My Workspace (Wo)Man of the Mountain Alysa Adams dream job
written by Sheila G. Miller | photography by Claire Thorington
Interpretive specialist Alysa Adams has worked for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission for five years, the last two at the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center. The center serves as a gateway to the mountain, which is 30 miles away. The western slope of the mountain is visible from the center. As the lead interpreter for the Upper Cowlitz Recreation Area, Adams distributes maps and brochures, leads hikes and day trips, and provides travel, trail and weather conditions. She’s also responsible for landscaping and cleaning the whole place, including the bathrooms. “It’s not glamorous, but it needs to get done,” Adams said. In addition to helping visitors and cleaning the facility, she researches, writes grants, prepares programs and takes on other projects. During the busy season from Memorial Day to Labor Day, she runs programs every day of the week, greets people and does “roving interpretation.” Technically, Adams serves the entire Upper Cowlitz area, which includes three state parks.
Growing up in Washington, Adams, 28, knew from a young age what she wanted to do with her life. Beginning as a teenager, Adams volunteered weekly at the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville, eventually being hired on in summer internships and then as a naturalist. After graduating from Washington State University, where she headed up the student chapter of the Wildlife Society and worked in the greenhouse, wild ungulate facility and bear facility on campus, she joined the Washington Conservation Corps, spending six months restoring habitats. She joined the parks department after that, working her way up from park aide to now serving as an interpretive specialist. On the way, she spent time in a variety of regions in parks around the state, living in a travel trailer she and her father rebuilt.
Though Adams moved up quickly in the department, she never thought she’d get her current position at Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center. “It’s like a dream come true,” she said. “I feel exceptionally lucky to have the job that I do. I have the opportunity to teach people every day about this dynamic, beautiful and ever-changing landscape. I never take it for granted. I get to see this mountain almost every day, except when it’s cloudy.”
“This is such a meaningful, rewarding job,” she said. “I get to stand there in that iconic park ranger uniform with that flat hat, engaging people and sharing my passion for the outdoors.” One of Adams’ favorite parts of the job is hearing people’s memories about where they were when Mount St. Helens blew its top. “That’s not something you can read in a textbook,” Adams said. “I’ve learned more from visitors than all of my research. It’s a really unique place. It’s history and biology all clashed in one location, and I get to talk a lot about both.”