When U.S. Park Ranger John Duwe travelled to Slovenia as a Fulbright Specialist in June, it was his first time in Europe. The 33-year-old education coordinator at Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon received a two-week grant to share his technical expertise at the host country's scenic Triglav National Park.
His program was coordinated to coincide with the park's second GeoBioBlitz, an event which enables "citizen scientists" to work side-by-side with specialists documenting biodiversity in a specific area. This particular two-day activity also showcased the unique geology and geomorphology of the Vrata Valley of Triglav, the country's only national park.
The previous month, a Memorandum of Understanding officially recognized Triglav and Crater Lake as sister parks - though the Slovenians refer to the relationship as "brothers."
Duwe's visit was perfectly timed to establish cooperation between the two parks and kick off the busy summer season - when throngs of visitors descend upon the area to enjoy the alpine splendor.
"It was an incredible experience," says Duwe, who has worked for the U.S. National Park Service, part of the U.S. Department of Interior, since 2009. "Even though it's short, there is a professional network ready to work with you. They're excited to have you there. I don't know if you could pack as much in the time if you tried to set it up yourself."
Following the GeoBioBlitz, Duwe offered his Slovenian counterparts a few ideas for increasing public involvement in the event, such as youth activities for families who came to the park by chance.
"I gave them some tips on how they could incorporate new activities next year and easy ways to market the GeoBioBlitz via banners in the park and social media in the weeks leading up to it - things that work for us at Crater Lake," he says.
In addition to sharing knowledge with local park rangers about common concerns like park management, educational scientific programs, and event marketing, he said his experience as a Fulbright Specialist sparked new innovative ideas to engage a broader community in educational activities back home in Oregon and beyond.
"I want to connect teachers in Oregon with teachers in Slovenia to establish bio pen pals," says Duwe, who designs science curriculum for school trips to Crater Lake and earned a Master’s degree in environmental education. In addition, he would like to propose establishing a park ranger exchange between Triglav and Crater Lake - a sort of short term ranger-in-residence program - so each can learn best practices from the other.
He also discovered that Slovenia's junior park ranger program is designed to develop the next generation of park rangers. In the U.S., junior park ranger activities are meant to engage youth across 400 national parks as a means to foster deep appreciation of nature conservation.
"Maybe we could do both," says Duwe. "A longer term development program without giving up the fun stickers and patches." Likewise, he notes, "Triglav park rangers think there is a lot of value in how we're doing it in the U.S. - an inexpensive way to grow a junior program that's more inclusive."
Duwe’s colleagues back at Crater Lake National Park share in the excitement of the lessons learned from his Fulbright Specialist grant.
"John's trip to Slovenia was the perfect way to kick off our new sister park relationship with Triglav," says Park Superintendent Craig Ackerman. "He made great connections with Triglav National Park staff and came back excited with new ideas to try at Crater Lake that will enhance our junior ranger program as well as future BioBlitzes at the park. None of this would have been possible without the support we received from the Fulbright Specialist Program."
Duwe is no stranger to international travel. He served with Peace Corps in Oruro, Bolivia in 2007 and 2008 as a Natural Resources Management Volunteer. Before that, he spent a year in La Serena, Chile as a Rotary Youth Exchange student during high school.
As a Fulbright Specialist, Duwe was reminded of the benefits of engaging with colleagues overseas.
"This trip to Slovenia really opened my eyes. I don't just want to make someone in Chicago know about Crater Lake, I want to open it up internationally," he says. "Conceptually my idea of distance learning has changed a lot and I'm excited to see how it plays out this winter when I'm designing new curriculum for the Crater Lake National Park website."
He adds: "I hope other national parks will utilize the Fulbright Specialist exchange. It was perfect. It brings more rigor to the partnership."