Beep, beep, beep—the alarm goes off in the morning and I resist the temptation to hit snooze. Forecasts show a beautiful summer Saturday in Boulder County, and trailheads will fill up early. My job is to get out there to greet parkgoers and help them make informed decisions about parking, face coverings, and enjoying their open spaces.
As a Park Ambassador (PA), my workspace from April through September included the most scenic parking lots in Boulder County. Early in the pandemic, our parks and open spaces were the only places county residents could get outside, exercise, and connect with nature. Our parks saw a visitation increase of 36 percent in April, with several parks experiencing an increase of nearly 100 percent. Many who had never taken advantage of this amazing natural resource visited our properties for the first time in 2020. Rangers were dealing with an overwhelming influx of people. It was clear they needed a little help. Other counties and municipalities were closing parks in response to the demands. Boulder County Parks & Open Space did not want to do that, so the county hired a small crew of folks dedicated to helping with crowds on the busiest days. I was lucky enough to be part of this original group. Our group was already invested in parks and open spaces, having worked for the department in different roles in the past. Extending our stewardship as PAs was a natural fit. It was also such a relief during quarantine to get out of the house and interact with the public! In mid-summer, the crew expanded so we could provide services at more parks and aid the county with projects because volunteer groups and the Youth Corps were unable operate, and there was still much work to be done.
Through the months, it was a delight to interact with visitors at our trailheads. Each week I met a new group of fascinating people from diverse backgrounds who all had one thing in common—a love of the outdoors. There are so many ways to appreciate our parks—hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing, birding, painting, and just viewing nature from a car. I gained a new appreciation of how essential our public lands are in maintaining our collective mental health.
People often asked if I got discouraged educating the public about face coverings and park regulations. I found that most people were appreciative of my work and willing to follow polices when gently reminded of the “why” behind them and when presented with simple solutions. Passing out bandanas to folks who were unaware of the face covering mandate or had simply forgotten their own was a huge help. Many people were gracious once they understood they were welcome in these spaces and that PAs were here to help rather than only enforce rules. We were all operating under the stresses of the pandemic, and keeping that in mind helped me stay mindful of how essential it was for each person to be in our parks. Each week my work strengthened my faith in our community.
Thankfully, my job extended beyond offering parking and face covering solutions. Before becoming a PA, I worked with the Boulder County Youth Corps for many seasons, and I’ve been a Volunteer Naturalist with the department since 2008. All of that experience enabled me to answer questions about our parks and their ecosystems. I also enjoyed reuniting guests with lost car keys, advising people on trail routes, calling medical help when needed, and introducing some of our youngest citizens to their parks. I was welcomed by our regular visitors, who quickly incorporated the ambassadors into their communities.
Working as a PA aided me during a time of great uncertainty. It allowed me to be of service when isolation was a part of life. It also forced me to spend hours revitalizing in beautiful natural environments. I am forever grateful for the opportunity.