Geek of the Week - Chris Rief
We would like to feature a great National Park Geek Chris Rief @chrisriefphoto as our Geek of the Week. You can find Chris behind the lens and out in our parks sharing the beauty of the NPS on a regular basis. We hope you will enjoy Chris' beautiful photos and his story.
How did you become an NP Geek?
I have always had a love for nature and exploring the outdoors, which has grown into a passion for conserving and protecting public lands. In my early 20s, traveled to Peru and explored Machu Picchu, among other places. That trip opened my eyes to the importance of protecting our natural wonders and increased my love for outdoor adventure. I was born in Colorado, spent my early childhood in South Florida, and lived just outside Guilford National Military Park in Greensboro, NC for several years. Now that I reside in the DC Metro Area, and am surrounded by National Parks, my status as an NP Geek has been solidified. Becoming a parent has sparked an interest in passing along the importance of stewardship and appreciation for parks. Plus, seeing my daughter soak in each park has been so much fun!
Where is Home?
Rockville, MD (Washington DC Metro Area)
How have many park sites you visited?
I have been fortunate to explore and experience 61 of the 417 National Park Service units.
Do you have a few favorites you recommend to everyone?
I find something special in each park that I visit. It is hard to pick a favorite, but I will give it a shot! In my experience, Grand Teton National Park might be the most special. There are such beautiful trails to explore, with breathtaking views at every turn. When you are looking up at the mountain range, it’s hard to believe that it’s real.
Big Thicket National Preserve surprised me the first time I visited with its nine different ecosystems through the park. The park offers a wide range of trails and habitats to explore. One of my best memories was canoeing with rangers through one of the swamps. I felt like I was in the heart of the park.
I visited Olympic National Park many years ago – well before I started tracking my adventures in national parks. You can experience so many climates within one day! It’s magical. I woke up on Ruby Beach, explored the Hoh Rain Forest, and ended the day on top of a mountain at Hurricane Ridge. There is just so much to explore. This park is definitely on my list of places to return.
The National Mall and Memorial Parks are a local favorite for me, but I loved them even before I moved to the area. Since I live here, I get to experience these parks at every season, which is really special. From the Cherry Blossom Festival, which marks the start of spring in DC – to fireworks on the 4th of July, to fall colors and winter sledding – the Mall has so much to offer. Also, since our daughter was born, we “OptOutside” each year here on Black Friday.
I could visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island every day! The ferry ride gives you a moment to reflect on what it means to be an American, and appreciate the journey of those who come here seeking something more for themselves and their families. There is so much history at every turn. Plus, it’s always great to get a capture of the photogenic Lady Liberty!
I’d also like to include Monocacy National Battlefield and Rock Creek Park, as they are both a quick trip from our house and offer great places to explore. We take advantage of their proximity and make spur of the moment trips there often. My daughter loves the canons at Monocacy and spotting all the wildlife hiking through Rock Creek.
What’s your favorite park activity?
My favorite park activity would be exploring with my wife and daughter. We really love exploring at our own pace – hiking trails and taking photographs. Completing the junior ranger booklets with our daughter is an added bonus for us. The program is a great way for kids (of all ages) to learn more about parks.
How do the parks feed your spirit?
Spending time with my family in the outdoors is the top of my list. Exploring new landscapes, and seeing animals in their natural habitat is priceless for me. I think it’s critically important for all of us to break from our busy lives, unplug, and experience the wonder of nature first-hand to get a sense of our place in the universe. This has always brought me a sense of peace and inspiration. Although we haven’t brought my daughter along for all of our adventures (she needs to be able to carry her own pack!), being able to witness her explore and experience nature has been such a blessing.
Do you have any favorite things you always look for? IE: patch, magnet, passport stamp, etc.
When visiting a park, I am always in search of both unique and traditional passport stamps to fill my book. Even if my daughter is with me, I will pick up a postcard to put in her memory box with some words about our day. Also, a sticker for the beer fridge is a must!
What is or are your favorite park memories?
I have so many great memories, it’s hard to narrow it down, but here are two that come to mind. One memory I have his hiking around Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. It was late May, and the weather was incredible, but the views were like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The beauty there is just never-ending!
Another favorite memory is exploring Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens with my daughter. An amazing ranger spent time teaching my daughter about the ecosystem of the ponds. She got to see leaches, dragonfly larva, and all sorts of plants. She was so excited! It left an impression on both of us.
What park(s) are next on your bucket list?
Well, there are still more than 350 parks I have yet to visit! Since we live on the East Coast, my mind always wanders west. I am really eager to see Saguaro National Park, Joshua Tree, Devils Tower, White Sands and Yosemite.
What should we all be doing to help preserve and protect our parks?
Visiting them! Exploring our public lands isn’t expensive, and the memories will last a lifetime. I think it’s easy for people to overlook parks in favor of summer beach vacations. And, living in an urban area, people tend to forget about the more accessible parks. Our parks need patrons and advocates – who are respectful of the guidelines when visiting – to ensure the land continues to remain protected. Being a good park steward is key. A simple way to help is by picking up trash along while exploring. I also believe that teaching others the value of our public lands at a young age is especially important.
What do you hope the future of our NPS looks like?
The funding of our parks is crucial not only for maintenance but also to provide educational programming for children of all ages. It takes the hard work and dedication of innovators, creators, historians, preservationists, and so many more individuals in a wide range of roles to help ensure the protection our public lands for all to enjoy. Protecting parks isn’t as high of a priority today as it once was. I hope that the roll-back in protection will not lead to the exploitation of our natural resources beyond repair. Political tides turn, but our land is a finite resource.
When not in the parks, what’s your profession?
I’m a photographer and social media consultant. I am currently exploring partnership opportunities with non-profits and outdoor organizations.
How do you plan and make your park adventures happen?
I am lucky to live in an area so rich in history and with so many NPS units. We are able to visit many parks on a whim, without much planning. We try to visit a NPS unit in the DMV once a month. When we are planning trips outside of the region, I always look to see what parks are in the area, and sometimes we will just a lot some extra time in transit so we can visit. For example, we went to Ocean City, MD over Labor Day last year, and planned our route home through Assateague Island National Seashore so we could visit for the afternoon. It was a quick trip, but we saw so much and had a blast! There are so many opportunities to visit parks, and we try to take full advantage of them! I always have my bucket list close-at-hand for motivation.
If you could be a park ranger, where and what would you be doing?
I would love to be a park ranger at Grand Teton National Park. As long as I’m there, it wouldn’t matter what I was doing!
Do you want to give a shout out to any favorite park lovers?
National Park Geek is such a wonderful community! I love getting to experience the adventures of so many people across our public lands through their beautiful photos! It’s really inspiring, and a great way about parks – both big and small. In particular, I’ve really enjoyed seeing Instagram adventures from @NationalParkPatchLady @NotSoJrRangers and @TheBucketListTraveler. I’m also a fan of @EddeBurgessPhotography @MikeWardian @EveryKidInAPark and the Nahabedian family @jrrangertigran !
Every Kid in a Park:
I photographed the 2017-18 America The Beautiful Pass for Fourth Graders (Every Kid in a Park). The pass image features fourth graders birdwatching at Anacostia Park in Washington DC. The program is great because it creates an opportunity for 4th graders nationwide to have access to our public lands ranging through several agencies for free. Introducing public lands at an early age gives an opportunity to create the next generation of park stewards.
You can find Chris on Instagram @chrisriefphoto
Thank you, Chris, for sharing your story and your beautiful photos as you adventure and explore our country's Public Lands.