Friday, October 30, 2009

Cleaning Up Someone Else's Mess...

After the all-park safety meeting and baked potato lunch (the L.E. rangers and staff DID come through!), I went with a couple of willing (er... "we feel sorry for Jen") coworkers and looked at the crap left behind by my old boss. Then we loaded the office van that I drove up to Longmire, and schlepped as much of this garbage back to the Ed center as possible.

Now, I can be sentimental too, but save everything? Not a chance. Anne went beyond being a packrat. Her office was so scary that no one ever went in it or crossed her about it. And she guarded that office like it was a top-secret laboratory. She was successful at keeping all park leadership away. She was so nasty to people that everyone just steered clear of her. Here's a tiny glimpse of what I found:

  1. Stacks of flyers from 2004, from a local organization that we used to partner with, announcing their programs and workshops for that summer. All completely out of date and useless. (went directly into recycling bin). There were four other such BOXES full to their tops of equally useless flyers, handouts and miscellaneous paperwork.
  2. A check the office received in July 2008. Never been deposited or cashed. We found this check with its order form. Apparently, the materials ordered by this teacher were actually sent to her. In the next folder below it, we found the "account procedures" for this curriculum product/sales. And people wonder why my former boss had budgeting issues. Maybe if she'd deposited the checks she received...
  3. A brand new digital video camera. This piece, I recognized. Back in April, our Division Chief and I tried to make this camera work in order to record a program that we did for the local elementary school. Neither of us could make it work - even after reading the manual. Another coworker's teenaged son couldn't make it work - he declared it broken. So my boss said she'd find the receipt from the purchase and deal with it. (We need a working video camera.) Guess what? I found the camera and parts, just as I had left them, shoved into the very back of a file cabinet drawer, behind lots of other out-of-date paperwork. Nothing had been done about it. Go figure.
  4. Books from the park's library that were never returned. I'm sure the Curatorial staff will love that.
  5. 2 boxes of 'camping supplies' - including canned goods that have now been damagesd (cans are rusting/leaking - why were these bought in the first place??) - that Anne paid for. Hand trowels, avalanche beacons, space blankets, etc. Of course, none of the packaging was ever opened at all. Anne was a shopper, but she rarely gave programs - and because we work with SCHOOL CLASSES on field trips, we never house kids over night here nor do we camp with them. In fact, the overnight programs in the summertime are handled through the volunteer office and NOT the education program.

And yet, no one ever held her accountable. They let her go her own way and do her own thing. Because she was mean and nasty. Within the first month of my arrival, two of the men I work with in the park warned me: Anne was abusive to her former interns and that I was just the next victim in a long string of people to move through this office. The intern before me quit after only 2 weeks. I was told to get my game face on or just leave. Life wasn't worth putting up with her.

I have survived. I look at the mess she left behind. Both the physical piles of crap, and the years of hurt employees, disgruntled community partners and a budget that is really screwed up.

And now, she is someone else's problem. She got a promotion of sorts. Not through this park, mind you. But some poor, desperate sap ('superintendent') in another park didn't do his homework. She was hired to be the Division Chief for Interpretation and Education elsewhere in the country, but no one at that park contacted this park for a reference. The reference that was called was honest about Anne (I have a coworker/friend who did some digging on her own time to figure this out), but she was still hired anyway.

God help them.

I feel stuck and frustrated - as an intern, I have very little power here. I hear "It's not your job," more often than I can stand. And there are some folks who are so concerned about seeming "nice" to everyone (politicians!) that they will find a way to sweep most of this under the rug and just be thankful that she's not their problem any more. But we have so many opportunities here. I'm just afraid that we still won't be living up to our program's potential.

A few of you know that I spent lots of time visiting various National Parks as a kid. My family did a lot of road-tripping during the summers. These places mean something to me. We need to protect, care for, and enjoy these amazing places.

Last week, it was mentioned in a meeting by our Acting Superintendent that Mount Rainier National Park cares for roughly $700 million dollars' worth of resources, artifacts and public assets. Things all owned jointly by all U.S. citizens. We carry forward each year a maintenance backlog of about $150 million dollars. Work that we can't get done. Most of the iconic National Parks are in a similar situation.

Recently, Ken Burns did the NPS a huge publicity favor. But we can't let it stop there. The NPS is one of the more sought-after agencies to work for in the entire United States. Recently, in this park, we advertised for 2 entry-level permanent interpretation staff positions that are currently vacant. Guess how many applications we received? 560. Yes, FIVE HUNDRED AND SIXTY. For two openings at the GS-5 level.

Please, if you've had a great time in one of our amazing parks, please help us. Get involved and volunteer. Every year, the National Park Service RELIES on volunteers. Measured only in hours of labor, we get nearly as much work done by volunteers as we do by park staff. We have a lot of people in the Park Service who love our parks, love what they do, and do their best with the extremely limited financial resources we are given. But these are our parks; we all need to pitch in to support the places we love.

I could go down a rabbit hole and discuss the problems faced by the National Park Service - both internal problems and external factors that cause us problems (some of which we obviously have no control over). We need to expect more from our public leaders and from ourselves.

There's a lot of talk recently about the relevance of our National Parks. Read the Second Century Commission's reports about our parks (organized by one of the non-profit organizations that support us) and find a way to help. If you've enjoyed the parks, consider giving back. Or paying it forward.

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