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Ranger program educating visitors flourishes aboard cruise ships in Glacier Bay National Park

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 6:43 AM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 2, 2021 at 2:56 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Glacier Bay’s arm of the National Park Service is taking class to visiting cruise ships with its own kind of school out at sea. Each week when cruise ships are running in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, a group of rangers packs up and hits the water, taking its talents to the thousands of visitors coming through.

“We’re essentially park storytellers,” said Ingrid Nixon, chief of interpretation for Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. “We’re the ones that do the walks and talks, we talk to visitors, and help them understand this place so they can help protect this place.”

In the wee hours of the morning – on days when cruise ships are coming through Glacier Bay – a small NPS crew will gather at a parking dock to load up The Serac, a transfer boat dedicated to getting rangers on big cruise ships. The team then heads way out into the bay to board the visiting ships and meet the many awaiting passengers.

“Since they don’t come to us, we go to them,” Nixon said. “The fact that we put rangers on cruise ships, this is the most unique interpretive program in the national parks. There is no other program like this.”

From the transfer boat, the team takes thousands of tourists on an educational journey, answering questions, sharing history, guiding visitors through the sights of the park and spotting wildlife with them.

Ranger Sean Tevebaugh said that boarding a ship at all while living in a tiny community like Gustavus, which is a permanent home for only around 500 people, is a “wild” experience.

“Suddenly, you’re on a huge, extravagant ship, complete with casino and several swimming pools,” said Tevebaugh, who is also trained as a park service media specialist. “It’s always funny to see visitors soaking in a hot tub while looking out at a glacier.

“The visitors are what make it worthwhile, though,” he added. “Every time I’ve been on a cruise ship, the passengers are filled with positivity, and they’re excited to meet the park rangers.”

Rangers will spend the entire day on the big boats before heading back to Bartlett Cove and doing it again for as long as cruise ships continue arriving.

It’s all in an effort to shine a spotlight on the wonders of the national park.

“National parks are here because they represent something about what it is to be American,” Nixon said. “It tells some sort of story about our nation. So it’s our job to make sure that people can understand that, or that they can find some reason to really value their experience when they’re in Glacier Bay.”

NPS and its rangers offer a variety of options for educational programming, not only aboard the ships but also on land at parks across the country. You can visit your nearby park or the NPS website for information on what’s being offered.

To learn about Alaska parks, check out the website for the non-profit Alaska Geographic, which is dedicated to making Alaska’s public lands more accessible to everyone.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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