After nearly 32 years of combined federal and state natural resource management public service, I retired.
I have been blessed with a rewarding career. But before that final day working in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary arrived, I had already applied for and been accepted as a volunteer wilderness ranger in the Pasayten Wilderness of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington State. It was the best promotion of my career.
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, backpacking in Oregon and Washington’s Cascade and Olympic Mountains. My career launched as a trail crew leader in Olympic National Park. Bachelor and master’s degrees followed and my career, particularly as “a Fed,” unfolded, channeling my energies, giving me lofty goals to aspire toward and feeding my family.
Recently, with retirement at hand, I decided to get back to the experiences that drew me to resource conservation work. As a youngster, I met Forest Service lookouts and rangers. They awed me. I got my first taste at age 21, as a trail hand. I loved that work. Soon marriage and family intervened. Then college and graduate school, developing professional skills in environmental policy and conservation education management and that long-lasting exciting and rewarding career.
Fast-forward to retirement: “I can do anything I want to do – including being a wilderness ranger!”
My volunteer work has brought me to a greater appreciation of the efforts that dedicated U.S. Forest Service people commit to every day. My experience on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest during an intense fire season also showed me the sacrifice that many endure to do the work they love. On my district, the 1.3 million-acre Methow Valley Ranger District, several co-workers lost their homes to the fires and saw their community suffer great hardship.
That’s where the give-back comes in. I’ve always been the type to lend a hand and public service has been a privilege to me. Now, with my time at my disposal, why not give back to a new cadre of dedicated colleagues and the American people and the forests they love as I do? The work is tougher on a 60-something than on the 20-something I started as, but it is even more rewarding now. It has reawakened my love working in the wilderness and reinvigorated my commitment to public service.
It’s my way to get back to the work that launched me and give back to the cause of conservation that serves all of us.
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Mr. Steelquist, you inspire me. What a meaningful way to use your expertise and spread the conservation message on your own time and own dime.