Over the past several years, education specialists from Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park have collaborated on a unique opportunity for staff who are relatively new to the National Park Service. Called the Ranger Exchange, the purpose of the program is to give newer employees an opportunity to experience the operation of a park very different from their own.
Initiated by Santa Monica Mountain’s education and outreach specialists, the goal was to provide youth working there, most of whom are recruited from large urban centers, the chance to understand the workings of a large, rural national park. Most of Santa Monica’s seasonal student employees are representative of the culturally diverse audiences NPS is striving to connect with as it approaches its second century and have never explored a national park other than the one they work in.
For the rangers from Grand Canyon, visiting Santa Monica Mountains provided a valuable experience in understanding what rangers in an urban setting do to engage non-traditional park audiences. Grand Canyon rangers were exposed to both the outreach that is done in schools and various communities within the Los Angeles area.
Considering changing demographics, it is valuable for rangers from more traditional, rural parks to see the innovative ways that staff from an urban park engage a mostly urban audience. Additionally, since urban parks provide a unique opportunity for the NPS to recruit a more diverse workforce, a program of this type provides participants a deeper understanding of the NPS as a whole and may encourage them to seek employment in national parks in the future.
“I felt very inspired after the Ranger Exchange to Grand Canyon,” said one participant. “I also feel like I know more about the National Park Service and have made strong connections to fellow NPS staff that I otherwise would have never known.”
“Witnessing the staff out at Grand Canyon only solidified the fact that working with the NPS truly gives you a sense of being part of a larger family,” said Adali Olivares, a ranger from Santa Monica Mountains.
Olivares recently accepted a permanent position with Channel Islands National Park. Another Santa Monica participant, Juan Quezada, has since worked seasonally at Grand Canyon National Park.
On-going financial support for the Ranger Exchange program comes from Youth Partnership Program funding and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund (that park’s friends group). Past program support came from the National Park Foundation.