Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Driving Park Ranger Style

Under normal winter conditions it is always a challenge to drive in the mountains. Then you add the factors of having to drive at higher elevations than most state roads in areas that are not plowed and the need to respond in emergencies, driving for National Park Rangers can produce many challenges.

In 1981 when I first moved to the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina the park had no four wheel drive vehicles. The administration felt that this was an extravagance that the park could not afford. The problem was that when it snowed or iced up it seemed like everyone else in the world had a four by four and wanted to try it out on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We would then have to put chains on our sedans and try to get to these folks out of trouble when they got stuck or slid off the road.

We had gates to close the road when it became to dangerous for vehicle traffic. We could not close these gates until the road actually got snow covered. The result was that Rangers had to go out in hazardous weather and driving conditions to get the gates locked before visitors drove in the unplowed and dangerous sections. This process could take from a few hours to all night depending on how hard it would be to get around.

One night I was out in my AMC Matador sedan (seen in the photo above) to get the gates closed in the area of Doughton Park on the Parkway. The snow was coming down so hard and blowing sideways producing white out conditions. I literally could not see where I was going and finally stopped and got out of the car to get my bearings. I discovered that I was not even on the road, but about fifty feet out in a field near the concession facilities at the top of the mountain. I could briefly make out the building through the pulsating waves of snow. I was able to get back onto the road, but had to stop and get out periodically to check on my location.

In 1982 freezing rain was coming down covering every surface. Icicles were already hanging from trees and signs when I had to go out and close the roads. Before I could finish the ice started to develop on the road surfaces creating "black ice", one of the most dangerous challenges for vehicle traction. I parked my car up hill within a gate I had to close. As I exited the car my first foot slid out from under me and I caught myself on the door frame preventing a flat out fall to the road. Holding on to the car I slid my way to the rear bumper and then inched my way to the gate. I had just closed one side of the heavy metal gate when a strong gust of wind came up the hollow almost knocking me over. The wind gust also broke the delicate traction that my car had with the icy surface. I looked up hanging on to the gate to stay trying to stay vertical when I noticed my car was slowly sliding, the wheels locked not rolling, back toward me and the gate. My feet began to spin like a cartoon character's on the icy surface trying to get the gate arm out of the way of the car as it came at me. Everything was in slow motion, except my flying feet. I was just able to get the gate out of the way as the car slowly slid by. It traveled about ten feet past the gate when one or two wheels hit a spot of dry pavement and the care stopped. Unbelievable, there was no damage other than my panting and pounding heart. I then spent an hour trying to get the chains on my car (one of the top ten things I hate to do) as the freezing rain formed my clothes into what felt like pieces of stiff plywood.

Next time I will tell you about another instance when I slid on the ice and over the side of the mountain and share some Park Ranger winter mountain driving tips.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"A Park Ranger's Life" Roanoke Book Signing Postponed

Due to the 21 plus inches of snow in western Virginia, the book signing that was scheduled for today at The Ram's Head Book Shop in Roanoke has been postponed. I will be at the Ram's Head on Tuesday December 22. The time is yet to be set.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"A Park Ranger's Life" PodCast

You can now listen through the Internet to an interview about my career and new book, "A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks", by going to:

There is also an article and video that compliment the interview.

Tune in and enjoy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Natural Resources Illegal Trafficing

There is an excellent article in the January issue of National Geographic Magazine on Trafficking in Wildlife. The article by Bryan Christy outlines the threats and difficulties controlling the international trade in wildlife and animal parts. Most of the article focuses on Southeastern Asian trade and the "The Kingpin" of these operations.

What the American public needs to be made aware of is the impact of this illegal trade on our National Parks. In most Asian countries there remains a lucrative and low risk market for illegally obtained animal parts and fluids used in folk medicines and traditional fashions. This consumer demand has resulted in the decimation of many species of wildlife and plants in this region. The answer for suppliers has been to search other parts of the world for sources of supply. One source found is our National Park System.

Cases have been made by National Park Rangers involving the illegal taking and marketing of bear galls from California and the parks located in the Southern Appalachians. In one case out of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park a practicing physician from South Korea was in actuality making more money in buying and selling bear gall bladders.

Bear paws and teeth are also targets for market poachers with their illegally taken parts eventually being sold at huge profits in Asia.

Whitetail Deer are targets of this international trade. In the spring when bucks start to grow their annual antlers they are covered in velvet. This velvet is another animal product in demand in the Orient. Many deer have been found shot during this time of year with only the head or antlers removed.

Plants are subject to theft for international markets. Park Rangers on the Blue Ridge Parkway have caught citizens from Great Britain and Germany illegally collecting large numbers and varieties of plants for shipment overseas. Ginseng (shown above) is commonly collected and sold for high profits in Asia. Roots of ginseng that have been taken from National Parks are in demand making top dollar for those willing to break the law.

The risk to criminals involved in these activities are minimal. Even if caught the penalties are far outweighed by the profits that can be made. These profits are many times higher and less dangerous than drug dealing and trafficking. Most suspects I encountered during my career as a National Park Ranger were involved in other criminal pursuits in addition to poaching wildlife and plants. That included people previously convicted of murder, drug dealing, breaking and entering, burglary, and dealing in stolen property.

Until courts around the world take this threat to our resources seriously, desturction of our natural heritage will only increase.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

PodCast Interview

Today I was interviewed about "A Park Ranger's Life" by Hank Zimmerman for his weekly PodCast at The recorded interview I did today will be edited and broadcast starting somtime this Friday. I will post any details as to times when I get them.

For those unfamiliar with PodCasts, these are audio recordings that you can listen to over the Internet. To listen to the recording you can go to and then click on the PodCast button.

Plant Theft in Our National Parks

Here is another case of plant theft from our National Parks. This was taken from the National Park Service Morning Report for December 15, 2009.

Zion NP
Felony Convictions For Illegal Wildflower Seed Harvesting

Ranger Anne Pestolesi came upon several large bags of illegally collected
wildflower seeds along the side of the road in the Kolob Terrace area of
the park last August. Over the next several weeks, Pestolesi and park staff
began an investigation that led to the discovery that several hundred
pounds of Palmer’s penstemon wildflower seeds had been illegally harvested
and removed from the park. Special agent Matt Fisher was brought in to
assist with the investigation. On September 21st, Fisher and Pestolesi
travelled to the remote backcountry area where the illegal harvest had
taken place. They arrested undocumented aliens Cresencio Lucena-Alvarez
and Cresencio Martinez-Guzman, who were illegally camped in the backcountry
and engaged in the illegal removal of the seeds. The total weight of
collected seeds exceeded 900 pounds. The seed collectors intended to sell
their illegal harvest to commercial seed distributers who then frequently
sell their seed to federal agencies pursuing revegetation projects. On
December 7th, Lucena-Alvarez and Martinez-Guzman were convicted on felony
counts of 18 USC 641, theft of government property, and sentenced to 24
months of supervised probation in addition to time served. The two had been
in custody since their September arrests. The court also imposed the
condition that the two shall not illegally reenter the United States.
Charges against additional suspects are pending. The assistance of the NPS
Investigative Services Branch and the Saint George Assistant US Attorney’s
Office was instrumental in the successful prosecution of the case. [Ray
O’Neil, Acting Chief Ranger]

You can learn more about the theft of plants from National Parks in my book, "A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks".

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Story Telling and Reading in Lexington, Virginia


"A Park Ranger's Life" On NPR

This morning I was interviewed about my book, "A Park Ranger's Life," by Gene Marrano from WVTF Public Radio in Roanoke, Virginia. The interview was recorded and should air in two weeks.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"A Park Ranger's Life" and Black Friday

The following is taken from the article "Shopping Season Opens: Black Friday Sales Comparable to '08" from the December 2, 2009 The News Gazette written by Ned Oliver;

At Books & Co., owner Anna-Lisa Fitzgerald said she had a great day, with the store nearly full by 1 p.m. She said local resident Bruce Bytnar's book, "A Park Ranger's Life," was the best-selling item. He was in the store signing books that day.

Friday, December 11, 2009

More Reviews for "A Park Ranger's Life"

A new review from an on line reader at for A Park Ranger's Life:

This book is awesome. I have already read it all and enjoyed it thoroughly. It really opens up your eyes to National Park Service areas. I would recommend this book to anyone who recreates in any federal area.

The below comment came from the December edition of The Rockbridge Advocate, a monthly news magazine:

Bruce Bytnar's new book, "A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks," came out. It's a highly entertaining and informative collection of true stories - ranging from his dealings with pesky bears to clueless visitors and from poachers to budget cuts - from his career with the National Park Service.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

NPR Radio Interview Post Poned

Due to an unforeseen circumstance, the news caster that was to conduct an interview with me could not get into work. Consequently, my interview has been postponed.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ranger Rendezvous

Tomorrow it is off to Gettysburg, Pa for the annual Association of National Park Rangers Rendezvous. There should be at least 200 participants this year and I will have a table set up for book signing on Tuesday and Wednesday during the event.

Waynesboro Book Signing

Today the weather put a bit of a damper on shopping, but we still had fun at the Stone Soup Bookstore and Cafe Holiday Book Fair.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Book Signing in Waynesboro

I will be at Stone Soup Bookstore and Cafe in Waynesboro, Virginia this Saturday December 5th for their Holiday Book Fair. There will be more than twenty authors on site to sign books for customers.

If you are in the area stop in for some conversation, hot cider, and perhaps do some Holiday shopping.

Winter Operations on the Blue Ridge Parkway

It is that time of year when the Blue Ridge Parkway moves into it's winter operations. What that means to the visiting public is that many sections of the Park will be closed when snow and or ice develop. This policy is often confusing and a bit frustrating for those traveling through the region.

Due to the inconsistent construction and foundation of the pavement of the Blue Ridge Parkway, it does not hold up well to snow plowing operations. This combined with the danger of plowing on sharply elevated road surfaces and descending radius curves are the main reasons why the Parkway is not cleared of snow and ice in all areas. Consequently, some stretches of road may be open and then extended sections at higher elevations closed when it snows.

Contributing to confusion for visitors is when they come to the park and find a gate closed across the road, but there is no visible snow or ice. The Blue Ridge Parkway travels through a quickly changing landscape at varied elevations and aspects. The roadway is most dangerous when temperatures start to warm and melting occurs. Melting during the day can quickly refreeze at night across the road surface. Mountain springs that seep through rock faces along the roadway will freeze preventing the water from draining and it then trails across the road and freezes. You can at times travel for several miles on clear dry pavement and then round a curve ending up in solid ice or snow before you know what has happened.

It is also quite hazardous for park employees to travel these same roads during winter weather to get these gates closed. I had instances during my career when due to surprise storms and lack of personnel it could take up to eight hours to close all the gates in one district of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This can result in hazardous situations for visitors who find themselves in the park during these times.

So if traveling in the Southern Appalachians during the winter it is critical that visitors stay aware of changing weather conditions and plan their routes appropriately. If forecasters are calling for snow or ice, it is much safer to take a longer alternate route then drive at high elevations.

You can also call the Blue Ridge Parkway's information line at (828) 298 0398 to get the latest information on road closures.

National Public Radio Interview

On Sunday December 6th I will be doing an interview for WVTF the NPR radio station out of Roanoke, Virginia. It will be recorded and I am not sure of the time or times it will be aired as yet. I will pass on the information as I get it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Illegal Hunting Cases in National Park Area

Taken from the National Park Service Morning Report for Tuesday December 1, 2009:

Blue Ridge Parkway
Special Operations Result In Multiple Poaching And Weapons Charges

On November 20th and 21st, Plateau District rangers working in cooperation
with Virginia conservation officers and Carroll County deputies conducted
three special operations resulting in multiple cases. On Friday, rangers
and conservation officers stopped three vehicles for spotlighting along the
parkway and issued a total of 26 state and federal charges for weapon,
drug, alcohol and multiple hunting violations. Officers also seized three
weapons. As a result of one of the cases, Virginia conservation officers
were able to file nine additional charges in an on-going investigation
relating to the illegal taking of wildlife. On Saturday, rangers,
conservation officers and Carroll County deputies conducted a DUI
checkpoint. During the checkpoint, officers contacted the operators of
approximately 100 vehicles and issued 15 violations and 11 warnings for a
variety of offenses, including suspended licenses, drugs, alcohol, weapons,
hunting and equipment violations. Officers seized four weapons, impounded
two vehicles and issued a total of eight violations related to illegal
hunting. A total of 50 violations were issued over the weekend, 40 of which
were related to illegal hunting activity. [Bobby D Miller, Plateau District

Learn more about illegal hunting and poaching in my book, A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.

And a highly deserved well done to the Park Rangers of the Plateau District of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Park Ranger's Life To Be Included In College Program

A Park Ranger's Life has been adopted by the University of Northern Arizona as required reading for students in the seasonal law enforcement training program. This is a curriculum certified by the National Park Service for people wanting to qualify for temporary jobs with that may lead to future permanent employment in law enforcement with land management agencies.

A Park Ranger's Life Now Available in Waynesboro, Virginia

The book A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks, is now available in Waynesboro, Virginia at the Stone Soup Bookstore and Cafe. Stone Soup is located at 908 W. Main Street.

I will be at Stone Soup this coming Saturday between 2 and 5pm for their Holiday Book Fair. Stop by for some conversation with more than twenty authors including myself. You could even get a book signed as a Christmas Gift for yourself or others.

Oh, and by the way, the food in the Cafe section is great. I had lunch there today.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reader Review

A new on line reader review of A Park Ranger's Life.

Very Entertaining and Well Written, each chapter is just the right length, once you start a story you can't put it down until you finish. Makes you feel like you are there and part of the story. Great mix and variety of stories. Very informative overview of the in's and out's of Park Rangering. Anyone that wants to know what goes into protecting our National Parks should read A Park Ranger's Life. Recommended book for all ages. Hopefully this is just the beginning of Bruce Bytnar's writing career!

- Z. C.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reader Reviews

Here are some early reader's reviews of A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.

If you ever wanted to be a park ranger this is a must read for you. A candid look at life inside our national parks by one of the rangers that lived the adventure. Bytnar is a strong writer and will take the reader on a trip filled with humor, danger and at times frustration as he recounts his life as a U. S. Park Ranger.

-John G.

All ages will love this book. It is an entertaining easy read that encompasses different aspects of a Park Ranger's responsibilities. Bruce W. Bytnar's storytelling makes you feel as if he wrote it just for you. Hope to see more of his writing soon!

-Nancy K.

Lucky for me, I signed up for SLETP and found Ranger Bytnar's website during my research. When I found out he was writing a book I was very happy because there couldn't have been better timing for me to learn of things I might be doing in my future endeavors.

I found this book to be very informative in terms of the information regarding National Park law enforcement. He touches on a lot on how Rangers are a jack of all trades. It seems that the NPS brass take(s) advantage of the fact that they have men and women in this position that can wear so many hats, and on top of that are dedicated to the point of giving up their lives to complete and protect the integrity of the National Park Service's mission. Meanwhile the people who give these...... well, you should just read the book.

You can tell Mr. Bytnar loved his job, the area he worked, and the people he helped. This book touches on a lot of the problems faced by Rangers and by visitors to parks. Anyone who loves National Parks would love this book.

- Patrick M.

Park Rangers, Vehicles, and Deer

The above vehicle swerved to miss a deer on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Unfortuately for the owner he had three dead deer that he had ilegally shot at night in the car with him at the time. In the bottom left corner you can see one of his victims that he tried to hide. You can learn more about this incident in my book, A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.

National Parks provide excellent habitat for whitetail deer. Most parks also provide excellent habitat for motor vehicles in the form of tour roads and parkways. The ultimate result is the consistent number of deer/car motor vehicle collisions. Even park service employees are not immune to this hazard. The National Park Service being a branch of the Federal Government is considered non-insurable (is that not a scary thought). So any damage repairs to vehicles must be absorbed by operating budgets. While a manager on the Blue Ridge Parkway it only took two deer/vehicle collisions to completely clean out a district supplies and equipment budget for a year.

I worked with a ranger who was bragging one day about how proud he was that he had worked for over thirty years on the Blue Ridge Parkway and never hit a deer. It was not a week later that a deer ran out in front of him and did almost $2,000 damage to his patrol vehicle. It was a humbling experience.

Even I was not immune to deer. In 1982 I had been run off the road by a car coming from the opposite direction while responding to a two car collision that had people entrapped. The front end of my car was demolished. It took several months to get all the approvals and work done to repair the damage. I got the repaired car back on Christmas Eve.

Christmas night the fog was about the thickest I had ever seen in that area. I got a call at my home around 9pm that there was a two car collision with injuries about thirty miles north of our house. I started on my way realizing that I had just worked another collision at that same location a few days before. I was crawling through the fog with my eyes locked on the yellow center line trying to stay on the road when I caught a movement out of the right corner of my eye and a deer came out of nowhere and crashed into the newly replaced right front fender of my car knocking out the headlight. I had injured people ahead of me, so I continued on my way further blinded with only one headlight.

Six miles further up the road I caught movement in the fog to my left and another deer slammed into my left front fender and my last headlight went out. Again I felt the urgent need to get to the injured people and continued with one parking light and my light bar flashing slowly poking my way through the fog at times loosing sight of the center line.

When I finally arrived at the scene, the rescue squad had arrived and were loading two people into an ambulance. When the EMT gave me their names I was surprised to find that the young lady involved had been in the collision I worked at this site two days earlier. Her boyfriend had picked her up at the hospital to go to her parents house for a few hours Christmas night. They had been traveling north in the fog when they pulled over to the left hand road shoulder to look at where her earlier crash had occurred. While sitting in the fog on the roadshoulder with their headlights on, another car came southbound seeing their lights thinking their car was in the north bound lane. By the time the second driver realized his mistake, it was to late and he hit the young couple's car head on. Her injuries were worse from the second collision than the first.

Apparently the deer had seen enough of me that night for in the twenty seven years I worked on the Blue Ridge Parkway these were the only collisions I had with wildlife.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Radio Interview

Monday November 23, 2009

I will be on WREL AM Radio (1450am our of Lexington, Virginia) this morning for their local interview program. The show runs from 11am to 12 noon.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Book Available in Buena Vista, Virginia

My book is now available at the Visitor Center on Route 60 in Buena Vista, Virginia.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Saturday January 16th In Charlottesville, Virginia

On Saturday January 16th I will be at the New Dominion Book Store at the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, Virginia to sign books. I will be at the store between 11am and 1pm. Stop by if you are in the area.

Reading and Story Telling

I will be at Books and Company in Lexington, Virginia on Sunday afternoon December 13 for a session of reading and story telling from my book, A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks. I will be at the store between 2 and 4pm. Stop by if you are in the area.

I am also working on setting a date for a book signing at the Old Dominion Book Store on the downtown mall in Charlotttesville, Virginia some time in January.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Information on National Park Service Budget Short Falls

Check out the article at the link with this post to learn about the affects of budgetary shortfalls in our National Parks. The article, by Kathryn Herrup, quotes Phil Francis the Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway and his concerns about staffing.

From the article:

The number of park law enforcement officials has been drastically slashed in an effort to deal with funding shortfalls. The 469 mile long Blue Ridge Parkway National Park in North Carolina and Virginia for instance has had to cut back 40 percent of its staff. It now has only about 35 law enforcement rangers to deal with 16 million visitors to its 300 miles of trails, and the reduced number of rangers has a direct affect on visitors. Phil Francis, superintendent of the park, says that one of his rangers recently had to decide whether to first respond to a potentially deadly car crash or to a person who was having a heart attack. "Imagine if you have to wait for a person to drive 40 or 50 miles to respond to a medical emergency."

I can attest from my experience that that Mr. Francis is not exaggerating in his depiction of response times for emergencies on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I know in several instances where rangers called for backup in potentially life threatening situations where assistance took more than an hour to arrive. I personally responded to emergencies from distances of more than 60 miles of mountainous roads because I was the only one working that day.

We simply do not have enough National Park Rangers working in the field to work safely, let alone accomplish the National Park Service mission of protecting the public and our nation's most valuable resources.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Up Coming Book Events

November 23 Radio Interview on WREL AM Radio Lexington, Virginia

November 27 Book Signing at Books and Company, Lexington Virginia

December 5 Book Festival at Stone Soup Bookstore and Cafe, Waynesboro, Virginia

December 8 Association of National Park Rangers Rendezvous, Gettysburg, Pa.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reader's Review from Amazon.Com

All ages will enjoy this book. It is an easy entertaining read that encompasses different aspects of a park ranger's responsibilities. Bruce W. Bytnar's storytelling makes you feel as if he wrote it just for you. Hope to see more of his writing soon!

Nancy K. from Indiana

Book Event in Waynesboro, Virginia

On December 5th I will be at the Stone Soup Bookstore and Cafe in Waynesboro, Virginia for their 1st Annual Holiday Book Fair. Fifteen authors will be there between 2pm and 5pm to sign their books.

For more information you can check their web site at:

Park Ranger Resource Knowledge

Dating back to the founders of the conservation and national park movements of the late 19th century, it was recognized that to be affective protectors of natural and cultural resources those charged with that responsibility needed to be well versed and knowledgeable about those resources. This need is essential even in today's world for national park rangers to accomplish their mission of protecting and preserving irreplaceable resources for future generations. Merely having a knowledge of policies, procedures, and abilities in specific skills are only part of the story. At times I see examples where the National Park Service is producing highly skilled specialists in fields such as law enforcement, administration, and maintenance that have very little base knowledge about the resources they are charged to protect.
As an example; if a park is experiencing problems with taking of plants such as ginseng, a park ranger needs to be able to identify the plant and root both in the ground and in a violators pocket. To better provide protection for the plants a ranger needs to be knowledgeable about the plant's habitat to be able to identify the areas of the park to check for criminals or monitor declining populations.
In a historic or cultural site park rangers need to know where valuable resources are located within the park and take steps to monitor and protect those high value areas. I was assigned to review operations at a significant historic area managed by the National Park Service. While riding on patrol with rangers I noted an area in the center of the park that had a low split rail fence around it and signs that said "Area Closed Keep Out." I asked each ranger what was in this wooded grove and none could specifically tell me nor had any of them walked the perimeter or entered beyond the fence. I then asked how they could tell if anyone else was going in the area and how they would be able to tell if it had been disturbed. None could really answer. In this case we were seeing a lack of knowledge of the resources by these rangers due to direction from supervisors for them to stay out of the area. What was behind this fence was the most significant archaeological site in the park, but no one seemed to know much about it.
Criminals interested in cashing in on park resources go to the locations where they will be most successful. Whether it is where the wildlife feeds, specific plants grow, or where historic military troops specifically tread. These types of criminals know their subjects and do research and monitoring of their own. Park Ranger's need to be educated and be able to predict locations where such activities will occur. They must also be able to identify the sometimes subtle damage to resources from any source, including criminals. This education must continue throughout a ranger's career. No matter what type of National Park Service area they work in, rangers must continuously educate themselves about resources in their charge.
This education does not always need to be formal training. Spending time with the resource, seeking out past research papers, reading books, and in many cases the best education can come from spending time with other rangers, partners, and neighbors familiar with the park and surrounding area.
Ask Questions, Listen, and Learn Something New Every Day -

Book Now Available in Lexington at The Bookery

The book, A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks, is now available for purchase in Lexington, Virginia at The Bookery on Nelson Street.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

So You Want To Be A Park Ranger

One of the questions that I was asked quite frequently during my career and even today is, "How do I get a job as a park ranger?" Working for a large bureaucracy you can imagine that this might not be the easiest question to answer. Each ranger you talk to will likely have a bit different story of how they got their first jobs. The system and procedures have changed quite a few times over the years, but here are some of the common denominators for those who are seriously interested:

Most full time park rangers started their careers working in temporary seasonal positions.
These jobs run for periods of three to six months and do not include any benefits such as
health and life insurance or retirement. There is also no guarentee of employment beyond the
period hired for.

The basic requirement for a park ranger job in any discipline is a four year college degree. Many rangers started out working in temporary seasonal positions while in college. There are no specific degree requirements. I worked with park rangers with degrees in history, biology, parks and recreation management, nuclear physics, Russian studies, education, business, criminal justice, English and more. Several Universities have programs specifically designed to prepare a student to become a park ranger.

The advantages of working a temporary seasonal position are that you get to learn if this is the career for you, you have the opportunity to develop skills and abilities to aid in obtaining a full
time job, and you have the chance to show your stuff and establish a solid work reputation.

To find these jobs you need to become familiar with the Office Of Personnel Management
(OPM) website. All positions are announced nationwide at OPM's USAJobs website
( Specific application instructions can be found for each position listed at this site.

Permanent full time positions can also be found at this same site. To apply for these jobs the
position needs to be open to the general public or all sources. Otherwise only those
person who already have federal hiring status can apply. That translates to people who
are already in permanent positions with the federal government.

Applicants who have experience working in parks as temporary seasonal employees have
a great advantage in the hiring process since they have direct experience to site and
are often known entities to the agency.

Remember the National Park Service is a small agency with large responsibilities. A weak employee can not be easily absorbed into the organization without causing disruption to the accomplishment of its mission. That is why a person whose abilities and attitudes have been tested through previous employment will stand out on a list of applicants.

So no matter what your level of education or experience in other jobs, you will greatly increase your opportunity for starting a career by considering those temporary seasonal positions first.

If you are interested in park ranger jobs in protection or law enforcement, there are colleges and universities approved by the National Park Service to train and certify candidates for temporary seasonal positions in that field. For a list of schools and details about these types of positions, you can go to

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Park Ranger's Life Now Available at Books and Company In Lexington, Virginia

There it was. That book with the bright blue cover in the window. The first time I have ever seen my book, A Park Ranger's Life:Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks, on display in a book store. My emotions were running in almost opposite directions. There was the thrill of seeing this multi year project come to fruition and the trepidation of seeing my name out there for all to express their opinions on. Overall, the emotion of excitement won out.
Books and Company in Lexington, Virginia now has my book in stock and available for sale. I will be at that location on Friday November 27th for a book signing event. I have started to make contacts at other locations in Charlottesville, Wintergreen, Waynesboro, and Charlottesville, Virginia to carry the book in stores.
For those of you not near any of these locations, the book is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books a For book sellers and libraries the book is available at Ingram Books.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Snakes and Crime

In the news this morning there was a case where deputies near Kansas City served warrants at a rural farm that was described as the "Home Depot of stolen property," Property recovered included light farm equipment, vehicles, and six full railroad cars. One railroad container was filled with unopened new appliances.

A residence at the scene was also searched and deputies found a python snake running loose in the home.

The is reminiscent of the story of the Snakeman in my book A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks. In that case we were serving search and arrest warrants at a residence where our suspect allowed a five foot boa constrictor free reign of the house even though he as his wife had a new born baby.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Book Signing and Availability

I have confirmed arrangements for a book signing at the Books and Company book store at 20 West Nelson Street in Lexington, Virginia. If you are in the area stop in on November 27th between 1pm and 4pm.

The book is also available for purchase at:

For book sellers and libraries, the book can be ordered through Ingram Books.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why I Write

I have been asked several times why I decided to write about my experiences as a National Park Ranger. There are several reasons, but they all run full circle back to family.
If you read any biography of a famous or even not so famous person they rely heavily on the written work found in journals diaries and letters. During my lifetime these writing skill have been de-emphasized and have all but disappeared. Letters have been replaced with telephone calls, text messages, emails, twitters, and Facebook. There will be no written documented reference for future generations to know what we have done with our lives.
The above photos are an example from my family of a man I only knew as an infirm elderly gentleman that we visited several times a year. Now that I have completed my own career as a National Park Ranger I wonder if his life and accomplishments may have affected my life choices. But I know relatively little of him.
He was Thomas O'Beirne, my great grandfather on my mother's side of the family. The top photos shows Thomas as a young fireman during a 1901 Fireman's Parade in White Plaines, NY. The second photo is of Thomas as a White Plaines, NY police officer. He served with the police department between 1910 and 1922. I know know nothing else of his experiences in these jobs. Is it only coincidence that I became a park ranger? A career choice that includes both fire fighting and law enforcement. I do not know the answer to that question and will never be able to explore its possibilities since there is no written record of his work.
The final photo is of my great grandfather as I remember him. This was in 1963 when he dressed up to be photographed with my brother Brad and I.
This loss of family insights from both my mother and father's families were a major part of the inspiration that made me want to write. I know there are park rangers out there that have bigger and more spectacular stories to tell, but I wanted my son and his future children to have some idea of what I did with my life. I believe that every life no matter how ordinary has a story to tell.
These are the foundations of why I began to write down stories and eventually shared a few with friends and family. It is they who encouraged me to put my scribblings together into a book. The result of this labor is A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Firearms in National Parks

Scenes like the one above will be seen by National Park Rangers more frequently starting in February of 2010. A rider on the Credit Cardholder's Rights Bill removed past regulations prohibiting the possession of loaded firearms in National Parks. Starting in February park visitors will be able to carry firearms per locals and state laws where such carry is permitted.

Arguments have been made for the positive impact this regulatory change will have on the ability of people to protect themselves with firearms while visiting National Parks. Several articles have referred to the present firearms regulations as dating to the Reagan era making it sound like a recent firearms regulatory change imposed by the National Park Service.

I have several points of view that may clarify some of this partial information.

The present regulation found in Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations section 2.4 prohibits the possession of loaded or accessible firearms. This is not quite the total ban on possession that has been portrayed by many media reports.

Stating that this is a regulation only dating back to the 1980s is a misleading interpretation. When I first started with the National Park Service in 1975, firearms were prohibited in parks. In the 1980s the Code of Federal Regulations was rewritten to introduce several new regulations and clarify others such as section 2.4. The ban of firearms in National Parks in actuality goes back to before the National Park Service was established in 1916.

When Yellowstone National Park was first established in 1872 there were no regulations or persons to protect wildlife within the new park. The decimation of buffalo and elk became so threatening that the Army was moved in and maintained two to three full Troops of Calvary (more than 200 men) in the park for 3o years. In 1894 Congress passed the Yellowstone Game Protection Act to provide some teeth in the wildlife protection actions of the Army.

In 1903 then President Theodore Roosevelt planned a cross country trip that included a ten day stop over in Yellowstone National Park. At the time there was an active program to destroy predators such as cougars and wolves. T.R. thought that perhaps he could join in and hunt cougar in the park during his stay. Public and political opinion was against the President hunting in a National Park. In newspapers of the day Major Pitcher, Yellowstone's Superintendent, was quoted as saying, "The President's gun would be sealed by the U.S. Army when he entered the park, just as with every other citizen."* So thirteen years before the establishment of the National Park Service firearms were banned in National Parks.

A valuable preemptive tool used by park rangers to protect wildlife will be lost with the revocation of the firearms regulations. Today rangers who meet people in backcountry areas armed with hunting rifles can prevent them from using that firearm in the park. With the new change in this regulation rangers will not be able to take any action until a person actually shoots at and or kills wildlife. Once the animal in question is dead it can no longer be protected. Park ranger staffs are so limited in number that they can not keep an individual with a firearm under surveillance during their entire time in a park.

Arguments can be made on both sides of the issue of firearms possession by visitors in parks. The fact is that one of the most affective and oldest tools used by park rangers to protect wildlife has been taken away to meet the political demands of special interest groups. Evidence of this fact is that Congress had to hide this new law in a document with a positive title like the Credit Cardholders Rights Bill.

*Brinkley, Douglas, Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America; p 507, 2009, Harper Collins Publishing, NY

Friday, October 23, 2009

Book Now Available for Pre Orders

My new book, A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks, is now available directly from Wheatmark Publishing for pre orders. You can take a look at the book and place orders at the following link:

The final book was sent to the printers yesterday and should be available for shipping within four weeks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall Fire Season in the Southern Appalachians

With the leaves beginning to turn brown and fall to the ground the Southern Appalachians are now entering the fall fire season.
The photos above were taken in March of 2006 during the Quarry Fire that occurred along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. By the time the fire was contained it had grown to almost 2000 acres. Part of the challenge was the close proximity of many homes that had been built in the Urban Interface. This term refers to the trend toward building homes in the woodland environment making them prey to wildland fires. This fire was managed by an inter-agency Unified Command Team who directly contributed to the prevention of the loss of any homes. The fire was started by a homeowner dumping ashes from his wood stove along the edge of the woods behind his house. Costs for the fire suppression effort for just the National Park Service was $28,000. The US Forest Service costs were more than $200,000. The Commonwealth of Virginia and counties of Bedford and Roanoke also had many thousands of dollars in expenses.
I use this fire as and example of the newer phenomena of wildland fires in the east. When I began my fire fighting career in the mid 1970s we were taught that fires only occurred in the west and in the east fires were small and only crept through the leaves and dry grasses. Lightning strikes only resulted in fires west of the Mississippi.
As my career progressed I noted a drastic change in those conditions. More frequently we were seeing fires resulting after lightning storms (sometimes days or weeks after a stump struck by lightning would smolder) and fires developed higher flame lengths and the potential to crown (flames running up into the tops of trees).
This increase in fire potential in the east can be attributed to several sources. Years of drought in the mid Atlantic states, the mortality of trees due to pests such as gypsy moths and hemlock woolly adelgids, and damage to already stressed trees by ice storms and heavy winds. All these events have contributed to the amount of fuel on the ground in the form of dried dead limbs and entire trees. Take these points into consideration and you can start to see some of the reasons for the increase in fire intensity.
Add to these conditions the construction of more and more woodland homes and the stress of saving peoples houses is added to the mix. This factor forces firefighter to take more risks in saving personal property and lives.
So as you spend time with your family in the woods, go hunting, camping, or are just working around you home, keep wildland fire safety in your mind during this time of year.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Searches in National Parks - Research

This photo was taken at the Humpback Rocks visitor Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway following an overnight search for a lost hiker. All these searchers had been up for almost 48 hours. The following article gives the latest information on searches in national park service areas.

Study: Park Service averages 11 searches per day
SALT LAKE CITY — Whether it’s saving a stranded hiker with a broken leg or fishing out a capsized boater, a new study says national parks launch 11 search-and-rescue operations on an average day.
Travis Heggie, an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota who headed up the study, analyzed search-and-rescue reports from 1992 to 2007, when there were more than 65,000 operations in national parks with costs exceeding $58 million.
Those most commonly in need of help? Day hikers, young men and boaters. Weekends were the busiest.
The results are similar to an earlier analysis by Heggie of national parks in Utah, which found young men on day hikes were among the most likely to need a rescue.

You can read more about search operations in my book A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks. The book is with the printers now and should be availalbe in November.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Park Ranger Fall Color Update for October 18

This photo was taken this morning by Park Ranger Marc Cyr on the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile post 22 in Virginia. Although the snow and ice did not last long, it sure looks like a transition from fall to winter is not far off.
The forcast for the rest of this coming week will have sunny skys and temperatures in the sixties during the day. Fall color at the 2 to 3000 foot elevation may be moving fast this week.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

First Book Signing Date

I have been working with the owner of Books and Company, a locally owned book store, in Lexington, Virginia to set up my first book signing event. We have tentatively set the date as November 27, 2009. That is the day after Thanksgiving. The book will be available at this store as soon as the printing is completed. I am hoping to have the book available to the public by early November.

I have also made my first sale of the book. A silent auction was conducted at the annual charity golf tournament sponsored by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association in western Virginia. I offered a signed copy of the book and it was purchased with all the funds going to Special Olympics. As soon as I have copies in hand, I will be mailing out that first edition.

Table of Contents

I have been getting requests for more information about my upcoming book, A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks. So here is the table of contents to give you a taste of what is to come.

Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...............................1
“What Is It You Do?” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .......................5
National Park Service Basics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .................11
Fort McHenry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .........................14
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park . . ..16
The Blue Ridge Parkway . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...................18
Interesting People . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .....................20
Supervisory Park Technician . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .............. 31
The World of the Supernatural . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...............43
Living in a National Park . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..................53
Law Enforcement versus Management in the
National Park Service . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ........................58
Budgets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..........................67
The Traveling Ranger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .................74
Lives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ............................. 85
The Interstate Fugitive and The Hound Dog Rangers . . . . 95
The Marshes of Wilkes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .................106
Stop in the Name of the Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .............113
Bears . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..........................120
Close Encounters of the Bear Kind . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...........124
Protecting Wildlife . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ....................131
Poachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ........................134
The Mountain Slide . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..................142
Plants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .........................148
Which Way to Lynchburg? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .............154
The Snake Man . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ....................158
The Dog That Saved a Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .............165
Politics in the National Parks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .............170
Creative Justice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...................177
The Summer That Burned . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ............186
Lost in the Woods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .................197
The Long Search . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .................206
Drugs and Thugs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...................225
Inherent Dangers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .................235
Sacrifice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .....................239

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall Update

The fall color update for today is gray. The mountains are shrouded in fog and rain. So here are few shots from around my home in the valley to give you some idea of the color change.

Today is just another of the many moods of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I would tell visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway this when the were upset about rainy days in the park. These are good days because without fog and rain we would not have the diversity of vegetation that we enjoy in the Blue Ridge.

The rain is also good since we preparing to enter the fall fire season. Some moisture now will help prevent fires and keep those that do start from becoming large and dangerous.

Book Status Update

Final publication of my book is coming closer. I have approved the final draft and interior layout. The artwork above for the front cover just came in. The book should be out in the next few weeks.

I will post the availability date as soon as I have it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Park Ranger Retirement Tip

Retirment Tip # 4

· If your spouse is still working, start their car to warm up
on cold mornings before they leave for work. That way your
spouse leaves with the impression that you are working hard
all day.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Park Ranger Fall Color Update for October 8th

Here is that indicator tree one week since my last photo. We have had more frost and temperatures in the lower 30s in the mornings. So the fall color is coming on now in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
All these photos were taken today between mile post 23 and 27 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In my opinion it is starting to look quite spectacular. As you look up to the mountains from the valley to the west, you can see the line between the golds coming out on the ridges and the edge of green at lower elevation. During the next week close observers will note the slow creeping of the bright colors down from the ridge tops erasing the deep greens of this past summer.

Park Ranger Retirement Tip

Retirement Tip #3

· Do not worry about getting everything done today. You really
do have tomorrow and the next day and the next day to get it done.
No longer will you have to face situations where if you do not get it
done today you will not have another chance to get to it for three

Book Status

Yesterday I received the electronic copy of the layout for my book, A Park Ranger's Life: True Stories from Thirty Two Years Protecting our National Parks. Once I make a final review and any last minute edits it goes to the printer. Hopefully it will be available within the next month.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Origins of Law Enforcement in National Parks

One of the debates that continued during my entire career in the National Park Service was over the role of law enforcement and how it fit into the management of national parks. Many managers and employees were openly anti-law enforcement and tried to downplay its role in protecting the resources and people visiting our parks.

In 1872 the first national park in the world was established at Yellowstone. The land was set aside to be protected, but there were no laws or regulations that could be enforced to provide for this protection. In the recent Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea he touches on this condition and the results. I am also reading the recently published book Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley which outlines T.R. and his contemporaries conservation work that ultimately contributed to the establishment of the National Park Service.

Even though areas such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Sequoia were designated to be saved, there existed no legal way to stop the deforestation, grazing, and extermination of wildlife that continued in the parks. One of the most dramatic examples was the buffalo herds at Yellowstone that poachers continued to decimate at will. The Army stepped in to patrol the parks, but the most they could do was to escort violators out of the park. There were no criminal or civil consequences for violators' greed.

One of the most vocal groups to step forward and lobby for legislation to protect park wildlife was the Boone and Crockett Club founded by Theodore Roosevelt and other members of his class of hunters and early conservationists. They proposed repeatedly that laws be passed and persons hired to protect these vanishing resources.

On page 331 of Wilderness Warrior Brinkley quotes T.R. following his return from the Spanish American War in 1898. He was describing the men that he had served with in war when he told a group , "Wouldn't Rough Riders make terrific forest rangers and wildlife wardens? Didn't the wildlife protection movement need no-nonsense men in uniform to stop poaching in federal parks?"
This concern for providing a law enforcement organization to protect park resources was the initial idea coming from the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell, John F. Lacey, and John Muir that fueled the fire to establish the National Park Service. Although the Yellowstone Game Protection Act was passed in 1894 it was not until August 25, 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service. It took that long because many special interest groups did not want an agency established that would be able to enforce laws and regulations within the parks.

The responsibility for providing law enforcement protection of persons and resources in our parks is the foundation for the original establishment of the National Park Service. Today Park Rangers rededicate themselves to that core mission of providing for enjoyment of the visiting public while protecting the parks for future generations. Once the National Park Service was established is when the agency began to take on many additional roles such as education, promotion, maintenance, etc.

To learn more about the early rangers in our parks I highly recommend the book National Park Ranger An American Icon by Charles R. "Butch" Farabee, Jr.

To learn more about some situations I faced during my career due to the conflicting philosophies within the National Park Service over law enforcement, read my book that will be available by early November, A Park Rangers Life: True Stories from Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.