Stories from the Field

Alumni Spotlight: Julie Byerly

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Julie, dressed in a green ranger's vest and a yellow broad-brimmed hat, stands on a beach in front of the ocean while holding the reigns of a dark brown horse.

At NatureBridge, our goal is to inspire every student to become an environmental steward—and there are as many different expressions of that commitment as there are NatureBridge alumni. For some students, their NatureBridge experience even inspires their career trajectory and crystallizes their sense of identity as champions of our wildlife and wild spaces. One such student alum is Julie Byerly.

Julie attended Yosemite Institute programs with her class from Dana Hills High School during her junior and senior years. “I didn’t really grow up camping or backpacking,” Julie recalls, “so that was really my first exposure.” And although she was new to many of the challenges of outdoor living, Julie was eager to try everything and learn! She came away from the trips with a new-found confidence and a deep sense of pride in her effort and accomplishments.

I remember a lot of things really clearly about NatureBridge: I'll never forget hiking to the top of Yosemite Falls with my $3 poncho from the dollar store!
Chief Ranger Julie Byerly, Point Reyes National Seashore

In addition to teaching her about outdoor recreation and environmental science, her NatureBridge programs also introduced Julie to the scope and mission of the National Park Service (NPS). She'd previously had an interest in wildlife, but she wasn’t sure how to incorporate that passion into action. Following her experiences at Yosemite, however, Julie knew that she wanted to “become a resource manager or protector in some regard.” After those high school trips, Julie avers, “I finally had a focus and a mission and I knew what I wanted to do.”

What she wanted to do, in fact, was make a career out of environmental conservation. However, it took her several more years of study and experience before she discovered “the best way [she] could protect the resources” she loved. 

In college, Julie majored in wildlife management, “but I knew I didn’t want to be a field biologist.” While a student at University of California Santa Cruz, Julie participated in an extended studies course offered through San Francisco State University which was led by none other than her former NatureBridge educators, Steve Gehman and Susan Dejmal. Working alongside Steve and Susan in the field in Montana, just outside of Yellowstone National Park, Julie and her classmates tracked grizzly bears and conducted research on the environmental impacts of a proposed gold mine. (The gold mine project was never completed.)

It was during her time in Montana that Julie began to identify her career path and how it needed to be intertwined with the work of the National Park Service. “I remember talking to [Steve] and getting advice from him about starting a career in NPS,” she recalls. Julie started to take steps in that direction, completing her seasonal ranger academy program and Emergency Medical Training, working at Año Nuevo and Big Sur state parks during her summer breaks from college, and then transitioning to the federal ranger program once she turned 21. 

Today, Julie is Chief Ranger at Point Reyes National Seashore, a position she has held for the past five years. At Point Reyes, Julie supervises both the law enforcement and fire programs for the park. “A lot of what I do in my current role is trying to strategize with the rest of the leadership team...what is the most effective way we can protect [the park].”

So what’s the best part of being a ranger for NPS? “What I love most about it,” Julie says, “is the Morgan Horse program and doing horse patrol. It is the best way to connect with a visitor…It’s the quintessential vision of a park ranger, on horseback with that flat brimmed hat.”

We [rangers] want to be approachable and want to talk to folks about the park. We all love it and believe in what we're doing. We're all about chatting with folks and teaching them about the park.
Chief Ranger Julie Byerly, Point Reyes National Seashore

Looking back on the path that has led her to her current role as Chief Ranger at Point Reyes, Julie emphasizes that the spark of inspiration was ignited back at Yosemite during her years as a student at NatureBridge. “Those high school experiences and teachers really pushed me to do [it],” Julie says of her NPS career. “It was truly a really cool experience.”

Even today, Julie finds herself drawing on the lessons and approaches she first encountered at NatureBridge. “Being out in nature and the solitude of it is something I still enjoy,” she remarks, noting that NatureBridge taught her to “appreciate and notice the smaller things” in the field when it’s often easy to be “distracted by the grandeur.” 

And when it comes to her advice for current NatureBridge students? Without hesitation, Julie replied:

Just embrac[e] being uncomfortable, whether that’s hiking to the top of Yosemite Falls in January or being away from home for the first will absolutely be worth any kind of uncomfortableness in the long run.
Chief Ranger Julie Byerly, Point Reyes National Seashore

Thank you, Julie, for your commitment to our planet, your unflagging passion for stewardship and your service with NPS!

Photo courtesy of Julie Byerly


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