Submitted by Metro Parks Tacoma.
On dark winter mornings, when the rest of us are probably deep under the covers, three women are arriving at work. Wearing hats, thick gloves and rain gear, they open park gates, check restrooms, prune roses, dig weeds, pour concrete and dozens of other tasks. They watch the sun rise, often alone, but sometimes greeting others walking the park.
And in summer, they do it all again – one hour earlier.
They are Metro Parks Tacoma’s women park laborers. There aren’t many of them, and they’d like to see that change. But they love their jobs and are proud to be doing work that challenges them and creates beauty and peace.
Here, in honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, are their stories.
Miranda Hemlee, laborer at Point Defiance gardens
Tenure: Five years, including at Point Defiance Park, Dune Peninsula, Ruston Way parks
Working in the Point Defiance gardens is kind of a dream come true for me. I actually had a completely different career, in restaurants, but needed to switch after I had a baby. When I moved to Tacoma I fell in love with Point Defiance – I hiked here every weekend, brought my dog here. I worked for a local nursery and then got a maintenance job at Dune Peninsula and other Ruston Way parks. When this position came up, I thought, why not? So I went for it.
Being on the garden crew is hard, but amazing. My favorite part is the people. They’ll say hi while they’re out walking, come up and ask about pruning or plant care, and I can help them get inspired and care for their own gardens. In this job I’m learning all the time but also teaching, and that’s what I love about it.
As a woman laborer, there are definitely challenges in what is sometimes a male-dominated workplace. I’m small, I don’t weigh a lot, so that can be intimidating. But I always get things done. When you don’t have bulk to do the work, you get creative. And unlike some of my male colleagues, I can easily crawl under bushes to prune or weed! I think women also bring a different vision to parks work: We tend to be good at the details, the aesthetic part. I would like to see more diversity in this job, especially women and younger people.
I also love the peacefulness. We start at 7am in winter, 6:30am in summer, and some of the most magical moments are in fall or winter when the weather is at its extremes. People have no idea how lucky we are in this job. We’re in a long line of gardeners, leaving our mark and caring for such a beautiful, historic place. We’re stewards of the land, making a difference in Tacoma. I think women are naturally caretakers of their community, and that’s exactly what I’m doing here.
Carol Brouillette: laborer at Point Defiance gardens (part-time)
Tenure: Eight months
I actually got into parks work from being a social studies teacher at the Science and Math Institute (SAMi, the high school located inside Point Defiance Park). I took a summer job supervising students in the Nature Conservancy’s LEAF internship program, and that had a huge impact on me. When the Point Defiance Park maintenance lead recruited me for the job, I went for it.
It’s 29 hours a week; three eight-hour days and one five-hour day. I start at 7:30am, and at 5am some days in summer. That can be rough! But someone’s got to be here to open the gates and restrooms, pick up the trash and get the park ready for visitors. And I get to watch the sunrise, which is amazing.
The rest of the time I prune, weed, clean up, do whatever is necessary. My favorite part is working with Japanese maples, like when you snap off the dead parts to keep them airy and protected from heavy snow. And trimming the Japanese black pines into cloud shapes. There are so many ways of working with plants that I never imagined! I also get to climb trees, which I hadn’t done since I was a kid. It’s so cool. Our big focus this spring has been rebuilding the rose arbor, which I love.
Being a woman in this job is different from being a teacher, which is a profession full of women and the group support that brings. I’m really glad to work with Miranda! The few women I have worked with in this position seem a little bit quicker to ask for and offer help and collaborate in that way, helping each other lift the heavy stuff and arrange for that kind of in-the-moment teamwork. But by and large, what women bring to this work is the same thing men bring: a strong work ethic, a care and consideration for the safety and comfort of park visitors, and pride in their work.
Plus, as the person who asks visitors to leave Five Mile Drive at the end of the day, I’m maybe a little more approachable than a big, hefty guy might be! I wish there were more women here – it’s such a fantastic job, and so great for women. People need to know that.
April Trujillo, laborer at Dune Peninsula, Waterwalk & Ruston Way parks
Tenure: 13 months
I love this job. When I learned about it, my first thought was that I didn’t have the experience – I thought it was all installing benches and pouring concrete, those kinds of things. But Metro Parks was on my goal list, so I applied, and now I’ve done the work it’s not so intimidating. Maybe I’m not as strong as others, but the parks crew are really helpful and I’ve learned to do all those things I never thought I could do.
My day starts at 6am or 6:30am. I meet with the crew to plan what needs doing, then I go to Dune Peninsula Park and check on restroom quality and other work done by the seasonal staff. We assess the landscape: sometimes there are sprinkler heads need replacing, soil slides needing fixing, work like that. We just completely cleaned out the sculpture garden of clover, ready for wildflower seeding this spring.
I work in other Ruston Way parks too, but I’m kind of obsessed with Dune. Being a peninsula, it’s completely surrounded by water, and I often see eagles, whales or harbor seals. I’ve also read the books it was named after, and I actually studied the Superfund cleanup project in my environmental degree. That’s a really neat full circle! We’re working now to complete the original landscape design, which is awesome.
Women in parks work, or in any work, tend to bring different communications skills than men. We’re very adaptive. I’d like to see more women do this job, to have the courage to try these things. It’s so worth it.
WORK IN OUR PARKS: Metro Parks is hiring parks maintenance staff! Find the list of positions and apply at metroparkstacoma.org/careers.