Student Stories

Call of the Wild

Welcome to the next installment in our Summer Postcards series! We’re asking our students what they’re up to and how they’re making the most of this summer. Today we’re checking in with rising second-year Kelsey Ganser, who has spent the summer exploring the wilds of Alaska at the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

-Jessen O’Brien and Susie Allen

After living in a small rural town in Wisconsin for my entire life, moving to Chicago was an exciting change for me. However, when I finished my first year of college, I decided I needed to leave the urban environment for the summer. Through an internship with the National Park Service (NPS), I was able to get out of the city—way out.

Through the Student Conservation Association (SCA), I applied and was hired for an internship in visitor services and park operations at Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in Alaska. The SCA’s mission is to encourage a new generation of leaders in environmental conservation and they accomplish this by orchestrating internships and volunteer opportunities with the NPS and other government agencies for high school students to recent college graduates. Students can apply for internships all over the country, but I was lucky enough to be hired for this one in Port Alsworth, Alaska.

My main responsibilities for the visitor service half of my internship are to staff the visitor center—by answering questions and educating visitors—and to work on programs for adults and children. This part of my job allows me to meet and converse with new people every day, which I enjoy immensely. People come to Lake Clark for many different reasons, from backpacking to fishing to a desire to see one of the nation’s most remote and least visited national parks. And Lake Clark is definitely remote; with no roads, the only logical way to get to the park is by a small plane. As such, the park operations part of my internship mainly consists of being on dispatch—that is, monitoring the park radio to make sure our many planes, helicopters, and boats arrive at their destinations and return safely. I love to meet the people I converse with on the radios, a diverse group that includes pilots, rangers, ranger pilots, biologists, ecologists, archaeologists, volunteers, and more.

My days at work also include spontaneous boat rides on beautiful Lake Clark (the sixth biggest lake in Alaska, and surrounded by mountains), cruising for bears in the park’s Supercub (a plane with huge windows that seats a pilot and one passenger), or taking soil samples at Dena’ina Athabascan archaeological sites after fighting our way through the alders (the park only maintains two trails in its entire four million acres so you learn to make your own). 

My supervisors and coworkers really want me to be able to see as much of the park as I can, so I never know when they will put me on a floatplane to a lake in the backcountry or a boat down Lake Clark to see the salmon run. I am always surprised at the things I get to see and do on a regular old day at work.

I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be this summer. This is my first time in Alaska, but I know it won’t be my last.