From City Block to Teton Rocks: Bronx-Born Ranger Inspires Young Parkgoers

NBC News
Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Click here to see Millie’s story featured on NBCnews.com. 

As a shy child growing up in New York City, Millie Jimenez broke out of her shell by translating for her Spanish-speaking mother. Surrounded by diversity, she learned to make connections by interacting with her loud neighbors and asking strangers for directions.

While still soft-spoken, Jimenez is now the one giving directions, a world away in Wyoming.

The 25-year-old is a ranger for Grand Teton National Park, where she works to introduce Latinos like her younger self to the outdoors. She recently took a handful of middle and high schoolers on a three-day backcountry camping adventure that ended with a “float” down the Snake River, which flows through the park.

Visits to the national parks topped 300 million for the first time in 2015, but fewer than 20 percent of NPS employees are non-white, according to NPS data.

“We’re the next generation,” Jimenez said. “The national park isn’t representing the United States’ population. If we want to continue to be relevant and if we want to get to 200 years, we need to open our arms and embrace everyone.”

Jimenez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants who began working at Grand Teton in 2014, grew up in the bustling Little Italy neighborhood of the Bronx. A trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park through the NPS Academy, a joint workforce diversity initiative of the Park Service and Student Conservation Association, was her first trip to a park outside an urban setting.

An internship at Yellowstone National Park “solidified my dream of wanting to become a park ranger,” she said.

Jimenez is determined to show the local Latino community that the park also belongs to them. She courts kids from Jackson by coaxing their parents, in Spanish, to let her take their sons and daughters kayaking or camping. On trips, she identifies bird and plant species. She becomes something like an older sister, helping apply sunscreen and laughing with her charges when one of them starts to act like a payaso, or clown.

“That’s why I think it’s so important to have rangers that specifically go out into communities and get people excited, because they might not think that this park is for them, but all parks are for everyone. Because they tell the American story. They tell your story and my story. There’s a park for everyone,” Jimenez said.

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