A Day in the Life: Park Service Assistants

By: Alyssa Schauer

August 17, 2020

Category: People of the Parks

If you’ve ever visited Bryant Lake Regional Park or Hyland Lake Park Reserve, you may have been lucky enough to meet and interact with Lori Lindahl – a spunky Park Service Assistant (PSA) who is willing to help anybody with whatever they need. A truly magnificent person who’d go the distance for anyone.

Lori’s been a PSA for 10 years. Before finding her place here at Three Rivers, she worked in the restaurant business for over 20 years and then in the Eden Prairie School District.

What Does a Park Service Assistant Do?

While some tasks occur routinely, like getting belted up in uniform, loading medical gear onto trucks, grabbing radios, maintaining AEDs and roving the parks, Lori noted that every day is different.

Lori in uniform standing next to a gray Three Rivers truck that says "Park Service."
Lori gearing up for another day of work in the parks. Image courtesy of Lori Lindahl.

“We are versatile. Our job is so reactionary. Whatever we encounter, we just help with. We have the luxury of not having to be somewhere at a certain time for the most part. We just have to take care of what’s presented in front of us,” Lori said. “You have to be able to adapt.”

Lori is primarily responsible for patrolling Hyland Lake Park Reserve and Bryant Lake Regional Park. “I am very passionate about Hyland and Bryant parks. These are my parks. Over the last 10 years I’ve really gotten to know the people who come here.”

She also sometimes patrols Anderson Lakes, Tierney’s Woods, Glen Lake Golf & Practice Center and The Landing, as well as a few regional trails such as Nine Mile Creek, Cedar Lake LRT and Minnesota River Bluffs.

Lori in her Park Service Assistant uniform on a boat on a lake.
Lori patrolling Bryant Lake. Image courtesy of Lori Lindahl.

“If I can speak for all PSAs, I’d say we know our parks. We know the timeline of when things happen. When things are going to get busy. When parking implodes. Every PSA has their park dialed in. We know that little rogue trail someone built. We spend every one of our work days in the parks and we take pride in knowing our parks. If someone calls and says they’re lost by the big rock, we know where that is. You might have to ask a couple of questions, but you’re gonna know where that rock is and how to get to that rock,” she explained.

PSAs also work with a variety of staff in Three Rivers: “We bridge over so many departments.” Lori recounts helping with clean-up and parking at Valentine’s Day events at Richardson Nature Center, docking kayakers during an adapted recreation program on Bryant Lake and helping maintenance clear tee pads on the disc golf courses at Bryant Lake and Hyland Hills.

PSAs also help at races, including high school cross-country ski meets and signature events like the Ski and Fat Bike Rennet and Autumn Woods Classic. They help with staging rescue vehicles with medical gear, parking cars and monitoring the lots as well as assisting in the first aid trailer.

She shared a story about a medical emergency during a cross-country skiing race involving a 17-year-old girl who was showing signs of shock. As the paramedics addressed the skier’s injury, Lori was trying to keep her engaged and conscious. 

“I joked around with her and asked her about prom and what her dress looks like and that’s what I did the whole time. I just talked to her and tried to comfort her to keep her from freaking out,” Lori said.

“We learned technical skills through different trainings but a lot of the time it’s how you react. You have to react calmly. If people don’t see fear in your face, they’re not going to be afraid,” Lori said.

WHAT SKILLS DO YOU NEED TO BE A PSA?

“If I dare brag about PSAs, I’d say we’ve got a great pool of talent,” she beamed.

Park Service Assistants go through training with public safety when they first start, such as mock rescues and basic first aid. Lori noted that some PSAs are certified Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs) and a couple are even Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), but these certifications are not required.

Lori and two park service assistants practicing emergency rescue in a simlulation.
Lori stabilizes the neck and spine of a patient during a simulated rescue on the mountain bike trail at Elm Creek Park Reserve. Image courtesy of Lynn Stoltzmann.

In addition to this training, Lori emphasized that being a PSA is about being responsive in the moment. It’s about educating and accommodating park guests and it’s about providing a sense of safety. 

“I think my customer service skills from all those years in the restaurant industry is what this job needs. I really think it’s kind of a dying art,” Lori said humbly. 

FINDING CREATIVE SOLUTIONS

As a PSA, Lori believes in creating wonderful experiences for guests and tries to accommodate needs and requests as best she can. 

“I look at myself as a park concierge — I am totally there to help anybody who needs it. Plain and simple,” Lori said matter-of-factly.

Her enthusiasm and humble sense of pride radiated from her twinkling blue eyes as she shared stories about helping large groups get outfitted in snowshoes, giving one young park guest a sticker to cheer him up and assisting high schoolers with tent set-up at cross-country ski races.

Selfie of Lori wearing a Smokey the Bear face mask.
Lori patrolling trails in her Smokey the Bear face mask. Image courtesy of Lori Lindahl.

Lori tries to find creative solutions to potential issues. “When you think about it, people come to the parks to make lifelong memories. Do you want to be the crabby person in a khaki shirt who says you can’t do something or would you rather try to accommodate and respond instead with ‘We can’t do that but how about this instead?’”

For example, as hammocking became more popular, she made her own “tree savers” to hand out while educating park guests about protecting the bark.

“I used old tow straps. I just wash ‘em up, cut them into strips and then I carry them around with me all summer. I tell the park guests to turn the straps into any of the buildings in the park on their way home and you know what? I have not lost one set. They are so good about bringing them back,” Lori exclaimed.

 Lori’s enthusiasm and passion for her job as a PSA is transparent and she even said she’ll “never quit this job!” 

“Somebody’s gonna have to force me out,” Lori laughed. “I one-hundred percent believe in this position and I just feel blessed I get to do this job. I really do.”

About the Author

a smiling woman wearing a straw hat

Alyssa Schauer is part of the marketing team at Three Rivers. She earned her Bachelor's degree in poetry writing and communications at Winona State University and formerly worked as a journalist at a small-town newspaper. After college, she volunteered with the Minnesota Conservation Corps to clear and maintain trails in Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters. Outside of work, she spends time in the woods looking at everything up close (especially ferns and spiders), writing poems about nature, canoeing with her husband, planning Halloween costumes year-round, playing Nintendo and raising a pride of four naughty (but cute!) cats.

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