JACKSON — If you ask Grand Teton National Park’s new chief ranger about his childhood, he can reply with one word: soccer.
Michael Nash grew up the youngest of four siblings in Akron, Ohio. His father, a geography professor at the University of Akron, was also the assistant soccer coach for 16 years.
“Everything revolved around soccer,” Nash said. “I can remember watching some of the World Cups dating back into the 1970s.”
For roughly a 10-year stretch, the university had at least one of the three Nash boys playing on the soccer team.
“I was not the best,” said Nash, who played defense. “That was probably my brother Patrick, my middle brother.”
Now that the University of Akron is the top-ranked Division 1 soccer team in the country, Nash and his family continue to follow the games and stay involved in the university.
Nash says it’s ironic that he became a park ranger, because he and his family didn’t know much about national parks during his childhood.
Once, during a college soccer tournament, he got to visit Glacier Point in Yosemite, one of the few visits to a national park during his youth.
It left a big impression, but, “I never thought I would work there,” he said.
After college, Nash hoped to use his cartography degree in the military, either for the Defense Mapping Agency or the Central Intelligence Agency. But during the Gulf War, the government wasn’t hiring for those positions.
His National Park Service career began by chance. One day, he was mountain biking in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, located about seven miles from his home, when he met his first park ranger.
“She seemed pretty sharp,” Nash said. “I asked how I could become a park ranger.”
The ranger directed him to an informational meeting, and a few weeks later he enrolled in a seasonal law enforcement academy class for the Park Service at a community college in Cleveland.
“I never looked back,” he said.
While Nash was attending the academy, he got a call from Acadia National Park in Maine, and he decided to take the job.
“When I left Acadia, I had $5,000,” he said. “I went to Europe and blew most of it.”
In Dublin, Ireland, he learned that he’d been offered a job as a backcountry ranger at Grand Canyon National Park.
“I’d never been west of the Mississippi,” he said. “It was the real unknown. But the season in Maine inspired me to stick it out.”
After the summer job in Grand Canyon was finished, Nash stayed on to volunteer between seasons.
In 1999, his Park Service career took him to Yosemite National Park, where he ran the emergency services and search and rescue operations for two years and got a taste of rock climbing.
Then, in 2002, he transferred to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Tennessee portion.
“It was humid and buggy,” Nash said. “I learned what chiggers are.”
Eventually, he was offered another job at Grand Canyon, this time as the South Rim district ranger.
The vast number of visitors, combined with the local population, gave him a taste for lots of different law enforcement roles.
“It’s a complex park,” he said. “There are 3,000 local residents that live within the park. The search and rescue volume is overwhelming.”
“I saw (everything) from a murder-suicide to poaching,” he said. “I got to help investigate a condor shooting there. We made the case.”
Eventually, Nash worked his way up to become management assistant to Steve Martin, former Grand Teton superintendent, which launched him to the deputy chief ranger position.
Now, as Grand Teton’s chief ranger, Nash said he’s excited about the diversity of the park’s resources and the varied nature of the job, which entails high alpine rescues, river rescues and more.
“It creates an endless challenge,” he said. “I’m super-excited about it.”
As for soccer, Nash said he doesn’t play much anymore. Instead, he and his wife, who have mountaineered in Mexico and the United States, are psyched about getting into the Tetons.
Further, the couple and their two children are avid skiers.
“This will be my best exposure to (backcountry skiing),” Nash said. “It’s nice to move to an area with consistent snowpack and, hopefully, some stability.”
“(Skiing) is the one thing we all do as a family,” he said. “It wasn’t a hard sales pitch to come up here.”
The prospect of coming to Jackson is exciting for more than just the skiing. While Nash enjoyed the Grand Canyon area, he said it was a little isolating.
“We’re a much bigger community than just the park here,” he said.