National Park Service Service

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Brad Metler (left) and Mason Phillippi position a rock that will serve as an abutment for a small footbridge across the Oconaluftee River to an old cemetery in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Both men work for the park’s trail crew, which maintains more than 800-miles of trail in the park. Nathan Rott/NPR

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA):

Life In The Park: Finding Meaning In Park Service Work

There’s a popular refrain among National Park Service employees, one that doubles as a reminder, of sorts, after a long, wearisome day: “We get paid in sunrises and sunsets.”

For many park employees, the pay is seasonal and not great. The hours are long. The question is usually the same (“Where’s the bathroom?”). And no matter how many pamphlets you pass out, instructions you give or “Attention!” signs you put up, people still wander off trails, carve their names in trees and get too close to the bears.

I saw and heard all of this earlier this summer, during a reporting trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited park in the U.S. For 10 days, I tagged along with the park’s employees and volunteers — releasing rescued bear cubs, welcoming delegations of foreign diplomats, hunting for invasive feral hogs and cleaning bathrooms — to try to get an idea of just how much work goes on behind-the-scenes in our national parks. (Spoiler alert: It’s a lot.)

But what struck me the most were the reasons why — outside of the stunning sunrises and sunsets — people decide to work and dedicate their lives to a place like Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Bill Gober

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Bill Gober started volunteering as a trail rover at Great Smoky Mountains National Park 4 years ago after he lost his job. He helps monitor visitors and pick up garbage from the trails. Nathan Rott/NPR

Trail rover volunteer, 4 years with NPS

“It must have been the chicken salad,” Bill Gober thought, hiking down from Laurel Falls on one of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s most popular trails. His stomach was all knotted up. He was sweating bullets and short of breath.

He made it down the trail to a creek, where he dipped his handkerchief in the water and sat on a rock. “That’s when I called into dispatch and asked for a carry out,” he says.

Gober had started volunteering on the Laurel Falls Trail a couple of years after losing his job in the medical supply field. He was spending a lot of his time hiking in the park anyway. “It was therapeutic, an escape from reality,” he says. So he figured he’d help out the park’s staff by working as a trail rover one day a week, monitoring visitors and warning them about stuff like rattlesnakes and bears. “Mostly, I pick up a lot of garbage,” he says.

It was during one of those shifts, not long after a chicken salad lunch, that he had his heart attack. After calling for help, he was carried out by park employees and airlifted to Knoxville, Tenn., for bypass surgery. The doctors agreed that if it wasn’t for the quick response and professionalism of park staff, Gober would have died on that rock.

That’s why he came back to volunteer on the trail as soon as he was physically able. You’ll find him there on Wednesdays. “I definitely have some payback to give back to the park,” Gober says. “I’m alive today because of it.”…

Read the other profiles and whole story here.

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