Summer internship program offers opportunity to explore GSMNP and NPS career options

August 5, 2016

by Hannah Ensley
GSMNP Intern
Senior at Pisgah High School — Canton, North Carolina

Hannah Ensley holds salamander eggs
Hannah Ensley holds salamander eggs collected during work with a salamander researcher. Photo NPS/Erin Lamm

If you live in the Eastern half of the U.S., chances are, you’ve been to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 10 million visits per year, and it is the most visited national park in the country! With some of the oldest (and most beautiful) mountains in the world, vibrant colors in the fall, and diverse wildlife, it’s clear to see why.

I have been a native North Carolinian all of my life. As the crow flies, I live just nine miles from the park. Growing up here, I have been hiking and camping since the time I could walk. Along with these opportunities to experience the outdoors, living right next door to this national park has presented a whole host of unique ways to appreciate and learn about the Smokies, one of which being the high school summer internship with the park.

Back in February, Ranger Susan Sachs visited various high schools in the North Carolina counties surrounding the park (including Pisgah High School — my high school) to give a presentation on the current events in the Smokies. At the end of her presentation, Susan told us about a very interesting opportunity for high school students — a six-week internship with the park!

Ranger Michael Smith at GSMNP Mountain Farm Museum
Interns listen to Ranger Michael Smith talk about the Mountain Farm Museum. Photo NPS/Erin Lamm

From working with wildlife and fisheries to trails crew, the group of interns would work with lots of different divisions in the park to gain knowledge and experience.

To apply for the position, we had to fill out a packet that asked about our interest and experience in science and nature. We also had a phone interview, and then we all anxiously waited to hear back.

When my phone rang early one morning in May, I felt a mix of excitement and nervousness. Erin Lamm, our lead ranger, answered, and informed me that she would like to offer me a position as one of the interns. I eagerly accepted, and couldn’t stop thanking her and gushing about how I couldn’t wait for the program to start. I was so excited!

As soon as we hung up, I went straight to tell my chemistry teacher, who was one of the first interns to participate in this program.

North Carolina GSMNP interns 2016
North Carolina GSMNP interns 2016. Photo NPS/Joshua Contois

My friends who had been interns in past years (one of whom — Kyra Mehaffey — actually wrote a blog post for Friends of the Smokies last year) told me all about how much fun they had, and how much I was going to love it — and they were right!

I was part of the North Carolina high school intern team of nine. The Tennessee intern team had 10. All of us lived at home during the six-week program.

GSMNP high school summer internship training
The interns participated in an orientation on their first day. Photo NPS/Erin Lamm

My first day started bright and early — at 5:15 a.m. to be exact. The North Carolina interns kicked off the internship by learning how to collar and tag elk in the Cataloochee Valley. (See photo at the top of the blog post.)

We met with the 10 Tennessee high school interns at 6:30 a.m. and began our trek out into the woods.

This internship was so exciting because almost every day was a new adventure. We travelled a lot in the park and were very fortunate to do so thanks to our teacher-ranger-teachers and lead rangers for transporting us.

We also met a lot of people (almost 50 by the end of the internship!) who were all very excited to share their work in the park with us, making for a very exciting and educational summer.


To support programs like this, make a donation today.
To support programs like this, make a donation today.

This is the first in a series of blog posts by high school students participating in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Summer Internship Program. This summer, 19 students are participating, representing high schools in North Carolina and Tennessee that are near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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.