Would you like to find out all about a park ranger’s experiences in Denali National Park in Alaska, where there are grizzly bears and caribou galore?
This is only one of many fascinating topics to ask Jesse Chakrin live on “Ask Me Anything” which will take place on September 7 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. via Zoom. Those interested can register online at: https://bit.ly/AMAJesse.
Chakrin, who was enthusiastic about being spotlighted on “Ask Me Anything,” told the Times: “This one will be my first. An ‘Ask Me Anything’ is a way to interact with people that you may not know who are experts in their field or have an interesting life’s story. It’s an open door to people asking questions and allows people to follow their curiosity.
“It started on Reddit. You might see them on Instagram Stories where people who have a large number of followers will set up an ‘Ask Me Anything’ for an hour.
“The one I’m doing was organized by the Sustainability Council at UC Merced. They’re doing one a month, and they asked me because I work for the Park Service in Yosemite and have been collaborating with the school since 2007.
“I expect to be asked about my career, why I ended up as a park ranger, why I continued doing that for so long, park operations and COVID-19, and any of the other experiences I’ve had, and wherever else people’s curiosity takes them. I’m expecting 20 to 25 folks, but it may be more than that, including people all over the country.
“I have been working as a ranger in parks since 1999. I graduated from the University of Michigan and decided I didn’t want to be a psychologist. I wanted to spend more time in nature and in the wilderness. I started in Denali and was up there for five summers.
“In 2003, I was visiting Yosemite National Park, as I had done for several years, and I started rock climbing and got hooked. I decided 2003 would be my last summer in Alaska, and I would pursue rock climbing and it seemed like the right place to be. I made the transition to Yosemite National Park in 2004 and spent several summers there, and then in 2007, I was encouraged to apply for a grant-funded position supported by the Yosemite Fund, now called the Yosemite Conservancy.
“I took a job as Director of the Wilderness Education Center at UC Merced, and I co-directed the Yosemite Leadership Program with our university partners. I continue in both of those roles and also function as a liaison for our over-arching agreements that codify our relationship. Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit is the legal framework within which we collaborate. It has been a real adventure.”
The Yosemite Leadership Program provides UC Merced students with workshops and wilderness-based activities to encourage ethical management of the national park. The students in the two-year program develop a passion for the wilderness, environmental sustainability and social justice.
At the UC Merced Wilderness Education Center, student rangers help the community become aware of what Yosemite National Park has to offer through educational resources, field trips and stewardship projects.
Chakrin said, “I don’t know what the questions will be, but what I am interested in talking about is that we’re in a pretty interesting time. One thing that’s being elevated right now is access to parks and how that can be a social and environmental justice issue.
“So much around COVID-19 has clarified the healing aspects of time and nature. So one of the main goals of partnering with the university was to help increase access to national parks for the communities of the Central Valley which are often under-represented in park visits.
“We also wanted to build a collaborative effort with the university that will help us recruit staff, such as park rangers, for the future and also better understand the complexities of managing national parks in the 21st century.
“My job has been the joy of my career, and getting to know the community of Merced and working with the population at UC Merced and working with the university partners is so exciting.
“Our program design at a minimum is a two-year program. We don’t serve huge numbers, but we invest a lot of time and energy in those individual students.
“We intake 25 new students every Fall and we’re going on our thirteenth year. “The Leadership Program is structured around the social change model of leadership development, and it’s about understanding yourself, the group you’re a part of, the community, and the society. It’s about how you develop yourself and your abilities and apply that to society with the goal of creating positive social change, and we include positive environmental change. We do this practice through wilderness experiences in Yosemite and develop many other skills.
“There is an opportunity to do a 12-week internship in Yosemite. If the intern graduates from UC Merced, they have the advantage of a Direct Hire Authority, and that way, we get to identify talented, passionate young people who might be the next generation of leaders and actually hire them.
“The second year of the program is the social change practicum. The students work on projects during the year, and they have to come up with a proposal that they pitch to a panel. They execute, evaluate and report.
“This is another way we can help take some of the theoretical ideas students learn in the first year and turn them into practical skills, knowledge, and abilities, aimed toward graduation.
“We had six projects last year. One was with the American Cancer Society to improve the impacts of secondhand smoke in multi unit housing in Central Valley.
“In another project, we worked with Mariposa County Planning. We did the initial research and put together a framework for a restoration plan for Mariposa Creek Parkway.
“We also worked with Yosemite National Park and developed data management mapping and an initial data base for tracking scientific installations in the wilderness. One purpose was to track installations and manage them so we could make sure that when the research was complete, they could be removed.
“We worked with Shakespeare in Yosemite to develop youth based programming to accompany the play, and we engaged local high school youth in that.
We worked with Yosemite High, the continuation school, so students developed curriculum leading up to a camping trip (which unfortunately had to be cancelled due to COVID).
It’s super rewarding to be part of the students’ growth and development.”