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A Boston Girl and Haleakala National Park

April 26, 2014

By Polly Angelakis, Chief of Interpretation at Haleakalā National Park:

I find it fitting that the theme for National Park Week is “Go Wild” because it was a chance visit to Haleakalā National Park in 1985 that inspired me to Go Wild in choosing my career.

In 1985 I was an exchange student at the University of Hawaii-Mānoa.  It was my first time traveling very far from home (Boston) because I was raised by a single mom and we were very poor. If the bus or train didn’t go somewhere, we didn’t either.    Mom always made sure I had plenty of books and those books inspired imagination, adventure, and a dream list of places I hoped to visit someday. She also found the time to be my Girl Scout leader so I grew up hiking in local parks.

I was thrilled to be chosen as a junior year exchange student at Mānoa. By chance, I ended up with college friends who were from Maui. By chance, my friend Jennifer invited me to stay with her family for a few days over winter break. (I was staying in the dorms since I couldn’t afford to fly home). Also by chance, that was when her family did one of their many hikes through the crater. In fact, her brother had a goal of hiking Haleakalā at least once a year. I remember how much goal that struck me. I had been struggling with what I wanted to be when I grew up. Mom had always told me to make a difference in whatever job I chose–she drilled this idea into all of her girl scouts as well.  The vision of living somewhere beautiful helped me narrow the focus as to where I could make that difference.

jennpolly1985Haleakalā was the very first national park I ever hiked in, with Jennifer’s family. I remember the power, the wonder, the beauty, the blisters….and the sunburn because I forgot to reapply sunscreen. I remember getting back to campus and excitedly filling out a National Park Service application. (This was back when you needed a number 2 pencil to fill in a series of bubbles on paper and you could only apply to two parks per summer.) I was hired at Salem Maritime National Historic Site a few months later.

That random hike and first job led to a 26 year career (locations based on my dream list, of course), and 10 parks (26 moves!) later, returning to Haleakalā as Chief of Interpretation. There are still no words to describe how I felt on my first day as a Haleakalā National Park employee.

jennpolly2013When I returned, Jennifer and I hiked the crater together with her husband, my husband, and other friends and family. We hiked the same trail we did in 1985. We stopped in the same places and took the same pictures. We made jokes about time and aging. I reminisced—and Jennifer still seemed shocked—at how a random act of kindness towards a homesick Boston girl had shaped the course of my life.

As park employees we need to continue providing deliberate opportunities for life-changing park experiences, especially for those future generations our parks are meant for. Who knows what wild paths—or lives– those experiences will inspire!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Hawaii bob permalink
    April 26, 2014 7:11 am

    Aloha! Great story & mahalo 4 posting : ) Aloha hb

  2. Charlotte Hepler permalink
    April 26, 2014 2:59 pm

    Love this story and I loved that you included those photos separated by all the years.

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