An Interview with SLBE Volunteer Coordinator, Matt Mohrman

Where did you go to school and what was your field of study in order to work for NPS?

First off, let me say that I’m doing this under duress – I would rather go to the dentist than talk about me (no offense DD​S’s). Anyway, I had a non-traditional path in coming to the NPS. I was a helicopter pilot with the U.S. Coast Guard and retired after 24 years. It didn’t take — I retired on a Friday and started working for the park on Monday — but the transition from blue, to green & gray was a natural fit. It’s a job with a righteous mission and I still didn’t need to decide what to wear every day!

How long have you worked for the NPS? Always at SLBE? In what roles? 

​I started here in 2010 as a seasonal staff member in maintenance. I was on a crew with mason, Bill Love, and was lucky to be able to help in some really cool jobs like rebuilding the stone walls on Forest Haven Rd and working on historic building foundations throughout the park. In 2012 I moved into the volunteer coordinator position. 

What made you want to pursue this career? 

Besides what I noted above, it was mainly location. My last CG duty station was in Traverse City and we weren’t leaving the area when I retired – so Sleeping Bear Dunes was perfect. 

What is your favorite memory since working for SLBE?

That is a difficult question, there are so many! Probably the opportunity to work with groups of kids (scouts, school groups, etc). They are so full of energy and fun to be around. I really enjoy getting them going on a project and then just circulating around listening to them talk with each other & answering their questions. And, I get to ask them about the latest trends…like what the heck does YOLO mean…which it turns out, isn’t all that trendy anymore – no wonder my adult kids laugh at me.

What do you like to do in your down time? 

I’m usually doing something outside – biking or kayaking this time of year, and potentially enjoying a libation on the beach afterward. 

What is the craziest thing you’ve seen in the Park (that’s fit for print)?

Hmmm – another hard one – it might have been a water snake and frog fighting on the shore of Bass lake. It’s sort of “wildlife-graphic” so skip ahead if you don’t like that kind of thing. The snake had the frog head-first in his mouth – but the frog was using his front and back legs to fight his way out. He would get most of the way out of the snake’s mouth and then the snake would get another hold and partially swallow him down again – this went on, back and forth, and finally the frog ended up getting away. Guess the moral is don’t bite off more than you can chew…if you’re a snake, that is….maybe it’s don’t give up if you’re a frog – anyway pretty cool. 

In your opinion, what makes a good volunteer?

All volunteers are good – that’s not cliché – it’s true! We have 100’s of awesome volunteers that have had ridiculously successful careers and are now choosing to help the park in its mission. I just try to support everyone in whatever way they prefer to volunteer by making sure we have the equipment, uniforms & safety gear in place, then finding an opportunity that matches their skills/desires, and then I just get out of the way! 

Any advice you would offer to kids wanting to work as a Park Ranger. 

I don’t think kids realize there are so many different jobs in the NPS – they maybe saw an Interp ranger at a program, and that’s what the Park Service is to them. There are probably 25+ totally different jobs just at Sleeping Bear Dunes – 3 different kinds of biologists and their crews, trail workers, carpenters, cops, human resources, campground managers and more. Kids should first talk to someone at a park to learn about all the opportunities. When you figure out what you might want to do, volunteer or apply for an internship – both are great ways to get your foot in the door and see if the NPS is a good fit. We have an outstanding track record of hiring our interns as staff in following seasons — or getting them hired at another park — it is a super way to start a career. 

Any advice you have for volunteers? Visitors to the area? 

Explore the whole park – I’ve been in the area since 2002 and am still finding places that I haven’t been!

What is your favorite spot in the Park?

Can’t tell you…’s actually wherever I am in the park (except my office)…..really…..I’m not going to tell you! But I’ll give you one that is top 5 for me, and I bet most people haven’t been there, plus it’s a bit of a scavenger hunt! Go find the geodetic marker out on the dune plateau, here’s a picture to help find it. 

The marker is on top of the glacial erratic boulder in the foreground (it’s a brass disk, dated 1932, you can kind of see it in the first pic on top of the stone, close-up below); the big Dune in the background is the Mother Bear, it’s 1500 feet to the South; and just beyond the grass to the right is the bluff down to the lake. 

Good luck – take water & be safe!