What began as an admiration for Steve Irwin developed into a passion for outdoor education.
And that passion took Jackie French from her home state of Florida to whale touring boats in Alaska and Hawaii and, finally, to state parks on Whidbey Island.
French is the new interpretive specialist for Central Whidbey State Parks.
“I like to think of it as a communication art form,” she said.
Her art involves leading junior ranger programs and guided hikes and creating signs for the parks so visitors can self-guide their outings. She does this for all the state parks on Whidbey Island except Deception Pass State Park.
She entered the position on June 25 after spending two summers at Deception Pass working as an interpretive specialist through AmeriCorps. French graduated from the University of South Florida in 2013 with a degree in biology. After coming to Whidbey, she also participated in interpretative training with Washington State Parks.
Her enthusiasm was evident as she walked one of the trails at South Whidbey State Park identifying species of ferns, explaining the meaning of the color of lichen and telling the legend of the mice and Douglas fir cones.
French said she enjoys learning how to identify new plant life in the parks and pointing them out to people.
“It’s like you meet a new friend and you know its name,” she said.
One of her favorite parts of the job is leading the junior ranger program. After assisting with one program, she was later approached by a child who had participated so he could proudly report he’d picked up trash during his family’s trip to Hawaii.
She also observed that another kid who frequently participates in the programs has started taking a leadership role and sharing what he’s learned from them with the other junior rangers.
“To see that a kid can be a steward and pass that on is pretty special,” she said.
Another part of what makes her job special, she said, is the location. Since moving to Washington state and Whidbey Island in particular, she’s noticed “a culture” of caring for the environment and the parks.
“It’s pretty spectacular,” she said. “This is the best job I could’ve asked for.”