ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — “Bonjour. Parlez-vous Francais?”
It’s not uncommon for rangers at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center and elsewhere in the park to be asked that. Fortunately, some of them can answer, “Oui.”
“We sometimes have a lot of visitors from Canada who really benefit from French-speaking interpreters because they don’t all speak English,” said Lynne Dominy, Acadia’s chief of interpretation and education. “They need to know how to find their way around and experience the park, and we need to make sure they understand the rules to protect the park.”
Over the years, Acadia has had a number of rangers who happened to have foreign language skills.
“But some rangers, in order to get hired, have to be able to speak a specific foreign language, and they get interviewed [for the job] bilingually,” Dominy said.
Julia Stetler is one of those rangers. She was hired specifically because she speaks French. But she was born and raised in Germany, so, as an added bonus for the park, she is fluent in German.
Before coming to Acadia this year, she was a professor of American history at the University of Wyoming.
“I wanted to spend more time outside and decided the National Park Service was the way to go,” she said. “I wanted more direct contact with people in the field, not just the classroom.”
She applied specifically to come to Acadia.
“Coming from the Great Plains, I was looking for a coastal environment,” she said. “I thought if I was going for a change, I wanted to make it a big one.
“I really liked the biodiversity here. And I wanted a place where I could apply some of my cultural history knowledge. Here at Acadia, we are at the crossroads of French, Native American and English cultures. I like how human history intersects so neatly with the natural history here.”
Acadia’s bilingual – and in Stetler’s case, trilingual – rangers perform the same duties as other rangers.
Most days, Stetler is at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center. She wears a nametag that indicates that she speaks either French or German. And a sign at the information desk lets visitors know that a bilingual ranger is on duty.
Every Wednesday morning, Stetler leads an educational program called “Mr. Rockefeller’s Bridges” that takes visitors for a walk on the park’s carriage roads.
And once a week, she is the ranger narrator aboard the schooner Margaret Todd for a cruise around Frenchman Bay.
“I get to talk about marine life and the marine environment, as well as the history of the park,” Stetler said. “I really like that I have some freedom to design my own programs on the boat, as well as for the carriage road walk.”
Her boat and walking tour narrations are in English, but if a French-speaking or German-speaking visitor is in the group, she can talk to them and answer their questions, as well.
“There are a lot of things that get me excited about my job,” she said. “And when I can do it in German or French, that just adds another layer of excitement.”
Tour groups that speak only a foreign language can contact the park and arrange for a bilingual ranger for a program or boat tour. Most of those requests are for a French-speaker.
“We can usually accommodate those because we have quite a few rangers on staff who speak French,” Stetler said.
She wasn’t alone in deciding to leave the classroom and become a park ranger. Her husband, Robert, who previously taught Spanish and German, is now a law enforcement ranger in the section of Acadia on the Schoodic Peninsula.
He wasn’t hired for his language skills, but his wife said he occasionally has an opportunity use them.
“He had to give a traffic warning the other day in German.”