Coming Home: Katrina Hernandez found her way back to the state park

May 1, 2014

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Katrina Hernandez at the Ludington State Park.

Katrina Hernandez at the Ludington State Park.

Many people have traveled the world and have had life experiences that their hometowns could never offer them, but many of those people are choosing to leave those grand ventures behind to move back to their roots in search of a slower paced lifestyle. Mason County Press’ Kate Krieger meets up with some of these individuals who have decided to return home and is telling their personal stories in the series “Coming Home.”

If you want to learn more about the opportunities there are here at home, check out Talent Connect Ludington on Friday, May 9 at The Mitten Bar in downtown Ludington. See more details here.

By Kate Krieger. MCP Correspondent.

LUDINGTON – People travel from all over the United States to get the chance to experience the Ludington State Park and all it has to offer. Ludington native, Katrina Hernandez, 34, always enjoyed the park, but never thought it would be the reason she could move back to her hometown.

Katrina was born and raised in Ludington and graduated from Ludington High School in 1998. After graduating high school she attended West Shore Community College for two years and then transferred to Grand Valley State University to pursue a degree in biology with minors in chemistry and Spanish. While attending college, each summer Katrina would work as a summer employee at the Charles Mears State Park in Pentwater, but she didn’t have set plans to ever come back to the state park systems after graduating college.

Katrina’s dream was to become a crime scene investigator, which would probably take her to an urban setting where she would settle down and establish some roots. While attending Grand Valley State University, she worked in the records office and after graduation, she was offered a full time position to stay with Grand Valley’s records office, which she accepted and continued to live in the Grand Rapids area.

“I always thought, ‘I’ll never work for the state park again,’” Katrina says. “I worked in the records office and they basically created a new position for me. I was in charge of the student I.D. system and I helped create the new GVSU course catalogue. I really did a lot of different things.”

For the next two years, Katrina worked for Grand Valley between the Allendale and Grand Rapids campuses, but she would frequently come back to Ludington to visit friends and family.

“It got to the point where I was coming home all the time,” she says. “The summer time is what was really hard. It killed me that you would have to drive at least a half hour to get to Lake Michigan. You really had to plan a day to go swimming.”

After over two years working with Grand Valley, Katrina finally decided she was going to move home. Having no real job to return to see attended a job fair that was thrown at the Ludington Ramada Inn and noticed the state park was there.

“I gave them my resume and I knew Silver Lake was hiring,” she says. “A month before coming back the Silver Lake supervisor called me and offered me a job as a summer worker.”

Katrina took the job and moved her life back to Ludington. She remembered that being a state worker, she would be laid off during the off-season and that would allow her to collect unemployment, which she thought would be great, but that turned out so differently.

“I thought it would be awesome,” she says. “It was so boring after one week I almost died. I decided to start subbing.”

The next summer, Katrina accepted a job as a piping plover steward at the Ludington State Park, where she tracked the endangered piping plover bird population at the park. That fall, Katrina was offered a full time position as a seasonal ranger back at Silver Lake State Park, where she finished out that park season and then returned there to work the entire next season. She continued to sub during the off-season.

In 2009, Katrina transferred to the Ludington State Park, working as a seasonal ranger, where she continues to work. She says it can be a very busy place to work, but she doesn’t ever forget how lucky she is to work in a place that is so loved by so many people.

“My favorite times are spring and fall,” she says. “I get to enjoy the park before summer comes and it gets so busy. We don’t get much time to really enjoy the park and to be able to take in the beauty and nature of it all.”

Katrina said there are so many things about the park that she enjoys and she likes being able to see others enjoy the park as well.

“I can drive into work and see an eagle on M-116,” she said. “That usually means it’s going to be a good day.”

Having no real plans to move away, Katrina doesn’t really know what the future holds for her, but she is definitely happy to be back in Mason County.

“I do know this is where I want to be,” she says. “There’s something about Lake Michigan, it is a magnet. You can go away for a while, but it sucks you back in. I got a good education here. I want to find someone to get married to and settle down here.”

Some people might not choose the lifestyle that Katrina has chose by moving back to her hometown, but Katrina is enjoying every minute of it and she knows that working at the Ludington State Park makes her even more of a part of something her hometown has to offer.

“It’s such a popular attraction for people not from Ludington, she says. “It’s cool to be a part of something so big that people love.”

 

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