August 2019 – Allie Hellier is headed back to school this month after “finding her park” in South Florida. In a final blog post, Allie reflects on the people she met and the lessons she learned while on assignment in South Florida’s national parks.
By Allison Hellier
Endings are uncomfortable. It means forging into the unknown next chapter, carrying the weight of what you have gathered along the way, and taking a leap of faith at what’s to come.
It is in that turn of the page where we can sit in uncomfortability. It forces us to slow down and reflect on where we are.
Getting to talk to Ellen Siegel, a Trust board member and Everglades volunteer, sparked this thought in me about taking my time through the unknown and enjoying it. She talked about how her first time in the Everglades forced her to slow down, look up at the sky, appreciate the vast and subtle beauty of the unknown that she was immersed in.
That’s what I have grown to love so much about our parks this summer. The lessons we take away from experiencing them is so universal and goes beyond the scope of one visit. Parks teach us to love, to protect, to listen, to let go of fear, and to welcome new opportunities. It is a mutualistic experience. The more you give to these parks, the more you get out of it.
As this chapter ends, I have reflected on what a gift I have been given getting to intern at the Trust this summer and getting to be in South Florida’s national parks. I have gained lessons and connections unlike any professional experience I have had thus far.
I realize this post is coming off as aggressively serious, but in all honesty, this work helped pull me out of a fog I felt stuck in. It made me excited and grateful for new opportunities and changed a narrative of fear I had created in my head.
This internship has given me the opportunity to grow as a communications professional. I learned that being alongside people who truly care about the work they do makes it worth doing. I learned to be adaptable, open to feedback, to choose my words wisely (even though sometimes not everyone is going to like what I have to say), and to truly listen.
I am incredibly grateful to the Trust for giving me this opportunity, for pushing me outside of my comfort zone, and for allowing me to learn and grow as a communicator, writer, and advocate for our national parks.
However, I am most grateful to these parks. Going into this summer, I had only been to the Everglades one time. Now, these parks feel like a second home.
The diverse ecosystems that encompass these parks are a perfect reflection of the diverse experiences waiting to be had in them. I loved knowing that the paths I was walking through had been walked thousands of times before. I was walking through different journeys, stories, and pasts that were impacted by nature.
Every trip was unique, whether I was helping survey sea turtle nests, driving through long roads nestled in the Everglades, seeing manatees hang out in the shallows, or getting to see the sunrise over Cape Sable.
But what really has made my time in these parks so unique is the connections I made. I have gotten to meet directors, educators, researchers, biologists, volunteers, and National Park Service rangers. In each interaction, everyone has their “why” — their reason for supporting these parks. While their paths getting to their “why” have different roads, turns, ups, and downs, one thing remains stagnant: these people love our parks.
I know that the handful of people I have gotten to meet make up just one pulse in the loud heartbeat of people that have devoted their lives to loving and protecting these national parks.
Overall, my biggest takeaway from this summer has been hope. Hope that people will continue to enjoy, share, protect, engage with, and love our parks. Hope that we can pass along this love and appreciation to the next generation and leave these parks better than we found them.
I am happy that I gotten to leave a very small footnote in the immense history book of national parks. So whatever this unknown next chapter is for me, I am hopeful and ready to turn the page. (P.S. go Find YOUR Park)