This week, I got to check off two very different accomplishments. First, the draft history of the Saugus CLR is complete! While historical research and synthesis is a familiar exercise, thinking about the past in terms of landscape was largely new to me and a fun lesson in reading familiarly themed texts through an alternate lens. My real concern, however, was the mapping. When I started at the Olmsted Center last year, I’d only ever used QGIS (the free counterpart to ArcGIS), dabbled in the Adobe Suite, and never even heard of AutoCAD. Thankfully Professor Tim and the rest of the team at OCLP have a seemingly endless patience for questions and an endless supply of instructional literature.
There are a multitude of benefits to working with OCLP, but to me, the technical training is the most practically valuable. In a saturated job market for recent graduates, I’ve never seen another organization willing to hire someone who lacks independent working knowledge of their most heavily used programs. Even rarer is finding a job that’s willing to provide comprehensive training rather than redistribute responsibilities. This is especially important for young professionals and recent graduates in terms of software like CAD, ArcGIS, and the Adobe Suite that can be prohibitively expensive, yet are part of an increasingly required skill set. I still have a long way to go, but completing the Saugus draft maps is a great feeling.
My other accomplishment came from taking a vacation from the park service to spend more time with the park service. On Thursday, I completed the Wild Caves Tour at Mammoth Cave National Park – an intense 6 hour, 6 mile cave hike that involves frequently squeezing through holes no more than 9 inches high, army crawling long distances under foot high shelves, straddling 20 foot drops, and scooting up vertical rock shafts. A good friend rates fun as Type 1 (fun while you do it, fun after) and Type 2 (terrifying while you do it, fun after), and it was a healthy mix of both!
What stood out to me more than the physical challenge, however, was how well the rangers balance adventure with natural and cultural resource history. Learning about the Mammoth Cave cultural landscape was especially interesting because there’s both a subterranean and surface history. Inside the cave, our guides described not only the geological processes that formed the cave, but highlighted the variety of individuals who explored and shaped what is now known as Mammoth Cave since as early as the 1800s. This included notable contributions from enslaved people and women, whose stories are not always highlighted. Above ground, we got lucky to catch a ranger talk highlighting the families who historically lived within the modern park boundary, their land use and impact, and ancestors’ involvement in the formation of the park. This, of course, made me think of everyone at OCLP! In the end, the ranger giving the talk revealed she was the great great great granddaughter of an influential caving family that lived on the property, one in a long line of cave professionals, and the first woman in the family to lead to cave tours. Experiences like these, and the enthusiasm of park employees to share their cultural and natural resource knowledge, are another reason I love working with the park service AND getting to be a tourist.