Interpretive Rangers share a love of the outdoors
Published 9:03 am Monday, June 22, 2015
A love of the outdoors and a desire to inspire that same joy in others are two of the things that led Roan Mountain State Park’s Seasonal Interpretive Rangers to take on the role.
Joe Nowotarski is in his second year as a Season Interpretive Ranger and Amanda Smithson is in her third. Both have spent all of their time in the SIR program at Roan Mountain State Park.
Growing up in Chattanooga, Nowotarski was no stranger to the beauty of the Volunteer State. While studying at East Tennessee State University, he and his friends often did things outdoors, frequently making the drive up the mountain to the land of the clouds.
“This was kind of our weekly pilgrimage,” he said.
While at ETSU, Nowotarski majored in history and environmental health. Now, his career goal is to become a full time ranger with the Tennessee State Park system, hopefully at Roan Mountain.
“This is, in my opinion, the prettiest spot in Tennessee and arguably in the United States,” he said, adding he feels “blessed” to be able to work at the park.
As part of their duties, rangers and the SIRs not only care for and preserve the parks, they also host programs for park visitors, which is where the “interpretive”part of being a ranger comes in. The programs can range from plant and animal life at the park, history or just plain fun like campfire stories.
“I wasn’t much of an interpreter before I came here,” Nowotarski said. “Now, I would say my favorite part is the interpretation and making the kids laugh and smile.”
Nowotarski likes working with his hands and brings that to his work, but he also remembers his childhood when he would catch fireflies or lay on the grass at night and gaze at the stars and hopes to incorporate that into his job as well.
He enjoys taking the things he loved doing as a child and sharing them with the children who visit the park. “Things you can weave that king of magic into and anything that I can pass on that childlike wonder I had,” he said.
Working with the children who come to the park is also one of the things Smithson likes about her job.
“It’s great to see people from the Tri-Cities or wherever come back year after year,” she said. “You get to see the kids grown and learn.”
Smithson, who is a native of northeast North Carolina, has lived in this area for four years now. She attended the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where she majored in Natural Resource Management. Like her counterpart, Smithson also hopes to one day become a full-time ranger with the park system.
Working with the children and teaching the interpretive programs are Smithson’s favorite things about her job, which she said has many things to love about it.
“I get to explore every day and learn something new. It’s never dull,” she said. “But teaching is definitely the most rewarding part.”
“I get to work in a beautiful setting every day,” she added. “I am so very blessed.”
She best enjoys doing programs about the plant life and stream ecology in Roan Mountain.
But, to Smithson, the park is about more than just the nature that can be found there, it’s about the people as well.
“They have an amazing staff here,” she said. “Everyone helps everyone. It is just a wonderful place to work.”
“There is such a great sense of community here,” she added.