FR: What’s your job here at the Park?
My official title? Nature Instructor. I’m really a jack of all trades though, I do a little bit of everything in the park. I’ve caught frogs to feed the hognose snake, I do animal care, I teach classes, I teach scout classes, I maintain the letterboxing trail and carve the stamps for them, I’ve worked on the nature library, I’ve been a facilitator for the Master Naturalists, I work with the Trout in the Classroom and Nature in the Classroom, plus, we take nature programming to Title 1 schools.
FR: That’s a lot! How did you get involved with the Park?
Monica: The first time we visited Fountains rock as when my son was 3, he came for a class and continued to take classes. My daughter took classes here and when she went to school I came to take the MN course. During that course they were looking to hire a nature instructor and so I applied. They’ve been stuck with me ever since.
FR: What do you mean ‘ever since’ haha?
We’ve been coming to this park for 11 years now, so I was patron of the park before I was an employee. I don’t usually have the money to give so I give my time instead. A lot of the work I do is on a volunteer basis.
FR: Do you have any background in the outdoors?
Monica: I have no formal outdoor education, but I grew up in the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana (the east side of the Rocky Mountains) and I’ve always enjoyed hiking and being out in nature, it’s very relaxing to me. With kids, they’re always like “mom what’s this” which is why I took the Master Naturalist course to get the resources to identify all the things they were asking me about.
FR: So the kids are into nature as much as Mom is?
Monica: I have very nature curious kids. They like to go hiking, they like to fish, and we go letterboxing which brings us out to trails we wouldn’t see otherwise. We do first day hikes on New Year’s Day and have actually been to 4 different state parks for that. In the summer we like to roll over logs and see what we can find. They actually enjoy going camping, to New Germany for example, where there is no TV or Wi-Fi or anything. It’s not torture for them.
FR: We hope everyone feels that way! What about your own childhood?
Monica: I grew up on a farm, so we had all the area of the farm and all the area around it. We were always going hiking or camping or fishing. We actually use to go cut our own Christmas trees. My Girl Scout camp was on the edge of the Bob Marshall wilderness. So even for camp I was way out in nature.
FR: So Maryland’s mountains. Are they really mountains? Or are they just hills?
Monica: Maryland is a lot different from Montana, but that’s part of the reason I like Fredrick County. When I first moved here it was in Bethesda, then New Germantown. Fredrick county reminds me of home, there’s trees, obviously, but there’s still mountain (hills) etc. Plus you’re close to Baltimore and DC so you can take advantage of all the cultural things like museums, zoos, events, etc. So you get the best of both worlds. My son and I were actually took a micro-paleontology event at the National History Museum and we went to a really cool geoscience event in Baltimore where they got to make earthquakes by jumping on the floor and other geology things. There’s lots of opportunity.
FR: Why is environmental education important to you?
Monica: Because I think we care about what we know about. Even if it’s something simple like learning about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, even if it’s small like that, then you care about something. If you teach kids to care about smaller things when they’re younger, they’ll care about larger things when they’re older. A lot of times, I learn a lot just from peoples’ questions. That’s why I like to host because there is always a question someone asks me that I don’t know – so we get to look it up and learn together.
FR: What are some of your favorite programs?
Monica: The geology programs. And really the animal programs, like “Awesome Animals.” And the programs that take you around the park, I like hiking in the park.
FR: So it sounds like all of them?
Monica: I was just about to say that! There’s a reason I’m here I guess. It’s kind of like playing, so if you enjoy it, it’s not work.
FR: Tell me a little bit about letterboxing?
Monica: For letterboxing you follow a set of clues to a letter box, in there you’ll find a stamp and a log book. You’ll have your own personal stamp and log book; you stamp the box stamp in yours and yours in theirs. So the letter-boxer can see everyone who has visited the letterbox and you have a collection of all the boxes you’ve found. The majority of clues can be found online at letterboxing.org or atlasquest.com.
FR: And you actually do more than just that, right?
Monica: I carve my own stamps. I like carving the stamps. I did some for the park; because its small we only have one trail but we switch out the stamps seasonally. There are four boxes here so you have the opportunity to get sixteen stamps. Those were the original ones which did have something to do with the park. Everything is local. For my personal ones, I’ve carved all sorts of different things. My personal stamp right now is a turtle, and the kids are a pterodactyl and a blue kangaroo. My favorite personal traveler is one my daughter made, which is a Rainbow Fairy Mommy with blue hair, which is funny because I had blue hair at one time.
FR: Last one, give us a fun fact.
I’ve been sledding on top of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park in July.
Next up, Monica is teaching the Rustic Arts classes, you can sign up for those classes at recreater.com