University of Vermont

Bonnie Ricord: Summer Internship at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Undergraduate internship profile

Bonnie Ricord (far right) with fellow rangers at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan
Bonnie Ricord (far right) with fellow rangers at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan

The summer of 2012 marked the second year that I have worked for the National Park Service at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (or “SLBE” for short) was recently voted “the most beautiful place in America” by Good Morning America. The national lakeshore includes 35 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, 13 hiking trails, two islands, and numerous inland lakes. The recreational opportunities are endless, and include biking, swimming, kayaking, hiking, camping, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. I was fortunate enough to attend high school in this area, and I was thrilled to be able to continue to enjoy the region’s outdoor opportunities and natural resources through my work at the National Lakeshore.

My role at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was working with both the interpretation and natural resources divisions. I worked as a kind of liaison between the two divisions, focusing on wildlife education. The National Lakeshore received a large grant this year from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and some of that money paid for my position. I led a weekly evening program on black bears at one of the lakeshore’s campgrounds, and I also roved the campgrounds to educate campers on the importance of food storage. One of my other jobs was to hold informal piping plover education programs in various areas of the park. Along with the rest of the interpretation team, I was in charge of SLBE’s social media posts on Facebook and Twitter.

One question that many visitors to the national lakeshore asked me was, “How did you get to be a ranger?” People are very curious about the job application process for the National Park Service, and I guess that makes sense because it’s a wonderful place to work! I took a somewhat untraditional route to working for the NPS. Most people that want to work at a national park apply using USAJobs.gov, which is a searchable database of federal jobs. Individual sites within the National Park Service advertise seasonal and full-time positions on this site.

I started my involvement with SLBE in 2007, as a beach clean-up volunteer. In high school, I was also a Girl Scout and I completed my Gold Award by creating a nature activity club for families at SLBE. During the summer of 2010, I worked at Eastern National, a nonprofit organization that runs the bookstores within the National Lakeshore.

In the summer of 2011, I was lucky enough to work directly with the National Park Service as a Youth-in-Parks (YIP) intern. As a YIP intern, I was able to experience all of the different jobs within the National Lakeshore: interpretation (leading programs), law enforcement (writing parking citations, checking for park passes, etc.), and natural resources (testing water for E. coli). I feel very fortunate that I had this experience because it gave me a unique perspective and appreciation for each person’s role at the National Lakeshore and how each individual employee contributes to the overall mission of the National Park Service.

My 2012 summer job experience culminated at the Port Oneida Fair, an annual, two-day event held at the National Lakeshore. I have been attending the Port Oneida Fair (either as a visitor or an employee) for about seven years. This event is held in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District, which has many old farmsteads, barns, and even a one-room schoolhouse. This year, I worked at several different stations, doing historical arts and crafts, teaching knot tying, and generally assisting visitors.

One of the best parts of working at a national park is meeting people from all different walks of life. I have met people from across the world, families on vacation, and retirees who were visiting every national park in the country. My job at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore this summer gave me the opportunity to communicate with different types of people and learn about how the National Park Service preserves and protects natural and cultural resources. In the future, I look forward to working at the National Lakeshore and possibly other units within the National Park Service as well.

I am also very excited for my internship opportunity this upcoming summer. I will be serving as a wilderness ranger intern for the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation. This foundation is a nonprofit organization that is the primary partner of the US Forest Service in working with the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (in Montana and Idaho). There are eleven Ranger Interns for this summer, all of whom are college students. We will be backpacking through these wilderness areas doing trail maintenance and interacting with visitors to the wilderness areas. I am looking forward to learning about wilderness management in a different part of the country and interacting with members of the US Forest Service and the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation.