Senior explores the Grand Tetons during summer job

While many people may consider seeing a bear a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Lucian Bennett-Brandt saw several bears — and was also charged by one — this summer during his time in Grand Teton National Park.

Bennett-Brandt, a senior, spent nine weeks working for the Youth Conservation Program of the National Park Service. He lived in Jackson, Wyoming, and commuted to the park four days a week to work alongside other high school and college students.

Bennett-Brandt’s daily routine differed vastly from that of an average teenager during summer break: he woke up at 5 a.m. every day to drive to a 6 a.m. pick-up location. He and his group would then get materials at a tool shed before heading to a work site and hiking into the park.  

The program entailed a diverse number of experiences and varying levels of mileage per day.  While some days would require five miles of hiking, others demanded between 10 and 15. For instance, the days the group had “drain days,” which consisted of hiking and stopping to drain the trail, they might hike 11 miles.

“It was incredibly hard work, but they were the coolest nine weeks ever,” Bennett-Brandt said.

Matt Moore
Bennett-Brandt and the other students helped drain and clean the park.

Other days, the group tracked wildlife in the national park or went into the canyons for sound ecology to provide the park with information about nearby airports and planes. Other projects, however, were more physically laborious.

“We had a project where we had to carry these huge logs half a mile back and forth, and that was by far the hardest thing we did,” Bennett-Brandt said.

Besides the grueling work, another potentially difficult aspect of Bennett-Brandt’s time in Wyoming was living virtually by himself in the rented basement of a Wyoming local. With that freedom came the ability to explore the famously picturesque region that has world-famous hikes.

“You’re in the most beautiful area ever. You climb a mountain and look down and see beautiful glaciers and the most incredible vistas,” he said. “We had three-day weekends when we could do whatever we wanted, so I was able to climb mountains and do 20-mile hikes — it was just a dream.”

With direct access to whitewater rafting, the Middle Teton peak and the “best hikes in the nation,”  Bennett-Brandt had the ability to get up-close and personal with many challenges and dangers. He came into contact with a variety of wildlife — he was charged by a moose in addition to the bear.

“You’d see a bear every weekend,” he said. “You turn a corner, and you see a herd of elk majestically galloping off.”

Matt Moore
Long hikes were a part of Bennett-Brandt’s daily routine in the Grand Tetons.

Bennett-Brandt’s passion for the outdoors and national parks did not start this summer, as he spent the prior summer in the backcountry of Oregon and Washington camping with the Northwest Youth Corps, so when it came time to look into activities for the next summer, the choice was clear.

“You have to love being outdoors. You have to be prepared for it,” he said. “If you’re willing to hike and do very hard, rigorous physical labor, then I couldn’t recommend it more — it’s the best job you can do. I consider myself extremely lucky to, at 17, have been able to work in a national park.”