GSMNP internship program changes view of NPS, career goals & lives

September 16, 2017

NC interns cleaning lake
NC interns - summer 2017

The ten North Carolina interns and their ranger supervisors jump for joy during the four-week internship program.

by Parker Chatham
2017 Swain County High School graduate, North Carolina

This year, ten North Carolina high school students were employed through the American Conservation Experience (ACE) and selected to work with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The purpose of this internship was to open the eyes of the youth to the diverse nature of jobs within the park and allow the youth to experience the park service, and they were successful.

NC Interns meet with GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash

GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash meets with the interns. Photo by Erin Lamm

Looking back on our internship, I am flooded with emotions, for this internship has changed my future aspirations and, more importantly, my life.

I can easily say this internship has opened my eyes to much about the National Park Service. Initially I, and many of my fellow interns, were blinded by an opaque sheet of ignorance when it came to our knowledge of the National Park Service.

Changing our ideas about GSMNP

Interns unloading trash from Fontana Lake

Interns unloaded trash that they collected from Fontana Lake. Photo by Erin Lamm

My ideas of the park, along with most of my peers’ ideas, started by thinking it was a tourist attraction made to objectify nature, but with this internship we realized we were everything but correct.

Through this internship we have realized the National Park Service serves as more than JUST a tourist attraction; it serves as a way to preserve and protect the diverse nature of the world in which we live.

Led by Ranger Erin Lamm, the ten interns — Danielle Burkett, Marin Carr-Quimet, Parker Chatham, Haley Cooper, Mary Helmer, Evian Morissette, Sully Oliver, Blake Radder, Eliza Watson and Emma Whitney — were given the opportunity to experience four enlightening weeks of experiences about the different sectors of the National Park Service.

Our experiences varied from working to catalog snail species for the Blue Ridge Parkway to cleaning up the lakeshore at Forney Creek and Chambers Creek.

Helping us decide what we want to do and what we do not want to do

On discussing of the varied experiences of the internship, we interns have all figured out two important things: what we want to do and what we do not want to do, which is important to young fledgling students such as ourselves.

North Carolina GSMNP interns and NPS with the trash they collected

North Carolina GSMNP interns and NPS with the trash they collected in Fontana Lake. This was one of the many facets of NPS work that the interns experienced in their four-week GSMNP internship. Photo by Erin Lamm

I can speak on behalf of the group in saying we each have discovered at least one profession within the park that we could see ourselves partaking in for the rest of our life, which speaks to the wonders of this program.

Within my own life, I came into the internship hoping to major in hydrology and work for a major corporation, but now I plan to continue working with the National Park Service over summers to figure out what exactly it is that I want to partake in with the National Park Service.

Along with figuring out what we wish to do with our lives, we have also figured out much about ourselves during our internship.

Making friendships

This internship started with ten confused and unknown strangers filing into a room not knowing what laid ahead in the internship. Little did we all know, we would become one of the closest friendship groups that we have experienced in our lives. Through this internship we broke the ice with these strangers to learn as much as we could about each other in the short four weeks we had together. We ended this internship as best friends.

We would all like to thank the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the American Conservation Experience for allowing us to have this life changing experience, which sparked a new light within each of us.

NC interns with truckload of trash collected from Fontana Lake

NC interns stand with the truckload of trash they collected from Fontana Lake. Photo by Erin Lamm


This is the last of three blog posts by high school students participating in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Summer Internship Program. The students represent high schools in North Carolina and Tennessee that are near Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Bryce Trull wrote the first post — GSMNP high school summer internship provides life changing experience

Eliza Watson wrote the second post — Snail collecting shows interns big picture and detail of GSMNP

The program is funded by both the Youth Partnership Program and Friends of the Smokies. FOTS has supported the program for 16 years, initially providing the salaries for the interns and now funding the program staff salaries.

The program is designed to give the interns a little taste of a variety of activities that rangers are involved with – from fisheries science to botany to forest and stream ecology. The interns gain an understanding of how the park is managed and are introduced to possible career opportunities.