The Life of a “Gift Shop Ranger” (or: How to Tell People You Work for Eastern National)

by David Eberle, Craggy Gardens Site Manager (Eastern National—Blue Ridge Region)

“So…what do yDavidEberleou do?” It’s a fair question whether it’s asked in small talk at a party, or not so small talk around your family’s dinner table, or fairly large talk with a significant other, or even if it’s innocently posed by a confused visitor to the helpful person on the other side of a National Park Service information desk. “What do you do?” is a question that everybody should be ready to answer, because everybody does something. For me, the answer always starts out “Well…”  And then I try to explain.

I work for Eastern National. As an Eastern National employee I take an enormous amount of pride in what we do and why we do it. My job is to enhance the experience of the National Park visitor and offer a friendly and welcoming greeting. Whether they’re on their way home or their day is just getting started, I want to hear about where they came from and why they are here; what about this park are they most excited about? How can I help them get the most out of their experience?

I keep the store displays stocked with products that try to capture the feeling of being at the park, whether it’s a photobook, a park history, a field guide, a coffee mug or a postcard. Visitors often want something tangible to bring home with them, and I show  them products that may be relevant to them. I also explain how Eastern National is a non-profit partner with the Park Service and that store  purchases help support the park. If they have questions about anything from directions to Park history, I find an answer for them. When I see visitors with children, I mention the Junior Ranger program because it’s never too early to get serious about national parks. I tell everyone about the Passport To Your National Parks®,  which is literally a list of all the amazing places that people should see, experience, know about, and protect in America. Every park has unique meaning and is endlessly explorable. (Not to mention, who doesn’t love to stamp things?)

After I explained all this to people, which in truth is just the tip of the iceberg of what an Eastern National employee does, the responses inevitably run along these lines:

The partygoer: “That’s so interesting! My cousin is a Forest Ranger.” Me: “Well…”

Dad at the dinner table: “Okay…government work, huh?”  Me: “Well…”

The significant other: “I’m just going to tell my parents you’re a ranger” Me: “Well…”

With the park visitor: “Soooo…you’re like a gift shop ranger?”  Me: “Well…kind of.”

When I first started with Eastern National it would always baffle me when people got confused about what I did. “What do you mean you never heard of Eastern National?”  Over the years though, as I’ve had the privilege of promoting the beauty and significance of the National Parks to so many visitors from every walk of life and from all over the world, I’ve almost started to take the confusion as a compliment. If people don’t get that we are not Park Rangers, it’s because we put the Park experience first. If people haven’t heard of Eastern National, it’s because Eastern National exists to serve the National Parks. Visitors are just happy to be in these protected places.

Gift shop ranger? I’ll take it.