A beautiful backyard
Wendy Ross, superintendent at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, is no stranger to the parks service. In fact, she's following in her father's footsteps in doing so.
Ross grew up in the National Park Service and was born at Mount Rainier in Washington State. Her father was a climbing ranger at various national parks, including Grand Teton National Park, Mount Rainier and Yosemite National Park. When she was 12, her family moved to Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts. Ross said that is where she became friends with the park resource specialist, a young woman who was a biologist.
Ross was amazed by what the woman did each day, whether it was looking at fish kills and what caused them or trapping mosquitoes to learn more about what mosquito-borne diseases were occurring in that area.
"She was really my impetus for becoming a park service employee," Ross said. "I wanted to become a resource manager in the park service because of her and that's what I ended up doing."
Growing up at various national parks across the country was amazing.
"Well, you can't live anywhere ugly in your future. You really can't live in an urban environment," Ross said with a laugh. "It's pretty amazing to have America's national parks as your backyard and I think I grew up not really understanding the magnitude of how important that was in my development. Not every other kid has that opportunity."
People often ask Ross what her favorite national park is, but she said it is difficult to choose just one.
"Every single one of them has a piece of my favorite park," she said. "Whether it's views, or hikes, or watersports being out in the canoe or boating, fishing. Every memory I have is in a national park so it's hard to decide what a favorite is."
Ross' father served as superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park from 1990 through 1995.
"When I was in college my parents moved (to TRNP) and I fell in love with the Badlands," she said. "I did a whole bunch of hiking and exploring on horseback. I volunteered here with some of the first horse studies that they did at the park. I just fell in love with this park."
Ross began her National Park Service career as an air quality technician and later became a visitor use assistant at Yellowstone National Park. She also served as a resource management specialist at Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee, North Cascades National Park in Washington, and Glacier National Park before becoming superintendent at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, where she served from 2011 until officially becoming superintendent at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in July 2015.
As a park employee, Ross said people also get to see the national parks when tourism season may be down. She said she enjoys going around TRNP during the winter when there's less people around to observe the animals and the park itself.
"I love snow, winter is my favorite season," Ross said. "My husband and I do a lot of skiing. ... Skiing, driving the loop road and getting out and hiking is fun. We definitely get out and see the park during the seasons that most people don't think the park is open."
The park is open year-round, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Ross said the visitor center closes on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
Ross said they make a great effort to make sure the park is accessible year-round, even after a snowstorm, to allow everyone the opportunity to see the park.
"Our fees have gone up (recently) and I believe we need to be giving our visitors as much experience and access to the park as possible."
Eileen Andes, chief of interpretation and public affairs at the park, said she and Ross are talking everyday about various projects going on in the park. Andes said there are times where work is fun and relaxed, but also times when they are dealing with serious issues where the group collaborates as a team.
"Wendy's a very easy person to work with, she's very caring," Andes said. "She really cares about not only the park and its resources but also all of our employees as well. She's pretty relaxed but very professional. She wants what's best for the park and its staff."
Ross' day-to-day can include interviews with local and national outlets about the various goings-on at the park, as well as planning for the summer season by hiring staff and making sure things are set for the upcoming tourist season. She also does public speaking at various events around the area and sometimes nationally. Right now, they are working on a visitor use survey for the park.
"People think I'm out hiking in the park a lot and I'm not," Ross said with a small laugh.
In general, Andes said Ross is "easy-going" and is always looking at the "big picture."
"She's got big ideas and is the kind of person who looks at things always from the perspective of glass half full rather than glass half empty," Andes said.
Ross enjoys the opportunity to explore the park and meet people from across the world everyday. Her favorite animal to see at the park is a toss-up between the bison and the prairie dogs.
"When I've had a bad day I go out and I watch visitors watch the prairie dogs," she said. "It always just brings a smile to my face because people are just so joyous when they watch prairie dogs and their antics. ... Kids are giggling and watching them and taking photographs. It's pretty cool to see."