot of insight to different aspects of park operations. Yet people who work for parks should be hired to have more education and appreciation for natural settings to lead others in example through behavior and implement programs in the park that will make people consider their impact more.