In July, I was promoted to park manager at Eleven Mile State Park and Spinney Mountain State Park in Park County. I’ll always be a park ranger. Now I’m a park ranger who is expected to answer everyone’s questions and make big decisions.
While all promotions are exciting and a little scary, this one was particularly exciting and scary for me.
I was excited because I’ve long heard about these parks, their spectacular settings, legendary fishing, their family-friendly atmospheres, their great water for canoeing, sailing and kayaking, their hiking and biking trails as well as their bird-watching opportunities. They also are known for attracting loyal visitors who treasure their nine combined campgrounds and 325 campsites.
Still, accepting the promotion was a bit scary because it meant leaving Cheyenne Mountain State Park on the southwest edge of Colorado Springs. I became Senior Ranger there in 2014 and absolutely love it.
Taking the promotion also meant leaving the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Southeast Region, where I had spent my career since joining in 2008 as a ranger at Lake Pueblo State Park. Eleven Mile and Spinney Mountain are in CPW’s Northeast Region and that meant a new set of bosses and colleagues to get to know.
It also meant selling my house, moving three hours away from family and looking for a new place to call home.
Perhaps the scariest part was that I was in charge of not one, but two state parks and I’d be leading a team of CPW staffers who are mostly new to me.
Luckily, I have been blessed to have worked for some amazing bosses in life. I’ve had good role models to teach me what a good leader and decision-maker looks like. My last boss, Mitch Martin, was the best ever. I saw him build a team that worked like a well-oiled machine but treated each other like family. That is my goal at my new position.
In some ways, the first few weeks was like being a new ranger again. I was not familiar with the parks, the communities nearby or the staff members. And I came from a newer park in an urban setting with modern amenities to a pair of historic parks with age issues. So I find myself learning a lot every day, just as I did as a rookie ranger.
I’m learning to adapt to parks that are decades old with matching infrastructure and extremely remote locations, which provides a management challenge when sorting out utilities, trash providers, cellphone service and internet connections.
I also learned a lot about the effects of altitude. My new parks are in the high country, sitting at elevations more than 2,000 feet higher than Cheyenne Mountain. I felt the effects slightly. But my 5-pound dog actually got altitude sickness. Thankfully, she has recovered fully.
Finally, I learned about life in rural Colorado. My first week on the job included two helicopter medical evacuations of park visitors. We are so remote that it’s too far for an ambulance to respond to injuries. (I also learned a valuable lesson to turn your back and hold onto your hat when the chopper takes off. For the record, dirt tastes the same at most state parks.)
In considering the promotion, I figured I would draw heavily on my early ranger days at Lake Pueblo. One of the first things I learned is just how big an issue aquatic nuisance species are for CPW lakes. So I am learning quickly about zebra mussels and quagga mussels and decontamination stations.
I have plenty more to learn, including the weather up here. Everyone talks about how Colorado weather changes but I’ve never seen anything like the hailstorm that pounded us in early September.
I expect to learn even more as I experience ice fishing for the first time. I understand our parks are popular with cross-country skiing, ice boating and skating, as well as hunting.
And I will have to learn how to cope with bitterly cold temperatures. At Eleven Mile, the average winter temperature can dip well below zero. I am currently buying arctic-rated boots and pants.
Though I was scared a bit as I took the job, I’m feeling more confident thanks to the folks who are teaching most of my lessons: my CPW staff at the parks. They are dedicated and have great ideas. I felt a kinship with them right away.
I am grateful how they welcomed me into the fold. They range from someone who will retire any day, two brand new shiny rangers, an administrative assistant who has more information in her head than all of us combined and a seasoned Senior Ranger.
To me, that is an ideal situation to build a team.
I am very happy being part of the Eleven Mile and Spinney Mountain family and I am looking forward to getting to know the community professionally and personally. I am already less scared and a lot more excited about what is ahead.
Please, come up and visit us. Check out South Park. And be sure to look me up and see what else I have learned.
Darcy Mount graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in biology. She works as the senior park ranger at Cheyenne Mountain State Park. With questions about Colorado Parks and Wildlife, contact Darcy at firstname.lastname@example.org.