A ranger for 26 years, Shelton Johnson was dubbed the unexpected star of the Ken Burns documentary film, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, and subsequently met with President Obama at the White House. Now at Yosemite National Park, Shelton Johnson talks to e-Travel Blackboard about what and who inspires him.
What drew you to work in a national park?
An abiding love for Yellowstone National Park where I took a summer job as a concession employee way back in 1984. I had always been interested in national parks, but that summer marked my first extended stay in a park. I grew up in the inner city of Detroit and I didn't have any of those celebrated childhood adventures in the national parks, so working and living in the parks for over 25 years has resulted in restoring that childlike wonder to my adult years which has been, and continues to be, a blessing.
What do you like most about your job?
Helping visitors connect more deeply to a place that I love, and sharing my passion for Yosemite.
Who do you admire and see as a role model in the travel industry?
I admire those professionals who work on introducing national parks to individuals and communities that normally don't even consider a trip to a national park.
What do you want to see improve in the industry?
More emphasis on getting kids and their families back into the natural world. Our national parks are the best environments for such a journey.
What destinations are on your travel bucket list?
Glacier National Park, Serengeti National Park, the Pyramids, Angkor Wat, Peru, Iguazu Falls, Angel Falls, Japan, Italy (Grand Paradiso National Park), Greece (Cyclades...), Ireland, taking the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul, and exploring the islands of the South Pacific. Oh, and did I mention the South Island of New Zealand? Or the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island? I have a long list....
What’s a memorable travel experience you’ve had?
Serving as park of an N.P.S. delegation that visited some of the national parks of mainland China. A tea ceremony in Fujian Province. Lunch aboard the Royal Barge of the Empress Dowager as it sailed around the Summer Palace. Walking through the ancient streets of Lijiang, the Ming Dynasty Tombs, the Great Wall, visiting and wandering through the Forbidden City after hours.
What are three things you must always take with you when you travel?
Enthusiasm, a sense of humor, and a spirit of adventure.
Name someone famous with whom you’d like to travel and where you’d take them.
Maya Angelou to just about any national park in the world so she could be inspired to turn that beauty into poetry!