Joe Ingman was destined to be a park ranger. Growing up in an outdoorsy family, much of his free time was spent hiking, camping and exploring the beauty of Washington State. For a freshman year English class assignment, Ingman wrote a post card to his future self, dreaming about becoming a park ranger and working outdoors. Now heading into his eighth year as a County Parks and Fair Department employee, Ingman is well on his way to pursuing his childhood dreams.
How did you become a park ranger?
“I grew up in Olympia and went to a school that was nature focused. We went on a lot of outdoor fieldtrips and the school had a garden and trails – so I think that’s what I grew passionate about it. I grew up exploring Mount Adams, Mount Rainer and the Olympics as a kid and listened to my dad’s stories about working for the forest service while he was in college. He helped build part of the Pacific Crest Trail.”
“In high school, my freshman English teacher made us write a post card to our future selves about what we wanted to do with our career. I wrote I wanted to be a park ranger. After I graduated, I got that post card in the mail, and I decided to pursue it as my career.”
How long have you lived in the islands?
“I first moved to Lopez in 2014 to work at Spencer Spit State Park. I didn’t know anything about the islands when I moved here, even though I was from Washington. I just saw a general posting about State Parks jobs and looked up some pictures of the islands. I thought, ‘that looks pretty good,’ and I applied. I felt at home once I got here.”
Can you share a bit more about your career at the County?
“I worked at Spencer Spit State Park for two years. Advancement through the organization was difficult, so I moved over to San Juan County Parks as the Assistant Park Manager for San Juan County Park on San Juan Island.”
“That was a grind. I would jump on the first ferry of the day, get to my car that was stashed in town, and drive out to the West Side by 8:15. Sometimes I would spend two nights a week over there and work 12-hour shifts. I spent three years on that schedule before the Assistant Park Manager position opened up at Odlin County Park on Lopez. After that, my commute went from 20 hours a week down to two about two minutes!”
What do you enjoy about being a San Juan County Park Ranger?
“We’re at the forefront of visitor experiences. People come here to get away from the city, to spend time with their families, or to just be outdoors. We’re often the ones welcoming visitors, sharing what to see and do, and I enjoy being part of their time here.”
What do you enjoy about working for San Juan County?
“I’ve worked in almost every level of government – I worked for City of Olympia Parks, Washington State Parks, Oregon Fish and Wildlife, and the US Forest Service as a wildland firefighter. All those organizations were great, but I realized a lot of them relied on their brand and their ability to make you feel part of something bigger as a substitute for fair pay. Things were also more rigid, and change was slow.”
“But working for a smaller organization like San Juan County, if you have the tools and will-power, you can accomplish a lot. We aren’t as restricted and can enact real change that benefits the daily lives of our park visitors.”
“We have a small, close-knit department that helps each other out. We all know each employee in our department, and we get together weekly for all-hands days or our weekly department chat. We genuinely care about each other.”
What do you want people to know about San Juan County Parks?
“You can volunteer at County Parks! You can reach out to see what opportunities we have or speak with a ranger about upcoming projects you can help with. Visitors often think the brush over the trails naturally forms like that. But we actually spend a lot of time and care maintaining it. Visitors don’t always see what we do, and that’s deliberate. We try to sneak in maintenance when we need to and stay out of visitors’ way. There’s always work to be done, so I’d encourage folks to get involved!"
This profile is part of a series spotlighting San Juan County employees, the work they do, and the difference they make. Follow along each month to meet the staff responsible for making the Islands a wonderful place to live, work, and play.