Southern Humboldt BLM employee wins National Interpretation Award

photo caption:

Rachel Sowards-Thompson

For the fifteenth consecutive year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recognized outstanding BLM interpreters and educators at the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) National Workshop, held this year in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The gold award winner was Southern Humboldt resident Rachel Sowards-Thompson, Interpretive Outdoor Recreation Specialist at the King Range National Conservation Area, for diverse family and youth education programs.

It is not uncommon for BLM career employees to have degrees from Humboldt State University in Arcata. The school is known for their College of Natural Resources and Sciences. Rachel has a bachelor’s degree from Humboldt State and it’s a science degree -- however, it is in political science.

So, how did she jump from politics to outdoor recreation? She says she had always planned on doing something related to education. She was going to teach poly-sci, but as she was applying for political science graduate programs, she was working with students in an environmental education program.

She thought, "What am I doing? I want to teach kids outside, not in a classroom!" She called up the schools she had applied to and withdrew her applications, then applied for natural resources based recreation-environmental education graduate programs. She accomplished that goal with a master’s degree in recreation resource management with an emphasis in environmental education and interpretation from Utah State University.

While attending school in Utah, she was an education specialist SCEP (Student Career Experience Program) at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Kanab, Utah. Now she conducts interpretive hikes, maintains information and interpretive materials and coordinates the environmental education program for the King Range National Conservation Area. She also maintains the King Range NCA website and coordinates the summer intern and volunteer programs. A new collateral duty assignment is being the contact for the California Coastal National Monument Lost Coast Gateway. She has been with the BLM for three years.

Being an outdoor recreation specialist, Rachel enjoys many outdoor activities including hiking, backpacking, and biking. She says the new 14-mile bicycle trail at King Range "rocks!" She also enjoys baking and playing the banjo. And as if she had any free time, she says she spends what she does have as a court-appointed special advocate for foster children.

She also found time for romance. She was married in September 2008 to Chuck Thompson, son of Mike and Nancy Thompson. They live in Garberville.

The BLM "Excellence in Interpretation or Education" Awards, presented at a Nov. 18, 2010, ceremony, recognized outstanding BLM interpreters and educators for their work on employee-conducted programs that enhanced public appreciation and understanding of the natural and cultural riches on our public lands, as well as management issues in the context of the BLM’s multiple-use mission.

Each of this year’s winners has done exceptional work with partners and communities to create meaningful interpretive and/or educational experiences and materials for public land users.

In presenting the awards, BLM Deputy Director Mike Pool stated, "The BLM depends on its interpreters and educators to help the public understand what keeps our resources healthy, appreciate how the wealth of our nation’s public lands can enrich their lives, and guard the legacy we will leave for future generations."

The three winning BLM employees were selected by a review panel composed of both BLM staff and representatives from partner organizations, including the National Association for Interpretation. BLM "Excellence" nominees were judged on the quality of their work, their ability to involve partners, their effectiveness in enhancing public understanding of cultural and natural resources, their programs’ or products’ accessibility and sensitivity to diverse audiences, and their efforts’ success in helping the BLM to accomplish its management goals.

The BLM awards were presented in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service’s "Gifford Pinchot Award," the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s "Sense of Wonder Award," the National Park Service’s "Freeman Tilden Award," the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ "Hiram M. Chittenden Award," and NAI’s "Master Front-Line Interpreter" and "Master Interpretive Manager" Awards.

The BLM manages more land -- more than 245 million acres -- than any other federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The Bureau, with a budget of about $1 billion, also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM’s multiple-use mission is to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Bureau accomplishes this by managing such activities as outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development, and energy production, and by conserving natural, historical, cultural, and other resources on public lands.

The silver award winners were Matthew "Matt" Christenson, writer/editor, Oregon/Washington State Office, for Northwest Passage, the magazine about BLM Oregon/Washington and Joyce "Joya" Szalwinksi, Interpretive Park Ranger, El Centro Field Office, CA, for "Take it Outside! Off-Highway Vehicle Family Activity Cards" set.