Camp As A Catalyst

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Christian Wright (Camper '94-'96), who now works for the National Parks Service
Responsible Recreation For Life

In the early 1990s, Christian Wright was a young camper at Falling Creek, exploring the outdoors and beginning to realize how much he enjoyed nature. Little did Christian know then that he would make a career in the outdoor recreation industry.

In many ways, Christian credits his early experience at Falling Creek as a catalyst for the outdoor lifestyle he’s pursued. “It was one of the first encounters I had with people who had jobs that involved doing stuff that was fun—and outdoors,” Christian said. “I think having that little subconscious seed in the back of my head helped me know that outdoor recreation is an industry.”

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In 1995 during June Camp, Christian won “Most Improved Sailor,” an award he still proudly displays on his wall.

Christian was wowed at camp by the endless possibilities, activities, and options. “I could ride horses, go backpacking, canoeing, fishing, and just be able to approach the outdoors from the standpoint of, ‘what do I want to do next?’ and ‘what kind of activities do I want to connect with?’” In 1995 during June Camp, Christian won “Most Improved Sailor,” an award he still proudly displays on his wall. “There were also opportunities for unstructured time where I could hang out with the people I just met, do activities, or just read a book somewhere,” he said.

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1994 June Camp Cabin 5. Christian Wright is front row, far left.

Fast forward to today, when Christian has made a career in the outdoor recreation industry, working both for the National Park Service and as a river guide in the Grand Canyon. After growing weary of big city life in Washington, D.C., Christian moved west in the early 2000s to begin river guiding and working at ski resorts. Soon, the idea of working for the National Park Service became enticing. “I reached the point where the interpretive aspect of sharing nature and its history and geology was really interesting to me. I had a friend who decided to be a park ranger and I had never really thought about that before. I went back to graduate school to get my master’s degree in history, and while I did that, I interned at Arches National Park in Utah,” said Christian.

He worked there as an interpretive park ranger doing educational programming for the next four seasons. Since 2019, Christian has been working on writing the administrative history of Arches for the National Park Service, while also guiding river rafting trips in the Grand Canyon three to four times a year.

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Christian is now working both for the National Park Service and as a river guide in the Grand Canyon.

For a National Park Service historian like Christian, a large portion of his day is filled with archival research, going through old files, correspondence, oral history reports, and newspapers to gather as much historical data as possible. “Once you type all your notes you can organize them by thematic chronology,” Christian explained. After that is the writing stage, when Christian figures out “how to put these stories and conversations together to make them coherent, but also interesting.” Christian’s historian role is very different from his days as an interpretive park ranger, when he spent his time designing and providing guided walks, talks, and outdoor programs to educate park visitors. That more customer service-oriented role is usually the most open and available position for people wanting to start working for the National Park Service, Christian explained. However, for those who dream of a career with the National Park Service, he’s an example that interpretation isn’t the only option in the field.

Christian is a strong believer in how time spent outdoors can have a positive impact on people. He explained how his time as a camper exposed him to many different outdoor activities and helped him realize what he enjoyed doing outside from a young age. “It’s great that places like [camp] exist to give people at that age those opportunities to encounter nature and outdoor recreation on their own terms,” he said. When thinking today about one of his roles as a raft guide, he is able to facilitate similar learning experiences for others in the outdoors. “We provide a lot of opportunities for personal growth moments,” he said. “I think every couple should be required to go on a river rafting trip together before they’re allowed to get married.”

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Christian is a strong believer in how time spent outdoors can have a positive impact on people.

Unfortunately, increases in visitations to the national parks over recent years has caused a strain on the resources and natural landscape. A KSL article reported, “All-time visitation records were broken at four of Utah’s five national parks in 2021, according to preliminary data made available by the National Park Service. There were at least 11 million visitors at Utah’s five national parks in 2021 — this exceeded the state’s previous total park record of 10.6 million recorded in 2019.” On one hand, more people enjoying the parks is great because it means that more people are spending time outside. However, it also means an increase in the resources that are needed to accommodate and support such a sudden and large influx of people.

During Christian’s time as an interpretive park ranger, he saw a change in mindset for some visitors who felt they needed to “do it all.” “Instead of going somewhere to hang out, relax, breathe, play outside, do all the cool stuff, and then go home, it’s turned into, ‘I’ve got to do all these things.’ So, a lot of people are trying to visit four or five National Parks in a week, and they’re spending a lot of time in the car, and a lot of money on gasoline, hotels, and airfare.” The mindset now seems to be more about seeing as much as you can as quickly as possible, which leaves fewer opportunities for soaking in the wonder of a place or experiencing personal growth.

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Christian and his dog Lucy enjoying the outdoors together

What can be done if people want to continue enjoying the natural spaces, but recreate responsibly? One recommendation is rather than rushing to check specific sites off the bucket list, people should take time to plan their travels with knowledge, respect, and detailed preparation. To that end, Utah has shifted its tourism marketing slogan from promoting “The Mighty Five” parks, to simply “Forever Mighty,” sharing ways to take small but mighty actions to minimize impact and maximize outdoor experiences.

These endeavors can be imitated across the country and the world, not just in Utah’s national parks. The natural beauty of the outdoors is not limited to a few singular destinations. People can visit lesser explored areas near the national parks, or even appreciate the wonder in their own back yards. Discovering special places that are unique to each person can feel even more rewarding than pursuing a specific destination. “I think national parks are really great, but they are just one of the first places our brain goes when we think, ‘I want to go outside and see something cool.’ In reality, they’re really just political creations, and there’s stuff right outside the national parks that’s just as cool as the stuff inside the parks,” Christian said. “There are also outdoor experiences closer to where people live that they might take for granted. Just plan well beforehand and think consciously about where you’re visiting, what you’re trying to do, and what that means for the future.”

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At Falling Creek, our hope is that all of our campers and staff will use their time at Falling Creek as a catalyst and a springboard for lives filled with time in nature and responsible outdoor recreation.

Many Falling Creek staff members and older campers are looking for careers in the outdoor industry, and Christian’s lifestyle is proof that you don’t necessarily need to pursue an office job to have a steady career. However, Christian warns that it is “easy to glamorize outdoor recreation. There’s also a lot of hard parts, and it’s not an insignificant thing that many of these jobs don’t pay as much as they should.” His advice to anyone looking to begin a career with the National Park Service is to be sober about it, understanding that many people begin by doing unpaid internships or low-paying, entry level jobs. “If you’re really interested in that agency and their mission though, there are positives. You can get status and experience through internship opportunities as a steppingstone,” Christian said. The outdoor industry as a whole does seem to be trending toward more sustainable wages for its employees, and seeing the outdoors change lives firsthand is hugely rewarding.

Encountering growth in the outdoors is something we do every day at camp, but it doesn’t have to stop when the session ends. You can choose to pursue a life in the outdoors long after camp is over, whether through your career or through your recreation choices. “I think you find out so much about people and so much about yourself [in the outdoors.] At whatever level you encounter those edges of growth, I think it’s super empowering. It makes people more confident,” Christian said. He speaks of the power of vulnerability in the outdoors, describing how it takes courage to willingly get into situations in which you can’t control the outcomes, and choose to enter into those situations anyway. “That could look like a huge adventure in an unknown place far away, or it could just be getting into an urban park that isn’t that far away, but is just beyond someone’s comfort zone,” said Christian.

At Falling Creek, our hope is that all of our campers and staff will use their time at Falling Creek as a catalyst and a springboard for lives filled with time in nature and responsible outdoor recreation.