Park ranger protects Oregon’s stunning places

by Tina Owen,

  • Nick Schoeppner ’11
    Nick Schoeppner ’11 is a park manager at Bullards Beach State Park.

Inspired by the community spirit of Willamette’s faculty and students, Nick Schoeppner ’11 built a career in public service.

A workday for Nick Schoeppner ’11 might go something like this: use a chainsaw to remove hazardous trees, respond to a domestic dispute, clean the windows on a lighthouse tower.

All of these varied activities take place against the backdrop of Oregon’s spectacular forests and coastline, as Schoeppner is a park manager at Bullards Beach State Park, near Bandon in the southern part of the state.

“There’s no such thing as a typical day. Oregon State Park rangers don’t specialize in one particular field, which means I’ve had an opportunity to play a role in all aspects of park operations,” Schoeppner says. “We oversee our own water and wastewater facilities, construct and repair structures, maintain trails and patrol beaches. At Bullards Beach we operate a 206-site campground and provide interpretation and outreach to park visitors.”

As park manager, Schoeppner is also responsible for budget, planning, community relations and staff development. He adds with a laugh, “I do spend some time cleaning restrooms as well, just to keep it real.”

He’s come a long way from when he started as a volunteer at L.L. Stub Stewart State Park near Buxton, northwest of Portland, in 2011. The next year, he was hired as a summer seasonal assistant at Cape Lookout State Park, on the coast near Tillamook. In 2013 came a full-time job as a park ranger at Bullards Beach, where he worked his way up to the manager role.

A political science major and environmental science and economics minor at Willamette, Schoeppner was inspired by the community spirit of faculty and fellow students to think about a career in public service. Then he took a class that spurred his interest in the recreation field. As part of the “Forest Ecology and Policy” course taught by professors Joe Bowersox and Karen Arabas, students participated in a two-week field tour and met a variety of natural resource managers.

“I saw how they were working on the front lines of balancing resource conservation with development and recreation,” says Schoeppner, “and that challenge of working towards seemingly conflicting goals stood out to me.”

Schoeppner also credits his double major with helping him thrive in his career. “My senior thesis looked at the effectiveness of collaborative decision-making processes in natural resource management,” he says. “I had the opportunity to cross over between the political science and environmental science departments while working on my thesis, and that flexibility and the ability to look at an issue through differing lenses has allowed me to be effective in my current role.”

In addition to enjoying the variety of his job, Schoeppner particularly appreciates the camaraderie shared with his crew. “The unique nature of work as a park ranger and the many responsibilities that come along with it result in a shared bond and sense of humor. I look forward to coming into work every day,” he says. “The ability to play a role in providing park visitors the opportunity to recreate and engage with outstanding places — and through that process develop a deeper relationship with their self, each other and their environment — is also pretty fantastic.”

Schoeppner finds it difficult to pick a favorite from all the Oregon state parks he’s worked at and visited. But he admits one location holds a special place in his heart. “Probably one of the most significant places to me would be the sea cliffs just north of Shore Acres, overlooking the Cape Arago lighthouse,” he says. “That’s where I proposed to my wife, Chelsea.”

This article was originally published in the fall 2018 issue of Willamette magazine.

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