Friday, February 26, 2010

A Retired Park Ranger Visiting National Parks

Retirement is a time of adjustment including some that cannot be anticipated. After working for more than thirty two years as a National Park Ranger in a profession that can be demanding and stressful, it took some time before I could visit and comfortably enjoy our parks. This was especially true of the Blue Ridge Parkway where I spent twenty seven years of my career.

Of almost four hundred parks and sites, The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited National Park Area in the system. In 2009 the Parkway welcomed almost 16 million visitors. In 1986 through 1988 visitation peaked at over 20 million. Dealing with those numbers of people visiting areas of significant and in some instances rare habitats presented a myriad of challenges. Working motor vehicle crashes, searches, fires, investigating crimes, dealing with victims, families of lost children, natural disasters, neighbor disputes, public hearings, budget shortfalls, equipment deficiencies, and long hours to name a few of such challenges.

Whenever our family took vacations and road trips we always tried to visit National Parks. As a family we enjoyed and learned from these experiences, but I have to admit that these were also job interviews and evaluations of locations we might want to move to in the future. My wife used to find it amusing that when we had family visit and I would take them on a tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway they learned about the nature and history of the area including where all the bad wrecks, suicides, fires, and crimes had occurred during my watch.

When I retired in January 2008 visiting the park still raised some of the past stresses and the under lying perception that I was still on duty and therefore responsible for all around me. I could not enjoy going to national parks as they were intended. After two years the separation in my mind has finally developed to where I can truly spend time on the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy its beauty and heritage without past personal experiences affecting my appreciation for what surrounds me.

I look forward to a future of visiting and enjoying the treasures of our National Parks and helping in any way I can to protect them for forthcoming generations.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

National Park Visitation Up for 2009

The figures are in and visitation to our National Parks was up 10 million visitors from 2008. The total visitation to the parks was 285 million people in 2009.

It is significant that even during periods of economic downturn people still find the time and exert the effort to visit National Parks. It was predicted by some that this could occur since individuals and families would seek out available and significant places to find solace during hard times.

This increase in visitation could be a strong indicator of the importance of our parks to the American people.

The increase in visitation also bodes well for the economy in that numerous studies have shown the impact park visits have on local businesses and communities. Many localities now depend on tourism dollars to keep them viable.

The Blue Ridge Parkway remained the most visited National Park Area with nearly 16 million visitors in 2009.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Park Rangers Around the World Face Challenges

Park Rangers around the world face different challenges. Here is one incident that occurred in Indonesia.

World news

Colleagues save Indonesian park ranger from Komodo dragon attack Marcelinus Subanghadir suffers cuts after reptile grabs him by right foot on Komodo island
Park Rangers around the world face different challenges. Here is one that occured in Indonesia.

A Komodo dragon attacked the park ranger on Komodo island, Indonesia. Photograph: Theo Allofs/Corbis

An Indonesian park ranger escaped an attack by a Komodo dragon – the world's largest lizard – when colleagues heard his cries for help and drove the creature away.

Marcelinus Subanghadir was outside his hut on Komodo island yesterday when the two metre-long (7ft) reptile grabbed his right foot, the Komodo National Park chief, Tamen Sitorus, said.

The dragon clamped Subanghadir's foot in its shark-like teeth until fellow rangers heard his screams and drove it away using wooden clubs.

Subanghadir, 34, suffered deep cuts and was recovering at a hospital on nearby Bali.

Komodo dragons are found in the wild only on the eastern Indonesian islands of Komodo, Padar and Rinca. The lizards, thought to number fewer than 4,000, can grow longer than three metres and weigh up to 70kg (154lb).

An eight-year-old boy was killed by one of the lizards on Komodo island in 2007.

• This article was amended on 23 February 2010. In the original, 70kg was said to equal 31lb. This has been corrected.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Freezing and Thawing in the Blue Ridge Mountains

We are finally seeing some thawing and melting of snows in the Blue Ridge Region. Storms and low temperatures have kept much of the Southern Appalachians locked in snow and ice since before Christmas. Brief respites of sunshine and temperatures above freezing are now producing running waters generated by melting snow.
This brings to mind the geologic processes that have produced the Blue Ridge Mountains as we know them. The freezing and thawing cycles through the millennia have served to create the many rock formations, rounded mountain tops, and rock strewn streams that provide the environment of some of the oldest mountains in the world.
During the winter water fills cracks and crevasses in large rocks and is often held in place by snow or ice. The water then freezes and expands producing pressure within the rock. This process occurs over and over again through the years eventually breaking the rock into pieces. These reduced rocks then fall down slope and the freezing and thawing process continues breaking the rocks down to sizes that can eventually be carried by rushing waters during floods further down the slope. These rocks sit in stream beds and drainages smoothed and polished to form the sparkling pebbled habitat for trout, macro invertebrates, and other aquatic life.
There is very little soil held on the steep mountain slopes of the Blue Ridge. This perpetual freezing and thawing is one of the contributors to the eroding of the mountains in the Southern Appalachians.
With the absence of vegetation and the surface covered with ice and snow many people think of winter as being a time of idleness in the mountain environment. In every season there are continuous natural processes occurring that produce or influence the habitats of the wild and their partners, the human race.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"A Park Ranger's Life" Book Signing In Roanoke, Virginia

I will be conducting a reading and book signing at the Barnes and Noble Tanglewood in Roanoke, Virginia on Saturday March 13. I will be at the store starting at 1pm. This event is also a fund raiser for the Thursday Morning Music Club.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Views On Firearms In National Parks

February 22 will be a day of change for our National Parks. As of that date rules prohibiting the possession of loaded and accessible firearms that date back to 1897 will be overturned. Due to a rider attached to the Credit Card Holders Rights Bill (Public Law 111-24, Section 512) the National Park Service and Department of the Interior will no longer have the authority to regulate the possession of firearms in National Parks. The carrying of firearms will now follow those of states and local governments. This brings about several possible points of confusion for park visitors and administrators.

No longer will there be one set of regulations pertaining to the possession of firearms in National Park Service Areas. Visitors will need to be aware of the regulations of the state where the park they are visiting is located. It becomes even more complex when parks are in more than one state or regulations and ordinances are not uniform throughout a state.

An example is the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia has what are considered liberal firearms laws. By state law you can carry a firearm as long as it is in the open and visible. To carry one concealed you do need a permit. Virginia law does allow counties to adopt more restrictive ordinances within their jurisdictions. Consequently, on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia visitors could be permitted to carry loaded rifles and shotguns in their cars except while traveling through sections of the park located in Roanoke County where loaded long guns in vehicles are prohibited.

There are those in the state of Maine that are concerned about firearms in National Parks such as Acadia. There is a movement to pass a state law that prohibits or limits firearms in parks. If passed this law would affect enforcement in both state and Federal parks since state law is now the basis for regulating guns in National Parks.

Public Law 111-24, Section 512 also conflicts with existing Federal laws such as those that prohibit the possession of firearms in or on Federal facilities. This is commonly used to provide protection for Post Offices, Court Houses, military bases, and Federal buildings. Are not National Park Visitor Centers, Offices, and Concessions buildings federal facilities? Perhaps even the parks themselves could be considered under this law.

The new law prevents the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior from enforcing any regulations that prohibit the possession of firearms. Regulations will still be in place that prohibit the carrying and use of firearms.

If you are confused by all this, you are not the only ones. It will take some time and education to smooth out the rough spots to interpret and enforce this new myriad of laws and regulations.

Reader Review for "A Park Ranger's Life"

These kind words were left by a recent reader on the Facebook Fan Page for "A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks."

I just finished the book this week and I really enjoyed it. This book was very inspiring because I want to become a NPS ranger when I get out of college. It gave me a better understanding of the NPS and what it takes to be a ranger with this agency. Thanks for writing such a good book.

See the Facebook Fan Page information in the right hand column of this blog.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Book Signing In Staunton, Virginia

The book signing at Bookworks in Staunton, Virginia that was snowed out on February 6th has been rescheduled for March 6th. I will be at the store from 1pm on. I hope to meet any readers from the Augusta and Staunton areas.

"A Park Ranger's Life" Goes Digital

The book A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks is going digital. The book is in the process of being formated for the Amazon Kindle Reader and will be available in that format soon.

Check back here for the exact release date.

Coalition of National Park Retirees Speaks Out on Firearms Regulations

For more views on the issues of firearms being permitted in National Parks see the below new release:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

History of Firearms Regulations in National Parks

For those interested in learning more about the history of firearms regulations in National Parks, the National Park Service has made available on a pdf website a document that covers this topic.

It is interesting to note that there were no uniformed regulations that affected all National Park Areas until 1936. Prior to that time regulations were approved for individual parks. The first recorded regulation that prohibited the possession of uncased and loaded firearms in a National Park dates back to 1897 in Yellowstone. This predated the National Park Service (est. 1916) and was enforced by U.S. Army Troops stationed in the park.

If you are interested in learning more, you can go to the site at:

Law Suit Over Firearms Carry in Tennessee State Park

I found this article of interest since February 22 is the date that possession of firearms becomes much more liberalized in our National Parks.

By Clay Carey • THE TENNESSEAN • February 10, 2010

A Middle Tennessee man has sued a Nashville park ranger, alleging the officer was unfairly harsh when he saw the man carrying a large handgun in a park.

Leonard Embody says he was within his rights to carry an AK-47 handgun at Radnor Lake Park on Dec. 20. He has a permit to carry the weapon, according to the federal lawsuit.
Embody says that park manager Steve Ward pointed a shotgun at him and handcuffed him as Embody was walking through the park. In his lawsuit, Embody says he was detained by police for more than three hours in all, longer than police should have needed to determine whether he was committing a crime.
Last year, state legislators passed a law that made it legal for permit holders to carry guns in Tennessee parks.
Ward did not return a message left at the park Tuesday afternoon. Meg Lockhart, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environment and Conservation, would not comment directly on the lawsuit.
In a statement, the department said it was "dismayed that someone would carry a weapon into a state park seemingly with the intent of testing authorities and the boundaries of the new gun law, while alarming others who want to enjoy the park."
Embody, 37, who lives in Brentwood, could not be reached Tuesday. His attorney did not return a call for comment.
Before his encounter with Ward, Embody says in his lawsuit, a park ranger saw him with the gun, asked him about it and let him continue on his way. The lawsuit says Ward confiscated his gun after ordering him to the ground.
Metro police arrived a few minutes later and told Ward that Embody wasn't breaking the law, but he says in his suit Ward held him for an hour longer. He says he was given his gun and ammunition back and released after he protested an arrest citation officers tried to get him to sign.
Metro police said Embody was never arrested or cited.
Photo of Firearm Carried by Embody

This same individual had been stopped several other times by other agencies for carrying weapons in public. In each case he was carrying an unusual firearm that drew peoples attention. One theory is that he is doing this to test law enforcement officers in enforcement of new laws. Hopefully situations such as these will not occur after February 22 in our National Parks.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

National Park Service Careers

Although this blog is focused on the life and career of National Park Rangers, there are many other career opportunities with the National Park Service. Park Rangers make up a rather small percentage of the total work force that it takes to manage and preserve our parks. It takes many professions, skills, and backgrounds to keep a National Park functioning. National Park personnel are commonly divided into functional divisions where you will find some of the jobs simplistically described here.

Natural Resource Managers – Employees are needed with backgrounds in sciences such as biology, botany, fisheries, wildlife, and other areas related to our environment and are found in Resource Management positions throughout the National Park Service. They are responsible for such varied activities as inventorying and monitoring resources, developing management plans for endangered and threatened species, educating park managers and the public of threats to resources, and coordinating research in parks by academic institutions.
Cultural Resource Managers – These employees are responsible for maintaining the accurate cultural integrity of park resources whether it is a historic structure, museum collection, or historic landscape. Positions such as Landscape Architects, Curators, Historic Structures Specialists, writers, and historians can be found working in the National Park Service.
Maintenance and Engineering – The infrastructure and visitor facilities need to be designed, constructed and maintained. Employees who work in this field run from the people who mow grass to those who engineer and design roads and facilities. Without these people visitors would not have any roads to drive, trails to hike, or visitor centers to stop at to learn about a park’s resources.
Park and Community Planners- Planning the development, protection, and design of National Parks are done by employees who are historic and landscape architects, exhibit designers, artists, writers, researchers, and trained and educated park and community planners. Some of the larger parks have staff members that work in these functions. The National Park Service also has centers for planning and design in Denver, Colorado and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia where employees are assigned to projects in parks throughout the system.
Information Technology – The National Park Service like any government agency or organization today depends on computer technology for communications both internally and externally to the public. Individuals with backgrounds in computers, geographic information systems, radio systems, and telecommunications are necessary to keep the lines of communication open and up to date.
Administration – There are also employees who work in such fields as human resources, procurement, contracting, budget, business management, and clerical fields that provide the support needed to keep our parks functioning.

This is just a brief example of the diversity of jobs available and needed to keep our National Parks preserved and open to the public. Although I like to think that park rangers are the most important, they could not function without the support and team work of many other behind the scenes employees dedicated to the same mission established by the Organic Act of 1916.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Park Ranger Application of Leadership

A successful National Park Ranger must master the art and science of leadership. Once an individual develops those leadership attributes that serve them well, a park ranger then needs to adapt the appropriate techniques and style of leadership for ever changing and developing situations. Every day of a park ranger’s life is unpredictable and can be instantly changed by the unpredictable moods of weather, natural events, and the most impulsive, human behavior.
In addition to being a leader amongst peers or subordinates during daily work operations, a park ranger needs to exude leadership to groups such as park visitors, volunteers, cooperating agencies, victims, patients, witnesses, reporting parties and others. Situations may include leading visitors on a guided walk, managing a search or rescue operation, responding to a Wildland fire and coordinating responding resources, managing the scene of motor vehicle crashes, or meeting with the public to explain and gain support of park practices. Each situation calls for different sets of leadership skills to maintain control, get the appropriate message across, prevent injury or resource damage, and focus all parties toward a common goal.
As a District Ranger I attempted to include members of my staff in the decision making and priority setting processes whenever possible. This included active use of the leadership skills of:

Listening (which I had to work at) to employees concerns and suggestions before making decisions
Communication keeping them informed as to decisions that affect their work and well being
Empathy with individual needs that relate to their performing their duties

In an emergency situation such as a wildfire or search decisions need to be made quickly and decisively in some instances to prevent injury or possible death to individuals. This eliminates the time it would take to discuss and be inclusive of others in the decision making process. Other skills need to be emphasized:

Proactive and timely decisions and actions need to be made based on your experience to deal with problems before they happen.
Setting the example through attention and staying the course of the emergency
Making sure that those involved in working in emergency situations know that you have their safety and well being in mind at all times.
Know when to exert authority to ensure instructions and decisions are followed through on by others.

These changes in style in leading of personnel and decision making processes will be accepted by peers and subordinates if the foundation of leadership is established on a daily basis. Remember, people are not automatically going to follow you toward a common goal merely because you are placed in charge by your organization.

Shenandoah National Park Selected One of Best National Parks to Bring Your Dog

According to Hamiliton Beach Ratings and Reviews Shenandoah National Park is the second best of five National Parks to visit with your dog. For the complete list and more information go to:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Our National Parks: An American Legacy

Exploritas, Adventures in Lifelong Learning (also known as Elderhostel) will sponsor a Day of Discovery On Campus program entitled “Our National Parks: An American Legacy” on March 12 at Kendal in Lexington, Virginia.

Supporters hail them as our best idea. Critics consider them elitist and out of
date. Thus are America’s national parks still divided in a tug-of-war between
progress and preservation. How did we get the parks? Why should we keep
them? Or are they indeed an anachronism for the rich? Only because our
forebears persevered in tackling those questions do the national parks still

Bruce W. Bytnar, thirty two year veteran of the National Park Service and author of the book A Park Ranger’s Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks, will serve as facilitator for this program. As a National Park Ranger Mr. Bytnar was a speaker in demand by schools and public organizations presenting on such topics as careers as a park ranger, National Park History, traveling in national parks, threats to our parks, hiking and camping, wildlife, and storytelling. In addition Mr. Bytnar served the National Park Service as an instructor on the regional and national level in resource protection, Wildland fire fighting, Incident Command, firearms, leadership, team building, communications, and meeting management.

For more information or to register for this educational experience, go to:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

National Park Ranger Leadership Basics

There are many skills and techniques that one can use to develop their role as a leader. The critical ability is to know when to apply which aptitude to make use of based on personalities, emotions, and the specific situation.
Here are a few key skills that served me well during my thirty two plus year career as a National Park Ranger.

Listen – Listen to those that are under your responsibly or peers and follow up on their concerns.

Communicate – Make yourself available and share information with others. Do no attempt to hold power over others by not sharing information. Unless it is sensitive or personal information, keep your fellow workers informed. Clearly communicate the goals and objectives for your group.

Empathy – Show an honest interest in those you are responsible for.

Take Care of Your People – Be sure those for who you are responsible for know you are looking out for their best interests. This could include information, supplies and equipment, safety, payroll, or attempting to meet their personal needs.

Set the Example – Being a leader means you are the last one in line. Be sure those you are responsible for are taken care of first. Never ask a person to do something you are not willing to do or help with yourself.

Maintain Responsibility – Never attempt to blame short falls or problems on others. Take the responsibility that goes with the job.

Praise Others – Never fail to give praise when warranted. At times, you may find yourself searching for something to praise. This positive reinforcement goes a long way toward establishing your credibility.

Proactive – Always try to be thinking ahead and take care of problems before they arise.

Know When and How to Exert Authority – Step in to take charge in mattes of safety, objective status, harassment or prejudice, or employee morale.

Monday, February 1, 2010

National Park Rangers and Leadership

• Leadership is the activity of influencing people to strive willingly for group objectives. - Terry, G.R., Management of Organizational Behavior, p. 90

There are many academic definitions of leadership. I believe that the one above most concisely captures the essence of this many times attribute. Leadership is an essential skill for a successful National Park Ranger. Leadership for a park ranger must be learned, flexible, and adaptable to a varied spectrum of individuals and situations.

One needs to understand that leadership is not only established by administrative position. Being a supervisor or manager does not necessarily mean a person is making use of leadership skills and techniques. Often times individuals fall into the trap that they are leaders and should be followed based solely on their position in an organization.

Leaders can be found at all levels of an organization. The leader may be an employee that others look to for guidance or example. Here are some of the sources of power people use to influence others;

• Control of Information - to share or not

• Referent Power - what an individual stands for or symbolizes

• Expert Power - expertise, knowledge, and experience

• Reward Power - control of positive rewards

• Coercive Power - control of punishments

• Legitimate Power - organizational right as established by the institutions values

If you take an honest look at those you have worked with in the past that you thought of as good leaders, you may be able to trace the attributes that made you respect them to one or more of the above sources.

Not every person in every situation reacts positively to the same leadership styles and techniques. The successful National Park Ranger must become a master at assessing a situation and applying the appropriate tools from their leadership tool bag to control or direct a group toward a common result.

More on leadership to come.