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.