Portland District People: Ryan Braaten, Park Ranger, Bonneville Lock and Dam

Ryan Braaten, Park Ranger, Bonneville Lock and Dam

Ryan Braaten, Park Ranger, Bonneville Lock and Dam

When you first meet Ryan Braaten he comes across as a man of few words. Put him in front of a crowd and you almost don’t recognize him. His sense of humor and energy burst through his quiet demeanor, engaging his audiences, entertaining and educating thousands of people who visit the Bonneville visitors’ centers each year. His obvious passion for and skillful presentation of the history and mission of Bonneville is just one of the reasons he earned the 2012 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hiram M. Chittenden Award for Excellence in Interpretation. Braaten joined the Portland District in November 2009, and says the reason he’s here is because one day when he was in college he forgot to put a fork in his lunch.

Describe your job. I am an interpretive park ranger. I work mainly work with the public in our visitor centers, but I also assist with natural resource management.  An interpretive ranger teaches people about fish, hydropower, the dam and our navigation lock. We use props, stories, demonstrations and hands-on activities. Bonneville Lock and Dam’s class-A visitor centers are the Corps’ most visited visitor centers in the country. Every day I come to work I’m excited because I never know who’s going to walk through the door.

What do you find most rewarding about your job? I enjoy seeing visitors get excited about our natural resources. When this happens I can see the light bulbs turn on in their heads. When they get excited I can feel it and that is why I enjoy this job so much. I realized in high school I wanted to teach. People would ask me to help them with their homework or figure out a problem, and I really enjoyed explaining it to them in a way that made sense. Being a park ranger is like being a teacher, but without the homework.

How does your job fit into the District’s Missions? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the largest provider of water-based outdoor recreation in the nation. Park rangers have direct contact with the public and are the face of the Corps. We ensure that visitors are being safe and enjoying our public lands and waterways. At Bonneville Lock and Dam, park rangers help manage nine recreation sites, five natural resource management areas, and a regional visitor complex within a registered national historic site that receives more than 600,000 visitors annually.

Is there a meal that influenced your life? At the end of college I realized I wanted to be a park ranger and I had applied to several jobs with no luck. One day while working at a bowling alley I realized I forgot to bring a fork for lunch. I went to the nearby convenience store to get one and noticed a man dressed as a park ranger. Turned out, he was looking for a summer intern for the Bureau of Land Management at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, Ore.  I got the job and for seven months I gave tours of the historic lighthouse, taught children and adults about tide pools, marine mammals, and helped to run the interpretive center.  At the end of the internship the chief ranger suggested I contact his former supervisor, Pat Barry, who ran the visitor center at Bonneville Lock and Dam. Pat hired me a week after the internship ended and I’ve been here ever since; all because I forgot to bring a fork for lunch.