The National Park In My Backyard

By Naturalist Carlos Tellez

Growing up in the region, Indiana Dunes National Park has always been my summer vacation! I grew up running down the dunes, skipping rocks, collecting colorful rocks, and playing in Lake Michigan. As a kid, I was always told to never grow up, but I knew at a certain point, I would have to.

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In college, I had a lot of daydreams about the perfect job. It wasn’t until I found geology my sophomore year that I was able to narrow down the perfect job to a few choices. Classes became more interesting as I got closer to my idea of the perfect job. I graduated college and summer vacations were no more... I had to find a real job and grow up.


Coming back to the region, the only thing I could think about was walking through the National Park. So, I took my dog, Earl, on a hike that day.  As I drove from spot to spot in the National Park I stopped at all the visitor centers to ask about volunteering. As I started to drive home on Highway 12, I saw a sign for the Dunes Learning Center. I said to Earl, “That sounds like a place to volunteer.”

As I walked up to the program office with Earl, I was greeted by Erin, the Education Director. As Erin told me more about Dunes Learning Center and I told her about graduating and what my perfect job was, she told me about something way better than a volunteer job: a paid naturalist position was still open.

I was ecstatic, but then I thought, “Is she offering me or Earl the chance for this position?” We later found out that dogs aren’t allowed at DLC. So I took the chance and interviewed.  In a week, I found out that I got the year-long job and that I would work at the same National Park where I spent my summer as a kid. The perfect dream job has now become a reality, an interpreter at a National Park.

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I spent that summer doing exactly what I did as a kid, running down dunes, skipping rocks, collecting and identifying rocks with campers. I thought that I had succeeded at what all the adults had told me, “never grow up.” In the fall, I started to learn about different natural sciences and picked up several outdoor hobbies. In the winter, I learned about lesson planning for Science Olympiad competitions. In the Spring, I learned the most important lesson - that I did grow up.

I grew up so that I could teach kids that are just like me. To make sure they have a fun, safe environment in which to learn, be curious, and have their questions answered about the National Park in their backyard.


Carlos Tellez