In his role as Natural Habitat Adventure’s Head Naturalist, Eric Rock travels around the world leading tours and developing new ones. Find out why Eric considers Alaska home, the most important part of guiding and why you should travel.
WWF Travel: How did you end up living in Alaska?
Eric Rock: I was working in Colorado when my wife was offered a job in Alaska. So I transferred to the University of Alaska’s wildlife department; it was one of the best moves I ever made. My first interest working in Alaska was doing research. I was having amazing experiences, but when you’re doing field research, there’s nobody around to share these experiences. I moved into guiding in Denali National Park.
WWF: Did you have an “aha” moment where you realized guiding was your true passion?
ER: I wanted to share experiences with others and I realized field research wasn’t the place to do that. I remember like it was yesterday working in the YK Delta in Alaska on a US Fish and Wildlife Service project. It was a beautiful sunrise and I was on a little canoe. I thought it was too bad I couldn’t share the moment with other people.
WWF: How did you get started with photography?
ER: When I was 16, my first job was working for $2.25 an hour at a campground. My mother worked at a camera shop and I gave her my first paycheck to buy me a camera. I’ve been taking pictures ever since. I was published in high school, selling pictures to local magazines.
WWF: Where is your favorite location to photograph?
ER: Wherever I am. There’s no bad place to take pictures. Even in places with [political] conflict, it’s easy to see the beauty in nature.
WWF: What makes guiding special to you?
ER: It all comes down to people. People come on the trip with a passion for nature and understanding that’s where the adventure begins. You can be the best guide in the world but you’re not interested in people, the trip will fall short. My background in social work helped me realize that; I had dealt with people on their bad days, and now I get to be with people on their good days.
WWF: What’s your favorite trip to guide?
ER: Alaska, because it’s been my backyard for so long. It’s hard to find a sense of place and I feel like I have that in Denali. Guiding there is like showing someone around your backyard. Your neighbors are moose, bears and squirrels, but it’s still your backyard.
WWF: You travel a lot. What are three things you always have with you?
ER: A personal sense of adventure, binoculars and a camera. A personal sense of adventure and flexibility are most important. Sometimes people expect where they travel to be like home, but if you expect it to be the same, why travel? You go because things are different. Tours are dynamic, and that starts with the person who’s traveling.
“Sometimes people expect where they travel to be like home, but if you expect it to be the same, why travel? You go because things are different. ”Eric Rock Head Naturalist, Natural Habitat Adventures
WWF: What’s the best conservation model you’ve seen in a community you’ve visited with travelers?
ER: I’ve had a chance to develop an ecotourism model in Alaska with native Alaskans. The model has taken off in Alaska. The Cantition Road House is native Alaskans’ first move into ecotourism. It gives the shareholders a job in ecotourism and at the same time, they can share their identity with people who wouldn’t normally get to meet native Alaskans in a positive situation like that.
I think the ecotourism model in Africa, where safari lodges are owned by local villages, has applications anywhere in the world. My goal is to get the native Alaskans out to see these other places to show that they’re not in this alone.
WWF: What’s the most important characteristic of an effective guide?
ER: I think the important thing is a willingness to learn and to be dynamic. All travelers bring something to the tours. I feel like I’m doing my best when I can take somebody to a crazy destination and help them realize and share their own perspective.
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