Deception Pass State Park ranger selected for national award: Meet the “Under-30s” elevating the park experience

— Created February 23, 2022 by Melanie Hammons

By Melanie Hammons

According to a 2016 survey, 77 percent of voters maintain “the U.S. benefits greatly, or at least a fair amount, from its national parks.” That’s noteworthy, considering many of the same people surveyed might possibly rate other government organizations a good deal lower.

The people who make our state and national parks work are key to achieving that 77 percent favorability ranking.  “Parks & Recreation” magazine has joined with the National Parks and Recreation Association’s Young Professionals Network to honor some of these outstanding individuals with the “30 under 30” award.  Now in its second year, the program seeks to recognize 30 young park and recreational professionals in the field.

“Parks & Recreation” magazine describes the award selection criteria.  Nominees are rated according to “their impact on the agency’s community and service population, contributions to the professional development of the field of parks and recreation, and for innovative ideas, programs, or research into the field of parks and recreation.”

Out of hundreds of parks numbered in our state and national park system, meet one of Deception Pass State Park’s own – Interpretive Specialist II Joy Kacoroski.  Out of over 100 nominations received, Kacoroski is one of 30 winners nationwide for the “30 under 30 in 2022” award.  Almost from her childhood, Kacoroski said she grew into a career she loves and hopes to be in for a lifetime.

“My family did lots of RV camping while I was growing up.  We lived next to Bridle Trails State Park (Kirkland area.)  From the time I was in the eighth grade, I knew that I wanted to be a park ranger,” she said.

Those early and memorable vacations in the outdoors led to her vision for improving access to outdoor learning opportunities at Deception Pass State Park. She is especially passionate about encouraging positive experiences in that realm for kids who visit the park.

“A big thing we’ve focused on is boosting the field trip programs, which are so beneficial to students,” she said.  “Yet along with that effort, we’ve also seen the need to deliver these programs and experiences in different ways, to meet different needs of students and schools.”

Kacoroski says a concurrent goal of hers since coming to DPSP has been to improve/add to the distance learning experience.  She listed a variety of reasons for this, but all involve adapting to varying needs of students.

“Some students are unable to go on field trips to the park because their district has no bus transportation. Other kids have physical limitations that make it difficult.  There are lots of reasons we could find to justify making significant upgrades to distance learning, virtual learning,” she said.

And then came the year 2020, along with the pandemic.  Kacoroski said because DPSP staff was already engaged in finding ways to make distance-style learning feasible, they could more easily adapt to using multiple platforms to deliver these results, and to overcome pandemic-imposed limitations.

“It was one thing (in 2020), to have in-person field trips largely curtailed.  Now this year, a shortage of bus drivers hampers that,” she said. “But in a way, the pandemic has created an opportunity.  That’s exactly why we’d love to keep on enhancing and expanding our virtual/distance learning capabilities because we’ve seen how being adaptable and flexible helped us to respond more effectively.”

In addition to her service in the state parks, she’s also spent time working for the U.S. Forest Service.  Those years and experiences have deepened her own love for the outdoors and inspired a resolve to enhance the experience of visitors, especially children.  That desire has led Kacoroski and other DPSP staff to significantly improve the park’s environmental education program by ensuring the curriculum and field trip content aligned with science and technology standards.

Another accomplishment made with the kids in mind is the revision of the Junior Ranger book.

“Two years ago, we worked on an entirely new concept for the Junior Ranger book,” said Kacoroski.  “The new book incorporates enhanced food web designs, illustrations of how plants and animals work together.  You’ll also see ideas for fun ‘kid things’ to do.  For example, you may see crossword puzzles about cedar trees, or games like ‘Find the tide pool critters.’  As always, we’ve included suggestions on how everyone can be good stewards of the [nation’s] parks.

“We also wanted to make our Junior Ranger book very specific to Deception Pass State Park.  So we sought input from the Samish and Swinomish Nations, to include their contributions,” she continued, adding they don’t publish anything about the tribes without their express permission. 

As much as Kacoroski loves being “on the job,” there are times, she says, when a park ranger isn’t around.  That’s why interpretive panels and accurate information are so vital.  The weathering effects posed by wind and salt water spray over the years can obscure diagrams and lettering.  Planned upgrades to interpretive panels at DPSP will make the lettering more legible and easy to read.  A recent partnership with the Samish Nation will result in new artwork from that tribe for the story pole Ko-Kwal-Alwoot (the Maiden of Deception Pass).

The possibilities and chances for advancement in park service are abundant, according to Kacoroski.  But she said she could still find herself in her Interpretive Specialist II role years from now, and find it just as challenging and fulfilling as ever.  That is a career choice she hopes to see others share in as well.

“My dream, 10 years from now?  It would be to help to swear in as a park ranger someone I helped as a young junior ranger,” she said. 

To see the “Parks & Recreation” magazine’s story on “30 Under 30,” visit