Saturday, January 30, 2010

Park Rangers and Hunters

Many people assume that during the winter park rangers are not busy due to snow and ice closing many areas to the general public. Winter is when the majority of legal hunting seasons occur. Even though most National Park Areas are closed to hunting, this does not preclude the necessity of park rangers taking on the role of game wardens during this time of year. In reality, hunting does occur in and around our parks and park rangers have to deal with several types of people in involved with hunting.

The first group is the honest outdoorsmen who make the extra effort to obtain information so they can successfully complete their hunt in a proper and sportsmanlike manner. They want to have the rules explained to them, look at maps, obtain the proper permits, and identify lands that they can legally hunt on. This is the largest group.

There are also well meaning but unprepared and uneducated hunters who do not take the time to gather the information outlined above. They often end up hunting in parks by mistake or ignorance more than by intent or malice.

Next you have what I call the lazy hunters who want to find locations where they do not have to physically stress themselves to find game. The most attractive location for them is often our parks where tour roads and trails run through areas that place game within easy reach. These illegal hunters are also drawn to the parks looking for bigger trophies and bragging rights.

Then you have the true poachers who are intentionally and premeditatedly hunting in National Park Areas. They are most often motivated by greed in the form of money or peer status (sometimes described as social power). During my career I contacted such individuals that were killing deer and removing just the head or antlers and leaving the rest, killing bears and only removing the parts that they could sell, and even killing wildlife and leaving it where it lay just so they can increase their kill count for purposes of boasting or winning a bet.

The challenge for National Park Rangers when they encounter hunters within a park is to determine which category the suspect falls into. What was their intent, knowledge of the area and laws, and are they being truthful about why they are in the park. In the past it has been quite easy for suspects to come up with excuses and explanations in advance or by time for court.

Now with the upcoming change in the firearms regulations that will allow people to carry weapons in our National Park Areas, the challenge for a park ranger to place an armed person into one of these categories will be much more difficult. It will make it easier for the persons who fall into the later two categories to get away with killing wildlife. But as in the past, park rangers will find a way to do their duty and need to adopt new techniques, skills, and technology to accomplish the mission of the National Park Service to preserve our resources for future generations.

Friday, January 29, 2010

"A Park Ranger's Life" Is Now Available In Roanoke

In addition to the Ram's Head Bookshop at Towers Mall, "A Park Ranger's Life" is now available at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore at Tanglewood Mall.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Outdoor Family Activites

Here is a great website for those looking for family outdoor activities. I looked at some very simple but fun activities with children designed to get them involved in exploring and observing the natural world around them.

Author of “A Park Ranger’s Life” Now Available for Public Speaking Engagements

Bruce W. Bytnar, veteran of the National Park Service and author of the book A Park Ranger’s Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks, is now available for public speaking, interviews, education or reading engagements.

As a National Park Ranger and trainer at both the regional and national level, Mr. Bytnar has presented countless trainings, talks and presentations for employee groups, schools and public organizations. He has also been a featured guest on National Public Radio and the Shenandoah Valley Podcast. As a speaker in high demand, he has developed a reputation as engaging, humorous and educational.

Presentations Available to Schools, Civic Groups, and Other Organizations:

• Life as a National Park Ranger/Park Ranger Careers
• History and Mission of Our National Parks
• How to Become a National Park Ranger
• Traveling in National Parks and the Blue Ridge Parkway
• Threats to National Parks and What You Can Do To Help
• Hiking and Camping in National Parks
• Wildlife
• Storytelling
• Resource Protection
• Wildland Fire Fighting
• Incident Command
• Firearms
• Leadership/Team Building
• Communications/Meeting Management

Inquiries about scheduling Mr. Bytnar for your group can be sent to:

What Can We Do To Help Our National Parks

“What can I do to help protect our National Parks?” This is a question I often hear at book events I have attended. Here are a few simple suggestions:

• Visit and get to know the resources and threats they face in National Parks near you or ones you like to visit

• Seek out Volunteer opportunities in our parks

• Join the National Parks and Conservation Association - Through this group you can keep up to date on issues facing our parks and contact your political leaders to enlist their support of the parks

• Learn about and join individual park “Friends Groups” to become directly involved in providing support for park resources, programs, and future – examples of such groups include:

Blue Ridge Parkway
Appalachian Trail
Acadia NP
Great Smokey Mtns
Grand Canyon
Shenandoah NP

There are many more organizations out there. For a complete list visit:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Signed Copies of "A Park Ranger's Life" Available

I have received a number of requests for signed copies of my book, "A Park Ranger's Life," from people that live outside my immediate neighborhood. The owners of Books and Company in Lexington, Virgina have offered to provide that service.
You can contact the store through their email address or telephone number listed below and give them your address, telephone number, and any details of how you want the book personalized.

The store will then contact me to sign and personalize the book as ordered.

You will then be contacted by phone to make payment and arrange shipment.

You can also call the store directly at the telephone number listed below to place your order.

Books and Company

Phone: 540-463-4647
Address: 29 W. Nelson Street
Lexington, VA 24450

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Legislation Introduced to Help Protect the Blue Ridge Parkway

Legislation is to be introduced in the US Senate to improve protection of the Blue Ridge Parkway. A companion bill is to be introduced in the House. Check out the following web site for more information:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Favorite Season on the Blue Ridge

Everyone has their favorite time of year. Some like the fresh newness of spring. Some prefer the warmth and greenness of summer. Others are invigorated by the crisp mornings and bright colors of autumn. As a National Park Ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway my favorite season was winter. Although I enjoyed the bounty of every season, I have to admit winter was when I recharged my emotional batteries and felt I could enjoy the park the most.

Winter weather fronts and storms serve as nature’s ventilation system and flush the brown hues of air pollution from the valleys and piedmont regions. This cleansing provides for the most spectacular and frequent views from the mountains left to our generation.

Once the leaves fall, the upper and mid canopies open up not only views of vistas but glances of rock formations and the true ruggedness of the land long hidden by lush vegetation.

Human visitation to the mountain parks of the east drops during the winter resulting in a sense of a societal slowing of the normal hectic life style we all lead. It becomes much easier to find that spot of undisturbed solitude and quiet during the winter months. If there is a white coating of snow on the ground, this helps to muffle the distant sounds of civilization.

Most wildlife in the Southern Appalachians does not hibernate. With fewer people and cars around animals are more likely to feel secure and come out of hiding along the roadways and trails. Winter provides an excellent time to observe bear, whitetail deer, turkey, bobcats, and some say mountain lions (although I am not a firm believer in that one).

If you travel to the Blue Ridge Parkway during the winter and find the snow gates locked across the road, rather than be disappointed you may find this to be one of the best opportunities you have ever had to truly experience the park. Be sure to have adequate clothing and footwear, and then explore the area behind those gates by foot, cross country ski, or snow shoe. You may be surprised at the treasure of memories you will find.

Blue Ridge Parkway 75th Anniversary

2010 marks the 75th Anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Having worked twenty seven of my thirty two year career as a National Park Ranger on the Blue Ridge, I am excited about the upcoming events to mark this occasion.

One of the cornerstones of the planning for this historic year is involving communities along the 469 mile long national park area to showcase their links to the park and reflections of Southern Appalachian culture. These tie directly to the mission of the park to help preserve this snap shot of our American heritage.
Events and celebrations are planned in Virginia and North Carolina. Some of the upcoming events include:

Blowing Rock Winterfest
28–31 Jan 2010
Blowing Rock, NC
Celebrate the fun side of winter at the 12th Annual Blowing Rock Winterfest!

Blue Ridge Resilience Conference
30 Jan 2010
Boone, NC
Join the discussion about sustainability in the face of oncoming environmental, climatic, and economic threats and challenges.

Music Night at Spencer-Penn Centre
12 Feb 2010
Martinsville-Henry County, VA
Enjoy bluegrass and gospel music at this monthly event.

Music Night at Spencer-Penn Centre
12 Mar 2010
Martinsville-Henry County, VA
Enjoy bluegrass and gospel music at this monthly event.

FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway Viewshed Planting Event
20 Mar 2010
Roanoke County, VA
The purpose of FRIENDS' plantings is to save Parkway views by creating a barrier between the Parkway and the surrounding urban landscape.

Whitetop Mountain Maple Festival
27–28 Mar 2010
Grayson County, VA
This unique festival is always held the last full weekend in March in the Whitetop Community.

The Blue Ridge Bike Fest
9–11 Apr 2010
Roanoke, VA
The Blue Ridge Bike Fest is an all-makes motorcycle expo/show/festival celebrating the amazing sights of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range

For more events and links to details go to:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ohio State University Adopts "A Park Ranger's Life"

Ohio State University has adopted the book "A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks" to be included in their course on Natural Resources Law Enforcement (ENR 448).

Ohio State joins Northern Arizona and Slippery Rock Universities in adopting this book for their Park Ranger Training Programs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Armed Suspect Escapes Into Woods

Just last night a shooting that took place in Appomattox County, Virginia made national news. Eight persons were shot and died at a home on a rural road. The suspect escaped into a wooded area near the house armed with a high powered rifle. He shot at the State Police helicopter hitting it several times puncturing the fuel tank. The area was sealed off for the night, people evacuated, and not much information given to the public.

At daylight the suspect surrendered to police with no further violence. No officers were injured during the incident. At this point very little information has been released to the public since it is still early in the investigation.

Law Enforcement agencies throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia have been training for years to respond to and handle such situations. Park Rangers on the Blue Ridge Parkway were among the first to be trained in and certified to conduct Tactical Tracking in the woodland environment. This training combines the skills of man tracking and proven tactical operations. Along with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the National Park Service was one of the first agencies to recognize the value of having a corps of law enforcement personnel trained to safely and effectively track and apprehend armed suspects in the wild. Prior to this time most tactical training was oriented toward urban SWAT team scenarios. The success of these trained personnel in search and rescue operations and criminal investigations has sold other agencies on the importance of this training.

Sometime back a man just north of Waynesboro, Virginia shot his ex-wife and father-in-law with a high powered rifle. He then fled into the woods. He also shot at the circling State Police helicopter. The incident bordered Shenandoah National Park and the Tactical Tracking Team from the Blue Ridge Parkway was called in to assist. The Team provided protection for the Park to determine if the suspect had entered the area to hide. The suspect was eventually located outside the park and cornered by State Police teams. In that case the suspect committed suicide rather than surrender.

These are just two examples of the importance and value of outdoor/woodland tactical training.

New Reader's Review of "A Park Ranger's Life"

A new recent reader's review of "A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks;"

5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, honest account of what a Park Ranger's job is really like, January 19, 2010

This was very entertaining, honest and gives the average person a very readable book on just what a ranger faces everyday. Coming from someone who lived some of these events with Bruce, anyone who ever thought about being a ranger or visited a National Park should read this book and learn what life is really like for the men and women in the Park Service.

C. Dininger

Monday, January 18, 2010

How To Get Started As a Park Ranger

At each of the book events I attend and through the blog and Facebook page, I often hear from people wanting to start a career as a Park Ranger. Back in early November I wrote an entry to the blog on that subject. Since it seems to be a recurring theme, I am republishing a newer edition. This may be timely in that now is when applications for summer jobs in the national parks are coming due.

How to get started can be a bit complicated since you are dealing with a small part of the largest bureaucracy in our country. Each park 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, life insurance, or retirement. There is also no guarantee 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 now have programs specifically designed to prepare a student to become a park ranger. You might want to look at Slippery Rock University, Northern Arizona University, Memphis State, or Clemson just to name a few.

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 and credibility.

To find these jobs you need to become familiar with the Office Of Personnel Management(OPM) website. All positions whether temporary or full time are announced nationwide at OPM's USAJobs website ( Specific application instructions can be found for each position listed at this site. Applications for the coming summer season temporary jobs are generally due in January.

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 employees 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 knowledge and skills related to national parks and are often known entities to hiring authorities within 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. To qualify for a seasonal law enforcement position, you need to graduate from a certified academy or school. For a list of schools and details about these types of positions, you can go to For positions in law enforcement or firefighting you will also be required to take and pass a medical exam and physical fitness test. So be prepared for those. Law Enforcement positions also require a Federal security clearance. All Federal positions are subject to drug testing when initially hired and periodically there after. So if you think you may have problems with those requirements, you may not qualify to work for the National Park Service.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"A Park Ranger's Life" Blog Goes International

This blog site for the book "A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks" has gone international. I had noted the book available on several Internet sites overseas such as Canada,India, Great Britain, Korea, and Japan. Now readers are logging into the Blog from such far ranging countries as New Zealand, Indonesia, and Iraq.

Welcome world wide readers.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"A Park Ranger's Life" in Bookstores

I have been getting quite a few questions about what bookstores have my book on their shelves. So far it is only in my immediate area. Here is an updated list locations:

Bedford, Virginia

The Peaks of Otter Lodge Gift Shop

Buena Vista, Virginia

The Buena Vista Visitor Center

Charlottesville, Virginia

New Dominion Bookstore, on the Downtown Mall

Lexington, Virginia

Books and Company, Nelson Street

The Bookery, Nelson Street

Roanoke, Virginia

The Ram's Head Book Shop, Towers Mall

Barnes and Noble - Tanglewood Mall

Staunton, Virginia

Bookworks, West Beverley Street

Waynesboro, Virginia

Stone Soup Bookstore and Cafe

Another University Adopts "A Park Ranger's Life" for Their Ranger Training Program

Slippery Rock University has selected "A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks" as reading for students in their Park Ranger Program. For more information on the Slippery Rock Park Ranger Program, go the site below:

Slippery Rock joins the University of Northern Arizona in recommending this book for aspiring park rangers. UNA will require the book as reading starting in their fall semester. For more information about the University of Northern Arizona's Park Ranger Training Program, check out the site below:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Blue Ridge Parkway Snow Gates

The closing of snowgates during the winter on the Blue Ridge Parkway can be a nuisance to visitors and park neighbors. The Park Management and Park Rangers' concern for public safety are the driving force behind this practice. Many sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway are inherently dangerous to plow due to the elevation, asspect, and slope of the road surface. I have personally witnessed snow plows going over the side of the mountain due to ice underlying the snow.

Unfortunately, some people can not contain their desire to get their vehicles into closed areas and will break the locks or chains on gates to open them. The culprits may drive through safely, but those who follow behind finding the gates open may assume the way ahead is safe and drive into hazardous conditions.

In 1986 two young men found a snow gate that had been broken open on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. They drove through the gates in their sedan and within a few miles became hopelessly stuck in the snow. One decided to walk ahead to the closed visitor center he knew was at Craggy Gardens. The other argued and decided to retrace their route back to the gate. The boy that trudged to the gate was lucky to be met by a State Park Ranger. His friend's body was later found in the snow near Craggy Gardens his having died from exposure.

The moral is to never enter closed areas of the Blue Ridge Parkway when the gates are locked or even hanging open as seen in the photo above. You will just be asking for trouble well beyond any scolding or violation notice from a Park Ranger.

The ultimate responsibility for opening or closing sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway fall on the District Rangers. They are constantly monitoring weather conditions and forecasts during the winter to open sections of the park when ever possible. It is hard to please the public in this matter. I recall the time I received two Congressional complaints in one week. One was from a group of bear hunters complaining that we did not plow the road so it could be opened to allow access to their favorite hunting grounds. The other complaint was from cross country skiers complaining that we plowed to much and destroyed the pristine snow they needed for their skiing. I had to answer both groups concerns even though they were about 180 degrees apart.

The moral of that one is that you can not please all the people all the time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

More Park Ranger Winter Driving

There were always challenges to getting around in the mountains during the winter. On the Blue Ridge Parkway those areas that did not contain accesses for residents are not plowed and are closed with gates once the road becomes hazardous for vehicle traffic. Often times the road will be closed prior to a predicted storm so Park Rangers and other employees do not have to risk their necks to close the road to traffic. Our society has become so accustomed to roads being plowed that when they see an open road they assume it is safe to drive. Consequently, the gating of un-plowed stretches of the Parkway for public safety.

In 1993 one such closed and gated area stretched across Humpback Mountain in Virginia. The road through this section had been closed for several weeks due to snow and ice. There had been some thawing and then refreezing at night. We received a telephone report from a neighbor that from his house at the foot of the mountain he could see a vehicle over the side of the road along this section of the Parkway. We could not ignore this information since it was not uncommon for people to break open the gates or drive around them.

I found the southern gate to this section at Reeds Gap closed and locked with no indications that anyone had gone around the gate. The road surface was clear and dry at this point, so I opened the gate deciding to drive through to make sure someone had not come through from the other end or even weeks before the gates were closed and were stranded.

As the road surface increased in elevation the snow and ice built up under my wheels. It got so bad that I had my SUV in 4 wheel drive and eventually had to resort to the old Ranger trick of riding with my two right tires in the ditch line to maintain some control and traction. As I crossed the highest point of elevation the road was completely covered with solid ice several inches thick. Even with my right wheels in the ditch the going was slick.

I was doing fine until I reached the entrance to the Humpback Rocks Picnic Area which was on my right with its entrance gate closed and locked. Before me was a skating rink of ice going up to the gate and beyond. There was no way I could turn around. I was going to have to leave the ditch and cross the picnic area entrance road to get to the other side. I turned my vehicle slowly to the right inching toward the picnic area entrance gate attempting to get to the shortest distance across the ice to the ditch line on the other side. As soon as my right rear tire left the ditch for my dash across the ice, the vehicle lost all traction and immediately began sliding sideways to the left. All four wheels were spinning with no purchase. The ice was so solid they could not break through the ice to the road surface.

The vehicle continued to slide to the left and I felt it bump over a small traffic island (luckily the post for the stop sigh that normally stood in this island was gone)and entered the northbound lane of the Parkway. The road surface is canted at an angle for this curve in the road and my leftward sliding speed increased the wheels still spinning. I crossed the southbound lane and then felt the vehicle angle off the side of the mountain to my left. The SUV was now sitting at an almost 40 degree angle and still moving down an increasingly steep incline. I knew I would keep sliding picking up more speed until I was smashed against either rocks or a tree.

Suddenly I felt the vehicle jar as it came to an abrupt stop jerking me in my seat. The vehicle then slowly started to lean further to my left increasing the angle toward a impending flip down the mountain side as my right side wheels lifted into the air. The motion suddenly stopped and I felt I was hanging in mid air as on some higher plain a decision was in the making about my fate. Then slowly the vehicle creaked and slowly dropped to my right coming to rest on all four wheels.

It took a moment for me to let the air I was holding in my lungs release. Then I had to calm down my heart rate and remove the tunnel vision that a moment ago was focused on my demise. I was safe, uninjured, and the vehicle appeared to have survived. There was no way I was going to get the SUV back to the road. The nearest fellow Park Ranger was 70 miles away and only had a two wheel drive sedan to drive. Others offered to help, but did not know how to get near my location with our gates closed and side roads so complex you could not give directions by radio.

The temperatures were in the single digits with the windchill sending it below zero. I ended up putting on about every stitch of clothing I had in my vehicle and walking out 8 miles to Rockfish Gap. At one point the ice was so solid across the road with rock faces on both sides that I sat down and slid on my butt down the road.

As for the reported vehicle off the road. We never found one. It may have been reflections off the ice that the neighbor had seen. It took almost a week for the ice to bread up enough to get a wrecker in to pull my vehicle out. Believe it or not, it did not even have a scratch on it.

Writer's Conference

I will be attending the Roanoke Regional Writer's Conference at Hollins University on January 22 and 23rd. For more information see the link below.

Friday, January 8, 2010

NPR Interview on "A Park Ranger's Life"

A previously recorded interview about my book, "A Park Ranger's Life," for NPR station WVTF out of Roanoke, Virginia aired last night, January 7th. It is now available for listening through the Internet at the following site:

Studio_Virginia - 1.7.10
A Hollins University alum returns for a retrospective on his documentary films; the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference and a retired park ranger writes a book about his career.

I hope you enjoy the broadcast.

Monday, January 4, 2010

"A Park Ranger's Life" On NPR

My interview about my book, "A Park Ranger's Life:Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks'" will be broadcast on NPR's WVTF out of Roanoke, Virginia this Thursday, January 7th. The interview will be featured on the Studio Virginia Show hosted by Gene Marrano starting at 7:30 pm. A recording of the interview will also be available following the broadcast via the Internet at:

Shorter versions of the interview will be aired during the week on NPR news broadcasts.

WVFT is heard at the following locations:

Tune In (FM):
89.1 - Roanoke & Lynchburg

88.5 - Charlottesville

89.3 - Charlottesville, Waynesboro, Staunton & Harrisonburg

95.5 - Orange

93.9 - Lovingston

101.9 - Lexington

91.9 - Marion, Wytheville & Galax

90.1 - Abingdon, Bristol & Big Stone Gap

90.3 - Clintwood

90.9 - St. Paul

90.5 - Wise & Coeburn

91.7 - Norton

91.3 - Pound