Kimberly Dudeck Follows a Promise to her Dream Job
By Susan Allen '09, '14
By Susan Allen '09, '14
K imberly Dudeck '17 made a promise to herself during a post-graduation cross-country road trip. After two months of sleeping under the stars and hiking in the national parks, she told herself that one day she would live in Washington state.
When and how were TBD.
In the meantime, she put her Environmental Science degree to work and started a position as an environmental health specialist for the Ocean County Health Department.
She worked with the state to visit commercial and industrial businesses to check their air, storm water and solid waste permits for compliance and inspected all associated equipment. The other half of her job was responding to public complaints.
A call might start with “’I saw someone’s car leaking oil’ or ‘I saw my neighbor dump paint into the river.’ I would have to go and investigate to get to the bottom of it,” she explained.
Deep in her heart, she craved adventure. The unforgettable echoes deep in the canyons, murmurs from the meadows and whispering winds that she listened to on her adventures in the wild all beckoned her to the backcountry.
She was born with the travel bug and built up her confidence for globe-trotting in Brazil with her Environmental Sustainable Development class on a field experience led by Tait Chirenje, professor of Environmental Studies.
She would later learn that the once-in-a-lifetime trip inspired her to merge her love of the environment and adventure to enforce protection of the places that attract visitors from around the world.
She also never forgot the conversations with the park rangers she met on her road trip. “As I talked to them, they would all say that they loved their jobs. They were getting paid to hike, hang out near bison and everything that was on my list,” she recalled.
And then, one day, she found the "how" to her promise on the National Park Service’s website.
She found the dream job she never knew existed when she realized law enforcement was an option in the National Parks. While reading the job description for a seasonal backcountry park ranger, she got goosebumps.
Shortly after, she was on her way to Washington state for an 18-week law enforcement academy for park rangers, where she learned to use firearms and control tactics in the context of wilderness scenarios.
She went on to take EMT and wildland firefighter courses.
Her first season as a backcountry ranger took her to Yellowstone National Park from April through October, which she finds is the perfect balance of backcountry and city living. She spends winters in a nearby city where family and groceries are minutes instead of hours away.
The season begins with trail work, so she hikes all the trails with a chainsaw, sometimes by horseback or by canoe, in the south end of the park to remove any fallen trees and assess the campsite conditions. Then work transitions to patrols, where she checks backcountry and fishing permits, serves as an EMT and joins search and rescue missions as needed.
During her first season, she was riding over a mountain pass on horseback with her supervisor during a boundary patrol in search of poachers. On the descent, a heavy snow began to fall.
“To see the contrast of the green forest and the white of the snowflakes was just gorgeous,” she recalled.
But the view got better.
“We ended up running into a herd of elk that were curious about our horses. This huge bull elk showed up not even 100 yards away and bugled at us. Then they all ran off. My supervisor turned around and smiled at me,” she said.
That’s the moment she knew she made the right turn in her career path.
Another patrol took her to the Thorofare, the most remote place in the lower 48, where she and other rangers hiked to a high point to glass the boundary with binoculars and listened for gunshots.
“We ended up hiking the Trident, a famous mountain in the Thorofare. This hike turned out to be mostly rock climbing a knife ridge on icy rocks up to the peak. It was very sketchy, but the views were so worth it. You could see all of the Thorofare from the top and all of the mountain passes we had ridden over to get there. I felt so small up there,” she said.
One weekend, she was listening to the radio and heard about a search and rescue operation on Shoshone Lake, her patrol area that is notorious for its narrow stretch that flips canoes and kayaks. She spent five days on a ground team searching by foot and by canoe for two paddlers who flipped.
Every day is different, but the constant is that Dudeck wakes up looking forward to work.
There’s not one route to finding your dream job and Dudeck wants students to know that it’s okay to take U-turns or take the less travelled path.
“If you don’t know exactly what you want to do, don’t pigeonhole yourself. You can change your mind or your career path and people will support you,” she said.
The journey is part of the experience.
“Get out of your comfort zone. Do things that you wouldn’t normally do or try, and you’ll either end up liking them or learning that you don’t. You will learn about yourself—it’s empowering,” she said.
This season she’s working as a park ranger in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Dudeck kept her promise.
You can follow along with Dudeck's adventures on Instagram.