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Girls Can Be Rangers Too: Meet Crystal Muzik

By The Cairn Project

In honor of the National Park Service’s birthday on August 25, we’re sharing the story of Ambassador Crystal Muzik, an NPS vet who has made it her business to take on roles historically held by men!

You’ve dedicated your career to the stewardship of public lands, working as a Ranger for the National Park Service and the US Forest Service for the past 13 years. What’s it like to be a woman working in a position that’s historically been held by men?

Working in a career field that has historically been held by men has had its challenges and triumphs. It was normal to be the odd one out and the solo woman in a crew of three to five men.  Often times I felt I had to work twice as hard to be accepted. Internally I felt I had to set aside emotions, be quiet, and do the hard, physical labor with no complaints in order to belong.  Often, when women tend to speak up with their opinions or concerns, they are labeled as being “vocal” and the culture doesn’t necessarily support this all the time. However, I have found that women bring great strengths to the career field of Natural Resources such as: communication, organization, and empathy that otherwise might go to the wayside. An experience this summer brought to my attention how we still need work to shift the perception of women in this field. For example, this July I was hiking a trail in my National Park Service uniform, when a seven year old boy stopped and the mother, exclaimed, “Look, it’s a ranger!” and the little boy replied, “Yeah, but she’s a girl.” And the mother stated,, “Yes, but girls can be rangers too.” Showing the youth that women can break the gender barriers and that it is possible for women to be in male dominated career fields in 2019 is a great way for a woman to step up for all women out there. 

Less than 10% of wildland firefighters are women!

On August 25th, the National Park Service celebrates its 103rd birthday! Hundreds of millions of folks visit these protected landscapes annually, and as a Ranger, you have the chance to witness these visits firsthand. In your opinion, what is the most exciting value of our National Park system? 

In my opinion, the most exciting value of our National Park system is the preservation and inspiration aspect of our natural and cultural resources and values for this and future generations. In my mind, it is a great concept that 103 years from now, these landscapes will still exist for all of the public to enjoy. The next generation will grow up and have the opportunity to visit these spectacular National Parks with very little changing, besides natural forces.  As human population increases, it is more important to have protected places that can remain natural and not be faced with external pressure. One of my favorite parts of my jobs as a National Park Ranger, is communicating with Junior Rangers. It’s fantastic and brings me much joy to see younger children excited for nature, willing to learn, and getting engaged first hand with nature. Children really are our future and they can be the next generation of land stewards for the next 103 years.

This summer you set off on an adventure to paddle a section of Utah’s Green River not too far from your home in Moab, UT. Tell us about the inspiration for your adventure. 

In 2006, I did a canoe trip as part of my welcome orientation to college. At this time, I decided every year I would make at least one trip on the river to connect to the water.  I moved to Utah in 2013 and was surrounded by both the Colorado and Green Rivers. I worked in Canyonlands National Park for several seasons, where both rivers flow through and converge.  I often would hike from above these rivers, standing on a cliff 1,000 ft or more above and stare at these rivers and wonder what it would be like to float on the river. To see a different perspective from the river, travel at a slower pace of flat water and use human power to travel a very important waterway in the Colorado Plateau.  For at least three years, I wanted to canoe the section of Green River near my home, but it just never worked out. When I learned about The Cairn Project, I thought, “This is it ! This is a great way to bring about my goals, dreams, and help others in the process!” Now, I can’t wait to paddle ALL of the Green River, with a bigger goal of one day completing all the sections from Green River, Wyoming to the confluence in Utah. 

As an Ambassador to The Cairn Project, you’re joining a team of women who are catalyzing their outdoor passion into a force that passes this opportunity on to the next generation. How and when did your connection to the outdoors blossom, and who were the people in your life who helped to make that happen?

My connection to the outdoors happened at a very young age. I was considered a latchkey child, and often returned from school to an empty home, as my parents were away at work. Therefore, I would spend hours outside in my backyard building forts or exploring the  neighboring corn fields with my neighbors. I credit my parents for instilling a love for nature at a young age. I was involved in the local group of Girl Scouts, where we went horseback riding, canoeing, and camping. My parents both loved car camping and we visited many State Parks where I enjoyed guided Ranger programs and Junior Ranger activities. As I got older and went to college, I decided to study Natural Resource management and many of my college classes were hands on and outside. I met a few other classmates who enjoyed the outdoors and even took a few classes to gain skills to increase my confidence in the outdoors.  I was naturally shy and often would adventure solo, so I would read books, how to guides, and magazine on how to get involved in hiking, backpacking, and other sports. In my 20-30s, I found that males still dominated some more involved, technical sports like mountaineering, rock climbing, mountain biking, canyoneering, and whitewater rafting. I lived in a rural area and there were not many organizations that focused on all women participation. I jumped right in with the boys and learned as much as I could, even though it was and still is intimidating. Therefore, I strongly believe The Cairn Project as their mission to support other all girl community-based wilderness and outdoor education groups around the country is one of the most important things for the next generation.

Crystal and her friend Amy in Grand Teton National Park, where Crystal took Amy on her first overnight backpacking trip ever!