BAR HARBOR, Maine — As a kid, you dream of what you want to be when you grow up—an astronaut, a doctor, become president. For Katie Billings, her dream became a reality.
In 2002 at the young age of 5, Katie and her sister Elizabeth became Junior Rangers while visiting Acadia National Park. Eighteen years later, she’s pursuing a Ph.D. in earth and planetary sciences and working as an interpretive park ranger at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State.
Katie, who is originally from Silver Spring, Maryland, said her mom was recently going through old photos and came across the photos from that summer in Acadia, setting her off on a mission to find the ranger and share her story with Acadia National Park. She sent the park an email and thanked the park ranger who sparked her interest in nature, specifically through the geology and astronomy programs at Acadia.
Acadia Ranger Kirk Lurvey is the one who swore in Katie and her sister as Junior Rangers in 2002, and who she thanked 18 years later for shaping who she is today.
“I wanted to thank you for swearing me in as a Junior Ranger,” Katie wrote to Lurvey. “I know as rangers we sometimes never know the impact our actions have on visitors. I want you to know that my summers in Acadia, becoming a Junior Ranger, and attending ranger programs shaped who I am today.”
Katie’s interest didn’t end that summer—she continued to visit the park every summer growing up.
"Spending every year in a really beautiful place like Acadia gave me the opportunity to fall in love with nature," Katie said in a phone call with NEWS CENTER Maine. She said the memories and experiences from Acadia and in Maine were fundamental in forming her interest in nature.
Katie recently completed her fourth season as an interpretive park ranger at Mount Rainier National Park, where she says by this point, she's sworn in hundreds of junior rangers herself.
"I know that experience could be fundamental for one of those kids like it was for me," Katie said. "Maybe 18 years from now one of those kids will write to me."
Katie Billings' lifelong interest in nature sparked by Acadia National Park
Lurvey still works at Acadia as a ranger, inspiring the next generation through programs like his well-known “Stars Over Sand Beach” program, where he teaches park visitors about Acadia's night sky.
"Kirk Lurvey is an amazing park ranger that shares his joy of the world with those visiting the park and those in his classroom during the school year,” a spokesperson for Acadia National Park said. “I have no doubt that he has inspired many people to fall deeply in love with Acadia and all the national parks. It is so great to see this connection between Kirk and Katie and these amazing places."
Katie is one of many kids who has been inspired by the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger program, which continues today.
The NPS Junior Ranger program is an activity-based program conducted in almost all parks, and some Junior Ranger programs are national, NPS says. Junior Rangers are typically between the ages of 5 and 13, but NPS says people of all ages can participate.
Katie said she still becomes a junior ranger whenever she visits parks to this day. To become a Junior Ranger at Acadia, stop by a visitor center, nature center, or one of the park campgrounds to obtain a booklet. Then, complete activities in the booklet and attend ranger programs.
Katie, who studied geology, astronomy, and history at Bryn Mawr for her undergraduate degree, is currently in St. Louis at Washington University pursuing a Ph.D. in earth and planetary science.
She says she doesn't know yet what her future path is—she may teach or even continue on as a park ranger.
"I'm happiest when I'm learning, and I learn something new every day working in national parks."