Working at a National Park: Cada Día es un Buen Día

My experience growing up as a first-generation immigrant in the United States and not having done all of this stuff is not uncommon, however. It turns out a lot of my mostly Latino friends didn’t get into the outdoors until they left home.

Story by Ana Beatriz Cholo

I had no idea what a national park was when I was a kid. My family didn’t camp or hike. This probably sounds weird but I don’t think I even knew about the concept of walking up hills or mountains for fun until I was much, much older.

My experience growing up as a first-generation immigrant in the United States and not having done all of this stuff is not uncommon, however. It turns out a lot of my mostly Latino friends didn’t get into the outdoors until they left home.

Ana Beatriz Cholo

My parents immigrated to the United States in their 20s; my dad from Colombia, and my mom from Brazil. They met at an ESL class in New York City in the mid-1960s. My mom had grown up in one of the largest cities in the world, São Paulo. The area where my father grew up, just outside of Bogota, the nation’s capital, was slightly less urban.  

When I think of experiencing nature for the first time, I think of ants. As a small child, I would quietly sit and watch all the ants that would scurry around on the sidewalk outside our gritty apartment building. Sometimes I would pick them up in order to examine them more closely.

When we moved to a pink house in Southern California, nature for me became the grass in our backyard, the orange, lemon and avocado trees and the occasional, but rare, beach outing. I was in Girl Scouts in fifth grade just long enough to get the green uniform. I dropped out shortly after I realized I would not be allowed to participate in most of the activities. My strict Latino father made it clear that there would be no sleeping outside on the ground for me when I could sleep in a perfectly good bed under a roof.

And there would be no discussion about it, either. “That stuff is for boys,” my father told me gruffly.

In high school, I took a Life Science class. I can’t remember if I even made it to taking a college course Biology class. I think I have fuzzy, painful memories of being bored to death and how bad formaldehyde smelled.

So how did I end up with a job writing and taking photos about the National Park Service? The answer, I would say, is a combination of fortune, fate, a willingness to make sacrifices, a strong desire to work outdoors and a commitment to service. My official title is Senior Writer and my employer is the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, a non-profit committed to supporting the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. My first day on the job was February 13, 2018, and so far, I can attest to it being an adventure.

Ana Beatriz Cholo in the documenting in the field.

I work at the largest urban national park in the country. We’re located outside Los Angeles, a gigantic metropolis of 16 million people.

In a way, I feel like my most important task is to break down the great work that we do and share it to the public in an engaging way. In my former life, I was a news reporter for large newspapers and, in some ways, my current job is similar.

The perks of my job are many.

For instance, my colleagues are so smart, knowledgeable and nerdy in the best way possible. My cubicle is next to a biologist who researches mountain lions for a living. Out of all the study projects at our park, that is the one that garners the most attention from the media and general public. Next to him is the bobcat biologist and then the herps biologist. I regularly eavesdrop on all of their conversations and, by doing so, I am learning about science in a way that is more applicable to the real world.  

Part of my job entails explaining their work and taking lots of photos. Therefore, on some days, I get to play amateur biologist or ecologist or trail worker. We have almost 100 employees here!

It’s really cool to get up close and personal with the local wildlife. A few months ago, I held a California newt in my hand. This creature is a salamander that has toxins so poisonous on its skin that it can kill you if ingested. I thought it was super cute. Later that day, I found a tick embedded in my back and another one crawling around on my skin. That was creepy.  

I’ve handled snakes, lizards and California red-legged frogs in the wild and witnessed several necropsies of bobcats and coyotes. I’ve helped restore native plants and, as part of trail work, I’ve wielded a weed trimmer and helped tidy up part of the Backbone Trail, a 67-mile trail that spans our mountains from east to west.

Latino Outdoors Los Angeles volunteer Christian LaMont, Ana and her colleague, National Park Ranger Kevin Martinez, are setting up wildlife cameras along the Los Angeles River as part of a National Park Service project.

One day, I spent hours taking data on how plants are coming back to life in an area that was impacted by a devastating wildfire. It was fascinating how my colleague was able to identify and rattle off the name of hundreds of plants (including their scientific names)!

Not every day is spent in the field, however. In fact, most days I’m sitting behind a desk. I write press releases, update the mountain lion profiles on our website and answer questions from the public on random questions like “Can you identify the bird in this photo?” to “why does a tarantula molt?”. Writing social media posts that engage is fun and challenging, like one that explained the odd habits of toe biters – weird, but fascinating insects – that live in our local streams. The news media loved that one. They picked it up and it made national news!

I’m still fairly new at this job and there’s so much more I want to do. I’m in my 40s and I’m living proof that it’s never too late to start a new career.  Even my youngest son Jude, who has special needs, is excited about my job. He recently experienced how rewarding it can be to work as an interpretive ranger when he shared our pet tarantula, Ozzy, with other young children during a tarantula hike and talked to them about it.

Jude holding his pet tarantula, Ozzy.

When I see fourth graders coming into our park, I know that for many of them, it’s their first time being out in the mountains and I see myself in them. That could have been me but those programs didn’t exist when I was a kid. I wonder – is there something we can we do to get their parents to come out here, too? And as someone who works in Public Affairs, what can I do to help make that happen?

I don’t know the answer and, perhaps, that’s a blog post topic for another day.

In the meantime, I’m living the dream by sharing information to a diverse public about our amazing public lands. In my mind, nothing beats being able to grab my iPhone, throw on a pair of hiking boots, get on a trail and call it work!

How lucky am I?     

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To learn more about Ana visit her Instagram:

Also just recently, an article Ana Beatriz Cholo wrote the Alpinist Magazine “The Accidental Mountaineer” was chosen for Notables List for Best American Sports Writing of 2017.

Originally posted at latinooutdoor.org on October 13th 2018

http://latinooutdoors.org/2018/10/working-at-a-national-park-every-day-is-a-good-day/

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Latino Outdoors

We inspire, connect, and engage Latino communities in the outdoors and embrace cultura y familia as part of the outdoor narrative, ensuring our history, heritage, and leadership are valued and represented.