“My Job is Cooler Than Your Vacation”

Published on January 04, 2024

By Jerry Wallace

Not many people can honestly say that. But Nate Powell, ’08, is one of the fortunate few. Powell parlayed a lifelong love of the outdoors with a richly varied educational experience as a parks and recreation major at Eastern Kentucky University to create the career of his dreams.

As a child growing up near Cincinnati, Powell often wandered outside his home to explore the woods behind the cul-de-sac where his family resided. He and his friends built forts, camped and played in a nearby creek, feeling like “some of the first explorers of the area.”

Today, Powell’s backyard is the majestic Grand Canyon, where he serves the National Parks Service as a logistics support technician. He and his wife, Aly, a budget analyst for Grand Canyon National Park, and their young child live in the park. Their three-bedroom ranch-style home sits on the scenic South Rim.

“I wake up excited every morning to go to work,” said Powell, who came to the Grand Canyon with the National Parks Service in 2011. “I get to work in the most beautiful park, have the best coworkers and love what I’m doing.”

As logistics support technician, he provides support and coordination for design and construction projects throughout the park. Some days include a helicopter flight to the canyon floor—a privilege few enjoy.

“One moment I am shin-deep in mud, walking in an area of the park with an archaeologist where contractors are felling trees. The next moment I’m shoveling snow, then I’m participating in a multi-million-dollar project, catching sling loads for fisheries or hiking down to take photos for our engineers,” said Powell. “My supervisor likes to think of what we do as ‘whack-a-mole that we can win,’ meaning that tasks and needs are constantly popping up, but we can make sure it’s all taken care of and things run smoothly.”

Undecided about his major for his first two years at EKU, he learned from a parks and recreation major how much fun she was having in her classes. Powell’s own Eastern Experience included his first trip west of the Mississippi River—a backpacking spring break trip to Utah as part of EKU Adventure Programs. Add to that many trips to the nearby Red River Gorge and two more “life-changing” spring break trips—to Glacier National Park and Badlands National Park. While in Glacier, he met wildland firefighters patrolling via kayaks on the Flathead River and park volunteers on horseback, which solidified his decision to pursue a career path in parks and recreation. 

He was also influenced by a cousin, Matthew Thomayer, ’06, EKU wildlife management major, hunting buddy and Sigma Chi brother. Today, Thomayer is a senior environmental planner and permitting project manager with Jacobs Solutions Inc., as well as a semi-pro hunter, recording hunts nationwide with Blitz TV and The Learning Curve. As for Powell, he said, “I have put down my bow for a fly rod,” as his current spare-time obsession is fly-fishing and tying flies.

Powell’s father, a construction worker, once told his teenage son, “Just find a job you love doing; don’t worry about the pay and you’ll be happy.” It turned out to be sage advice.

“I get to hike, fly and float this fantastic resource—for my job,” Powell told the Grand Canyon News in January 2023. “I love our community and the wildlife, plus it’s fun to say I have 1.2 million acres in my backyard.” But the main benefit? As he and his colleagues often say, he gets “paid in sunsets.”