Preserving a Passion

Rachel Helbing
Service-Learning & Community Service

My STEP Signature Project took place in the mountains of Colorado, specifically those of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Traveling across states to observe and cherish the beauty our country has was great motivation to give back. Volunteering with park rangers and learning how to protect our national parks gave me lifelong memories and new perspectives.

First hand experience of the central United States transformed my view of our country. There is much natural beauty in the land that I took for granted before. Seeing a new landscape or a new way of living expanded my thoughts of what America was. I’ve been confined to Ohio my entire life, minus a few vacations, and until now haven’t been able to take things slow and take in all that is around me. Now I find myself slowing down and appreciating the natural world around me. Finding joy in the land around me and valuing parts of my life I haven’t before.

Driving about twenty hours each way between Ohio and Colorado was the greatest exposure to America’s diverse lands and cultures. Traveling through the large, bustling cities of St. Louis, Kansas City, and Denver was contrasted with the pit stops in Colby and Limon where there wasn’t much to the town other than a gas station. Seeing how quickly the landscape and structure of a place can change within 15 miles was astounding. Even the difference between a few blocks in a large city showed different lifestyles.

Hiking to the top of a mountain to see a glacier, or following a trail to a great fishing spot were first hand experiences that transformed my love of nature. Something so literally “natural” provided a great sense of serenity and clarity to the experience. While traveling as far as Colorado provided a greater magnitude to this trip and transformative process, I know that I can find and appreciate this beauty where I live as well.

The volunteer efforts on my part took a different form than I had expected. I had imagined I would go into the park and do amazing projects, such as restoring a trail or removing an invasive species. With only being in the national park for a short time, these were not feasible tasks. Instead, along with a park ranger, my project took a more service-learning approach and focus. It became a philosophical experience that I had not expected. We had conversations along our hikes in the park that taught me more about conservation and the efforts of the National Park System than I could learn elsewhere. Being in the environment of the Rocky Mountains made these teachings more impacting and they still resonate with me now back in Columbus.

Speaking with a park ranger was informative, as well as perspective-changing. He talked of how important it is to preserve the beauty found in National Parks. We explored the topic of public access to wilderness and what the right balance is. While we want people, such as myself, to travel and explore new scenes, we must also limit the potential damage and industrialization that happens when doing so. Something as menial as adding a road or walking path to a park could have serious consequences to the wildlife and ecosystem. This talk really made me take into consideration how this project shouldn’t be taken for granted. My experiences come at a cost to wildlife, so I should do all I can to not affect it further.

I chose this project area as a personal transformation. While I also learned some along the way, it was to reignite my passion for the outdoors after being so cooped up in classrooms during the year. Volunteering within the Rocky Mountain National Park was life-changing because of the people I met, the places I saw, and the memories I made. I will take the experiences learned in Colorado and apply them wherever my life and career take me in the future. I will look for ways to get outside and enjoy the natural parts of our world. I will also consider how my actions have an impact on that same wilderness, and try to minimize my footprint. The greatest lesson learned while in the park was that every opportunity to enjoy nature also comes with a cost to it. I must be conscious of my actions and how appreciating the wilderness must be coupled with restoring it. I want to aim to appreciate and maintain the beauty of our Earth.

One thought on “Preserving a Passion

  1. Hi Rachel,

    I appreciate you sharing your story. I would really like you to reconsider adding details about your experience volunteering. I’m glad you were able to experience something different this summer and think about the impact of our relationship to preserved wildnernes. However, I would like you to share more about what you did for service, how this impacted your process. Also, how does this overall experience connect to your future goals? This reflection is more broad and I’d like to see the details (the trees in the forest, if you will).

    -Shannon

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