Consider it the call of the wild.
Maribeth Pecotte knew as a youngster in the woods of Ohio that she wanted to work with nature. She’s been at the Boulder District of the U.S. Forest Service since 1999 and can’t imagine being anywhere else.
Early on, Pecotte was inspired by her grandparents to take a job in a natural environment.
“My grandfather and grandmother were very interested in birds and rocks and flowers and bugs and all kinds of things nature,” Pecotte said. “They had a camper and they would take me with them for weekends or weeks to the trailer and go to the park where they kept it. I would spend that time while I was there tromping around in the woods and crossing log bridges and looking for frogs and flowers and all the time asking ‘Hey grandpa, what’s this? Hey what’s that?’”
She was amazed by the information they knew about the outdoors and was inspired to gain her own understanding of the natural world.
Pecotte graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology, and right out of college she started working at Metro Parks in Columbus, Ohio.
“I was working as a naturalist,” Pecotte said. “I was leading hikes and giving nature talks and helping people understand our natural world. I did that for about a year and a half, and I knew I wanted to move to Colorado.”
During her first summer in the Centennial State, she worked at the front desk of Golden Gate Canyon State Park in Black Hawk, Colo.
After applying for nearly 30 jobs across the country, she got her first taste of the Forest Service at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
“That was my first introduction to working for the Forest Service, and I really loved it,” Pecotte said. “It was really fun. I was working at the Visitors’ Center and answering questions.”
Pecotte has been here in Boulder for the past 11 years, working a similar position in an office of 35 employees.
District Ranger Christine Walsh says that their office manages a land base which is about 160,000 acres. Walsh understands why Pecotte was drawn to the natural beauty of Colorado.
“The mountains are phenomenal,” Walsh said. “The weather’s great… I think there’s an interesting mix of people here.”
Those are some of the very things that Pecotte really enjoys about the area. She also loves that the Forest Service is able to accommodate many of the public’s needs, whatever they may be. In working for the Forest Service, Pecotte says she’s gained a lot of knowledge.
“I feel that it’s really helped me learn a lot about the local area and a lot about everything about what we do, whether it’s mining claims on the National Forest or logging or grazing cattle or recreating,” Pecotte said. “In some places they call the forest ‘the land of many uses,’ and it really is describing what we do. We kind of do everything.”
During the spring season, Pecotte says the office receives about 15 to 20 visitors per day. However, in the summer, she says it can get kind of crazy. On her busiest day, she had 190 walk-in visitors. She adds that walk-ins and phone calls are usually equal, so on a busy summer day, sometimes she will deal with 300 customers.
Typical issues she deals with include answering questions about trails and visitor accommodations throughout the forest and selling permits for firewood and the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. From June 1 to Sept. 15 her office sells about 1,200-1,500 permits for the Wilderness Area.
“Here in Visitor Information Services, we deal with all the public questions, everything that people want to know about the Forest Service,” Pecotte said. “We help them find those places and opportunities. We also answer questions about anything that’s going on in the Forest Service, like if we’re cutting trees for fire management (preventing wildfires), we might answer questions about those types of programs or projects.”
Beyond her office job, Pecotte has recently gotten into doing historical research about the area. She hasn’t always had an interest in history, but after creating a chronology for the Golden Gate Canyon State Park, she found a new passion.
“Part of my job is interpretation – it’s not like languages, from one language to the next – it’s more like helping people understand what they’re seeing in the natural world,” Pecotte said.
In her research, Pecotte has learned about mountain pine beetle (whose infestation has killed a large number of trees throughout the state), glaciology, settlement of the land, mining, railroading and Native American use of land.
Pecotte says there is a lot to see and learn from in our backyard, if only we’ll go out and discover.
“I think that we should spend as much time out there as we can because it gets us refreshed and hooked back into nature,” Pecotte said. “A lot of people feel closer to God in nature. That’s what I get out of it myself. I feel a connection to the Earth and to the community of nature when I’m out among it.”