Saturday, July 31, 2010

Questions From Readers

Occasionally I get questions from readers in relation to park rangering.  I thought I would share some of these with you since these questions may be of some interest.

Mr. Bytnar:

I have previous experience in the NPS as a seasonal park ranger (interpretation) for 6 years. I now work as a law enforcement ranger in State government. If I were to transfer to the NPS, is there a way to transfer my experience in law enforcement with me into the NPS ? I know the cut off age is 37, I only 40, how do they work this out if someone has already been through a State LE academy with a commission, and transfers over to NPS. Do they still attend FLETC ? or can they take a few FLETC courses on top of their State commission to qualify for working NPS LE ?


I checked with a friend at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and he gave me the following updated information.

At present the National Park Service has a shortened Law Enforcement training program (called a Bridge) at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center for those transferring into the NPS from non-land management Federal Agencies.  State law enforcement academies do not qualify for this Bridge program so if a person is hired from a state park to a national park they will have to complete the full FLETC training academy.

The good news is that the experience and training a person would get in a state park system would make them very attractive to someone doing the hiring for a National Park Ranger position.

The second issue in this question deals with the age limits for law enforcement and fire fighter positions within the National Park Service.  A new employee must be 37 years of age our younger to enter on duty for these jobs.  This is due to retirement being mandatory at the age of 57.  There are rumors that this age limit may be increased to accommodate long serving military veterans to enter into Federal law enforcement professions.  There is no guarantee that this will happen.

Note that this age requirement and additional fitness and health standards do not apply to other positions within the National Park Service.  Interpretative, Resource Management, Administrative, Maintenance and other positions do not have any such standards to meet upon hiring.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Emails from Fans

I have received several very kind emails from readers commenting on my book "A Park Ranger's Life."  Here are some samples of what people are saying.

My neighbor loaned me your book. I've read it cover to cover this weekend. It is educational, entertaining, and sometimes chilling. Thank you for devoting your life to the career of Park Ranger. I'm so pleased that you are now a member of the Rockbridge Community.

I just wanted to say I am enjoying your book, A Park Ranger's Life!  Thank you for writing it to 'enlighten' so many of us.  As Art Linkletter said, "People are funny."  I purchased it at the Peaks of Otter lodge and am grateful for the opportunity to meet you and read about such an 'unboring' life!  It is very enjoyable reading. Thanks for all you did as a Park Ranger!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Visitors Injured By Wildlife In National Parks

Just last week CNN Headline News featured a viewer video of a woman being chased and struck by a bison at Yellowstone National Park.  In the video you can see that the bison is meandering across a paved parking lot minding his own business when a friend of the woman keeps approaching closer and closer to get a better look.  The woman, even knowing better, followed her friend to get a better video.

To view the video in its entirety, go to the YouTube link below:

You will note in the video that the bison gave several warnings that he was uncomfortable with the approach of humans.  First he tried to move away and place a tree line between the threat and himself.  When the person still came on through the trees the bison then lifted his head and looked at him with his head moving up and down.  The bison then kicked his heals up lowering his head and the woman still kept filming him.  Finally the wild animal stressed by the perceived threat had to revert to flight or fight mode.  Since the threat had kept moving toward him even after he attempted to calmly make flight from the area he most likely felt he had no choice but to fight and attack.

These same behaviors can been seen in any wildlife you may encounter in a National Park whether it is a bison, bear, deer, or chipmunk.  Always give wildlife their space.  Revel in the opportunity to view animals in their native habitat, but do not crowd or stress them into instinctual reactions.

This incident once again illustrates the lesson I have told several times on this blog and in my book, "A Park Ranger's Life", that park visitors should always enjoy viewing wildlife from afar.

Law Enforcement Officer Deaths Up 38% for 2010

According to the website maintained by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (, deaths of officers is up 38% over 2009.  Here is a breakdown by state:

Law Enforcement Officer Fatalities
as of July 26
 20102009% Change
Total Fatalities9468+38%
Traffic Incidents4634+35%
Other Causes148+75%

2010 Fatalities - Top States
Illinois5New Jersey3
Georgia4South Carolina3
Arkansas3Six States2
Ten States1
Federal Agencies: 5
U.S. Territories: 3
Note: All data are preliminary and are subject to change.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book Signing at the Peaks of Otter - A Great Evening

The book signing at the Peaks of Otter Lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway this past Friday was a success and a good time for all. I got to meet with several people who had already enjoyed my book and many other new and future fans.

My highlights as an author for the evening were when a reader named Ben stopped by to have his previously purchased book signed and share with me how much he enjoyed the book. Ben also asked several great questions about changes I had seen in the Park Service and which supervisors had the most positive impact on my career.

Another family bought a copy of my book and went back to their Lodge room to rest up before attacking the restaurant buffet. While in their room they read two chapters aloud to their young daughters. The entire family enjoyed the reading so much that they came back to my table to share their enthusiasm and have the girls’ photo taken with me.

I also got the chance to catch up with some old friends and even had two guest appearances by still working park rangers from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

For my wife and I the evening was made complete by enjoying the impressive seafood buffet put on by the Peaks of Otter Lodge before heading home.

I hope to return to the Peaks of Otter Lodge for another book event in the fall. In the mean time, visitors can still find signing copies of my book, A Park Ranger’s Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks in the Lodge Gift Shop.
The Peaks of Otter Lodge Gift Shop and an early guest

With Park Ranger Zeph Cunningham with whom I spent many exciting ranger experiences with during my career.

Speaking with an enthusiastic fan who had already read my book

My partner in crime for 33 years, Linda helped work our table and spoke with visitors throughout the evening. One couple bought a copy because they were impressed with the husband and wife teamwork that evening. I would not have written this book nor had the career I did without the support and love of Linda.

Friday, July 23, 2010

World Ranger Day - July 31

The following information is from the International Ranger Federation.

What is World Ranger Day?

World Ranger Day is observed on the 31st of July each year.
It is the day to commemorate the many Rangers killed or injured in the line of duty.
It is also the day to celebrate Rangers and the work they do to protect the world’s natural and cultural treasures.

World Ranger Day is promoted by the 54 member associations of the International Ranger Federation (IRF), by our partner the Thin Green Line Foundation, and by individuals who support the work of Rangers and the IRF.

The first World Ranger Day was observed in 2007 on the 15th Anniversary of the IRF.

How can I celebrate World Ranger Day?

You can celebrate World Ranger Day in a number of ways:

Light a candle and observe a minute’s silence to think about those Rangers who have died in the line of duty

Plant a tree as a living tribute to Rangers around the world

Host a screening of the international Ranger documentary The Thin Green Line

Take the time to talk with park visitors and partners about the work of Rangers around the world

Host a special public event in or near your park dedicated to the work of Rangers in your particular area and highlight the role they share with Rangers around the world

Meet with your local communities, partners, and support groups to talk about the work of the IRF and how they can help support Rangers and protected areas

Visit a school – engage young people in the future

of world parks, biodiversity, and conservation

Invite a Ranger from another park or country to join you and your co-workers for a week in your park, encompassing the 31st of July

Rangers may wish to meet with fellow park staff and/or your boss to discuss World Ranger Day and the role of Rangers, including the work of the IRF

Seek partners and donors interested in supporting and sustaining the work of your protected area and the IRF

Write an article for your local newspaper about Rangers and the significance of World Ranger Day

Present an award to a Ranger in your park or ranger association who has made a special contribution to the management of protected areas, their association or the IRF

Lobby your state or national government to establish a National Ranger Day

Have fun! Celebrate your role in protecting world’s natural and cultural treasures

We can do nothing to bring the fallen Rangers back, but we can honour their memory and ensure their sacrifice is never forgotten.

For more information about the International Ranger Federation go to:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Possible Gang Related Shooting in State Park

This past Saturday night a shooting incident occurred at Lake Sammamish State Park in Washington State.  Authorities believe that it could have been gang related.  Two people were killed and four left injured.

For details check out the following link:

A Reader's Review for "A Park Ranger's Life"

Right On The Mark

Bruce Bytnar's book A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Park presents an accurate and concise picture of one U.S. Park Ranger's life. If you are looking for a reality TV show turn your tube back on and stick with your illusions.

The author has honestly communicated what Rangers experience in the course of their career. The exciting, the fascinating, the tragic, the humorous, the mundane, the toll on self and family, and yes, even the bureaucratic meddling. Few if any Rangers live a life of constant danger, intrigue, and excitement. This is what makes Bytnar's book so valuable, he tells it like it is - not the way the public and the uninformed TV watchers think a Ranger's life should be. Perhaps this is why 3 universities have adopted this book as required reading in their seasonal ranger training programs.

If you have ever contemplated being a ranger or want to know how U.S Park Rangers really live, buy and read this book. 

Another Reader Review for "A Park Ranger's Life"

 the green and gray in living color, July 19, 2010

In this collection of entertaining, informative, and sometimes eye-opening stories, retired U.S. Park Ranger Bruce Bytnar shares with us his perspective of the varied experiences and responsibilities that come along with the privilege of wearing the National Park Service uniform. As you read this book, you get a front seat ride-along with law enforcement rangers in different park units, you feel the enchantment of a special interpretive program, you sense the urgency of a search and rescue mission, you get an idea of the dangers associated with wildland fire, and you may begin to comprehend what it takes to be trained and ready to perform any of these duties at any time! I enjoyed this book very much and have given several as gifts to my friends. Recommended!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Preservation vs. Enjoyment Of Our National Parks

When the concept of national parks was established it was recognized that human impacts were having a negative effect on the fragile wild and historic resources deemed significant to our national being.  This was the simplified reasoning behind the concept that protection and preservation of these areas was needed.  The threats of unchecked public use, consumption, and individual gain would irreversibly damage these resources were very real. 

The Organic Act of 1916 established the National Park Service and handed the first such agency in the world a conflicting mission of preservation and public enjoyment.  Since that time the National Park Service has been faced with the imperfect balancing act of which charge to favor.  Do you exclude or restrict certain park uses to preserve resources or do you take a chance and allow visitor enjoyment of said resources at the risk of losing irreplaceable sources of human experiences.  Yes experiences.  Are not visitor experiences also a valuable resource of our National Parks?

Two relatively new examples of visitor enjoyment of parks that have made the news are snowmobiles and personal water craft (or as most refer to them “jet skis”).  Although these devices provide enjoyment for those individuals interested in using them, they negatively affect the enjoyment of others who have to experience their noise and trails or wakes.  It has also been shown that both forms of transportation adversely affect wildlife and other resources where used.   As a result the National Park Service has attempted several forms of regulation to control or limit the use of such machines.

Such situations often result in special interest groups focused on local tourism, economic development, or manufacturing (such as businesses that produce jet skis and snowmobiles) lobbying politicians and filing law suits.  On the opposite side when the National Park Service is influenced by political pressures and favors use over preservation environmental organizations and groups whose favored activities would be affected by the new changes will file law suits.

This balancing act can be complex and painful.  When decisions about how to manage our parks affect the economies of local communities, access to areas by physically challenged visitors, and even jobs in manufacturing; emotions fueled personal interests can run high.  Park managers are constantly placed in the middle of these often times no win situations.

The courts involvement becomes inevitable.  One such case occurred recently related to personal water craft use at Gulf Islands National Seashore and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  In this instance the Federal court found that preservation and conservation take precedence over visitor enjoyment.  For more detailed information on the findings of this court you can go to:

Personally, after almost thirty three years working on National Park Service areas as a park ranger I lean toward the preservation for future generations’ side of the agency’s mission.  How do you feel?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Death In National Parks

It was a hard reality for me when I had to first cope with death as a National Park Ranger.  The truth is that people do die in National Parks from accidents, suicides, and occasionally crime.  The following headlines are from the July 10th National Park Service Morning Report.

Yosemite NP
Climber Killed In Fall From Eichorn Pinnacle

Padre Island NS
Woman Drowns Off South Beach

Golden Gate NRA
Suicide Victim Found Below Muir Beach Overlook

Grand Canyon NP
Moran Point
Body Found Below

This is just one day's reports.  These traumas are seen all to
 regularly in our parks and ParkRangers and other National 
Park Service employees have to learn to deal with these 
situations both operationally and emotionally.

You can learn more about such incidents in my book "A Park 
Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting our National Parks." 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"A Park Ranger's Life" On The Radio in West Virginia

I was interviewed today about "A Park Ranger's Life" for the West Virginia Outdoors radio program.  The show is hosted by Chris Lawrence and broadcast throughout the state of West Virginia on Saturday mornings between 7 and 8am.  This interview is scheduled to be run on July 17.

You can stream the show through the internet at:

For more information about the show you can go to:

"A Park Ranger's Life" at The Peaks Of Otter

On Friday July 23 I will be at the Peaks of Otter Lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia to sign copies of my book "A Park Ranger's Life" and answer any questions folks may have about my career, park rangers, or the National Park Service.  The Peaks of Otter is within the Ridge District of the Parkway where I retired as District Ranger in 2008.  The event will start at 4pm and will be located in the lobby of the Lodge.

Friday evenings the Lodge serves their well known buffet in the main dining room.  The Lodge has rooms available and the campground across Abbott Lake are available for overnight guests.  The opportunities for great food, breathtaking scenery, hiking trails, and good reading and conversation could make this an enjoyable evening to remember.

For more information you can contact the Peaks of Otter Lodge at 1 800 542 5927.1.800.542.5927

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Road Named for Murdered National Park Ranger

Twenty years ago National Park Ranger Robert McGhee was shot and killed in the line of duty at Gulf Islands National Seashore.  Unbeknown to McGhee, he stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation that was occupied by two escaped convicts who shot and killed him.

On July 1 in Ocean Springs, Mississippi a road was named after Robert McGhee to commemorate his sacrifice to protect us all.  For details you can check the links below.

July 4th A Park Ranger’s Perspective

July 4th brings visions of family gatherings, cookouts, and fireworks in celebration of our Nation’s birth. For thirty three years as a National Park Ranger July 4th only meant extra hours of work, details away from home and family, and dealing with potentially life threatening situations. Visitation on the July 4th weekend is generally one of the busiest in parks and is compounded by the vast number of large scale events that are planned in such areas as Independence Hall in Philadelphia, The Statue of Liberty, The Mall in Washington, D.C., Mount Rushmore, and the Arch in St. Louis. All these locations and many more are managed and under the responsibility of the National Park Service.

My first experience with National Park July 4th celebrations was at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in 1975. This was the preparatory year for the larger scale events to take place during the Bicentennial of 1976. Fort McHenry was the location of a two day 48 hour entertainment extravaganza featuring nationally known celebrities hosted by Ed McMahon and televised throughout the world. Crowds at any one time were estimated at 75,000 people. There were numerous incidents such as a drunk that was going around kicking sleeping people in the face with a following crowd egging him on, purse and back pack thefts, drunks trying to scale the Fort walls, injuries from fireworks being set off by the crowd, and more.

The following year there was a larger event at Fort McHenry that was followed by a visit to Independence National Historic Park by Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain.

I spent numerous July 4th holidays in Philadelphia assisting with security during large scale events that drew huge crowds. One year thousands of people tried to leave the area at once following the fireworks display. The new parking garage in the park did not have sufficient ventilation to handle the carbon monoxide produced from so many vehicles being started at once. Many people became overcome with the fumes and were unconscious. Before the fire department could work their way through the throngs of people and traffic, Park Rangers had to rescue as many as possible without respiratory equipment. Several park employees became overcome and almost lost consciousness.

On another July 4th at Independence NHP an audience approaching 70,000 people was crowded in the park enjoying a performance by the Four Seasons. A huge thunderstorm came out of nowhere and people stampeded immediately trying to all get out of the rain at once. A strong gust of wind then blew down the scaffolding and lighting onto the stage and the band. I was stationed across the street behind the stage at the Liberty Bell Pavilion. My partner and I had to push our way upstream through the panic stricken throng to get to the stage. A screaming woman grabbed me and shouted that her friend was having a seizure and was being trampled. I was able to recruit some others to link arms and provide protection for the patient as another was sent in an attempt to find an EMT. I had to shout and threaten the crazed crowd as the patient continued to thrive on the ground. Finally help arrived and I could move onto the debacle on the stage.

Following the attacks of 9/11 there was legitimate fear of additional terrorist attacks during July 4th events. Since the National Park Service hosts some of the most visible of such events, security concerns were elevated. During this period I was called upon to assist on the national incident command (Area Command for you ICS trained folks) in Washington, D.C. to coordinate security resources and intelligence nationwide. This necessitated my being away from home for a month including all the planning prior to the July 4th Holiday.

But even those parks that do not host major events feel the effects of July 4th. Campgrounds are generally full, a lot of alcohol is consumed by visitors, and in many instances park ranger staffs are reduced due to personnel being drawn to increase security at the major events.

These are just a few of my National Park Service July 4th memories.
On assignment at the Statue of Liberty July 4th 1986

Now that I am retired I no longer have to worry for months about the upcoming July 4th holiday or where I will be. I can actually attend fireworks displays and not be concerned about where people are going to park, do they have enough fire suppression equipment on hand, will the ambulances have access to evacuate injured people, who is going to try to blow us all up this year, and the list goes on and on.

So as I sit back and enjoy my holiday with family and friends, my hat is off to all the hard working National Park Service employees out there away from their families making this July 4th exciting, entertaining, and most importantly SAFE.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Access Trail in the Works at The Peaks Of Otter

Eleven years ago planning began to construct a trail at the Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway that would be accessible to those with physical challenges.  This handicap accessible trail came close to reality at least two times, but at the last minute funding was pulled at the Regional or Washington level.

Funding through a partnership with Nature Valley, the National Park Foundation, and the National Park Service is now making this trail possible.  Work is being done by The Blue Ridge Parkway’s Maintenance Staff with assistance from a crew provided by the Student Conservation Corps (SCA).  Footers are now being placed to support a boardwalk along one edge of Abbott Lake.  Once completed persons confined to wheelchairs or unsure of their footing will be able to venture away from the paved parking lots and sidewalks of the Peaks of Otter Lodge and travel through the forest and field edge of Abbott Lake.  This area is abundant in wildlife such as whitetail deer, birds, bear, and frogs.

The trail will be completed in sections with the first part hoping to be available by this fall.

The Blue Ridge Parkway - Apple Orchard Falls Trail

These are scenes from a family hike taken on July 2 on the Apple Orchard Falls Trail just north of the Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

The Apple Orchard Falls Trail can be found at the Sunset Fields Overlook at Mile Post 79 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trail is a moderately steep downhill hike for approximately 1.4 miles to the falls. The hiker will then have to retrace their steps up hill to return to their car. You should allow at least 2 hours for a leisurely hike. Several other trails can be accessed from this area including the Appalachian Trail.
The area is a beautiful mixture of habitats and abundant in deer, bear, and turkey. As you progress down slope you will detect a thickening of vegetation and increase in humidity as the springs along the mountain side feed into a drainage producing the stream leading you to the falls.
The trail head is on National Park Service land, but the hiker will spend most of this hike on lands managed by the US Forest Service as part of the George Washington/Jefferson National Forests.

Find the Frogs

Can you find the frogs in this photo taken yesterday at Abbott Lake in the Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway?

What species are they?