Monday, March 29, 2010

The Importance of Shoes to Park Rangers

We all take the shoes we wear for granted.

One of the early questions that park rangers ask reporting parties about persons that are lost in the woods is, “What type of shoes are they wearing?” Most family members and friends have absolutely no idea. Why would such a simple question be so important?

The type of footwear can be an indicator of how prepared the lost person is for the terrain in which they are lost. A person wearing hiking boots on steep rocky ground is going to be able to cover more distance than a person wearing flip flops. A person in sturdy walking shoes is less likely to be injured by a fall or twisted ankle.

National Park and public trails can be used by many people over a given period of time. Should man trackers used to locate the lost person, shoe size and tread can be crucial to determining whether they have found clues leading to the right person. It is easy to go off on the wrong route if you do not have specific information to verify the foot print left by the person you are seeking. Just having the size, make, and style of shoe will allow investigators to access data files to obtain diagrams of tread designs.

After being worn for even a short period of time, shoe soles develop scratches and marks that make them as distinct as fingerprints. It is helpful to have a print of a lost person’s specific shoes. Before going on a family hike or camping trip have your family members while wearing their hiking shoes step on an unlined piece of paper. This will leave a pretty distinct outline of the tread on their specific shoes. Keep this on file so it can be accessed for emergencies.

Another reason to have information on shoes is in the event of a kidnapping. It is a common technique for kidnappers of children to quickly change the victim’s clothes so they do not match the initial descriptions that the witnesses give. This aids the criminals in leaving the area of the crime. The one article of clothing that is difficult to change is shoes. Be sure to be aware of what shoes your child is wearing and make periodic shoe prints on paper to file with fingerprints.

These simple steps can assist park rangers and other agencies to come to the assistance of lost or kidnapped persons quickly and effectively.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Park Ranger’s Bane – Littering

Park Rangers and other National Park Service employees dedicate and at times risk their lives to protect the resources within our parks. Nothing can get up the dander like someone abusing or defacing those resources. It is unbelievable how often people leave their trash spread along road sides, picnic areas, and campgrounds. We often half joked on the Blue Ridge Parkway that you could tell what beer was on sale by the display of cans and bottles along the road on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The National Park Service spends millions of dollars a year picking up and disposing of trash.

The idea that an individual could just toss their trash out the window of a moving car is incomprehensible to the type of person who aspires to be a park ranger. This lack of understanding of motive is compounded exponentially when that littering occurs within a National Park.

A moment that makes any park ranger’s day is when they actually catch a litterer red handed in the act. A park ranger hears some outrageous reactions from these violators.

One night while working at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park I backed my patrol car into the entrance of a picnic area on Lee Drive. I was sitting there with my dome light on filling out some paperwork on a violation notice I had issued earlier when I saw a vehicle coming down Lee Drive at a high rate of speed. The vehicle started to slow as it approached and I assumed that they saw my car. As the vehicle passed the driver tossed a half gallon wine bottle out the window striking the front bumper on my car. I immediately pulled out with my emergency lights on and stopped the vehicle. I approached the driver and asked him if he knew why I had stopped him. He said he had no idea why.

I then asked him if he threw a wine bottle from his car.

His answer shocked me, “Yea I did. So what’s the big deal? Someone will pick it up.”

No matter how I tried, I could not convince him that he had done something wrong and that it was a violation of the law to litter. He left with several violation notices, angry for being hassled. I cannot remember if he ever paid his fines.

Through my career I was surprised to find the response I heard that night to be a common theme among litterers. Numerous times I was told by people I witnessed throwing out trash in parks that it was not important because, “Someone will pick it up.” They resented being charged with what they considered no violation of the law.

Just another example of the interesting types of people a park ranger gets to meet during their career.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Question for Readers


What would you like to hear about on this blog?

Do you have questions about;

National Park Rangers

The Parks

The Blue Ridge Parkway

My Book, "A Park Ranger's Life"

Publishing a book


Or any other topic of interest to you.

Send your questions either through the comments tab at the end of this entry or you can email them to:

I look forward to hearing from you.

Bruce W. Bytnar

Monday, March 22, 2010

Virginia Festival of the Book - Publishers Day

We had an exciting day at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was interesting to meet and talk with readers, fellow writers, and book store owners. Here are a few scenes from the event at the Omni Hotel.

National Park Rangers – Experts?

The commonly held public conception that park rangers are experts on every topic under the sun is a bit of a compliment to National Park Rangers. Park Rangers are considered a sort of walking encyclopedia of information. Many times these expectations become a bit unrealistic.

Several years ago our telephone rang after two in the morning. I groggily picked up the receiver thinking that I would be speaking to the park dispatcher, but it turned out to be one of our neighbors. He told me that he had just been outside feeding his dogs (my first unclear thought was, what was he doing feeding dogs at 2 a.m.) when he heard a loud grunting sound from the woods next to our house. He thought it was a bear. The neighbor was concerned that the bear may attack his dogs or family and wanted me to do something about it. His description of the noise did not sound like any bear I had met. I stepped out onto our deck and surprisingly heard a distinctive grunting sound from the farm across the rural road from our property.

I knew the sound was not coming from a bear, but my curiosity was peaked so I got my flashlight and not knowing what I would get into, put a pistol in the pocket of my sweatpants and walked to the end of our driveway. I could still make out the sound that was now further away down the road to my right. I started to walk down the road shoulder following the now moving sound. Behind me I saw lights coming in my direction and a slow moving car rolling toward me. My developed sense of caution caused me to step behind a tree as the car approached. As it neared I could see that the sedan was occupied by the neighbor who had called and his entire family, including his sister in law. They wanted to see the bear. I assured them that the sound was not coming from a bear and advised them to go home. The family continued to follow me down the road.

As we neared an area where a large barn was located, the sounds continued but seemed to stop moving. I eased stealthily through some brush to get near the field’s fence, determined the general location of the sound which had become deeper and more guttural, and then turned my flashlight on the spot. What the bright light revealed were two llamas trying to make a baby llama. My light startled them and the grunting noise stopped as they ran off.

I have since added an expertise on llama love making to my list skills.
You can learn about some real bears I have met in my book, “A Park Ranger’s Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Sign Of Spring - Motorcycles On The Blue Ridge Parkway

As spring time moves into the Southern Appalachians and the Blue Ridge Parkway starts to open its roadway to the public, there are certainties to life. Trees will begin to bud, wildflowers will start to burst forth to bloom, birds will begin to return from the south, and motorcycles will begin to roar up and down the ridge lines. People who have kept their motorcycles under wraps in garages and sheds will be anxious to get them out and stretch their skills in the warming sunlight and fresh air.

The Blue Ridge Parkway has consistently been described in motorcycle media as one of the best rides in the country if not the world. Although not a motorcyclist myself, I do not doubt this judgment for the views, lack of large commercial trucks, and interesting curves are not to be found anywhere else.

Unfortunately the increase in motorcycle traffic is accompanied by a significant number of serious motorcycle crashes. A number of years ago Park Rangers became concerned about the significant increase in motorcycle crashes resulting in injuries and fatalities. Statistical research of crash scenes and drivers was conducted and several theories were developed as to the causes.

One consistent condition was found to be a factor in many crashes. They were occurring in areas where the Parkway had been engineered with descending radius curves. When the Blue Ridge Parkway was designed the purpose was to adhere it to the land providing for the least destruction of the landscape while providing for the best views. The 1930’s and 40’s were not times when motorcycles or motor homes were commonly used by the visiting public. Very few if any roadways in the United States today have descending radius curves and consequently most motorcyclists have never driven through these types of challenges.

A traffic safety program was designed to step up traffic regulation enforcement, educate the public, and to place more aggressive signing at locations of repeated wrecks. Through these efforts the number of motorcycle crashes sharply decreased. In the District where I worked in we had a curve that had seen eight motorcycle wrecks in one year. Once the warning signs were put in place the follow year there were zero wrecks. However, other duties and constraints of budgets have made the park staff step back from these programs.

Ultimately it is the operator of a motor vehicle that is responsible for their own safety. If you operate a motorcycle on the Blue Ridge Parkway, observe the following safety tips:

•Observe the speed limits that are posted. In most areas it is 45mph. In some developed areas it will drop to 35mph.

•Watch for curve warning signs and take them seriously. They are few and far between, but mark the most dangerous areas.

•Be aware that even though you may have years of experience operating a motorcycle, you will encounter curves and road surface elevations that you have not experienced before.

•Maintain full attention to your driving at all times. Many instances in the past operators have been distracted by the view and just that split second of inattention has gotten them in trouble.

•Watch for wildlife in the road. You are in their neighborhood and they are in the road often.

•Do not pass on the double yellow lines. There are many blind curves on the Parkway that come up fast. You never know what is beyond your view; a motor home, a deer, or a car full of kids.

Remember as the Blue Ridge Parkway Traffic Safety Program says:


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"A Park Ranger's Life" at the Virginia Festival of the Book

On Saturday March 20th I be attending the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia. I will be at the Omni Hotel from 9am to 4pm with my book for sale and/or signing.

Stop by if you are in the area and take advantage of all the literary activities that will be going on over a five day period that week.

Firearms Incident at Lava Beds National Monument

In a recent incident, Park Rangers at Lava Beds National Monument in California arrested a man who was brandishing a handgun in a parking lot within the park. It turns out he also had outstanding warrants for threatening to kill agents from DEA and their families. The suspect was a previously convicted felon who was in possession of multiple firearms and large amounts of ammunition.

This is the type of person that National Park employees are worried about carrying firearms in our parks.

For more details you can click on the article title above.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"A Park Ranger's Life" on "The Revivalist" Blog

The following is taken from the blog "The Revivalist" written by Mark Lynn Ferguson. You can check out his blog by clicking on the article title above.

Mark Lynn Ferguson March 14 at 11:01am Report

Hi Bruce - As you may have seen, your book is featured in the latest post on my blog -

It's an entertaining and eye-opening read, especially for someone who has long fantasized about a career as a Park Ranger!

Thanks so much for sharing your story. If you're inclined, a reciprocal link from your blog is always welcome.



A Park Ranger’s Life

Everyone has a dream job. For most people, it involves paparazzi flashes, fantastic wealth, or maybe gunplay. Not for my friend Nora and me. Five days a week, we share an extra-large cube that we affectionately call the doublewide. In it, we toss out Southernisms (a new favorite — madder than a bobcat caught in a piss fire) and stream twangy tunes on Bluegrass Country. It’s a hoot as cubes go, but we’d rather be fighting forest fires from horseback.

For 23 years, Bytner worked on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Park ranger — that’s our dream job. Whenever Nora and I are ready to buck the man, we plot our escape to the National Park Service where we will dawn wide brimmed hats, nurse baby possums to health, and hook-up sewer hoses on elderly tourists’ RVs.

If we’ve learned nothing else from the new book “A Park Rangers Life: Thirty-two Years Protecting Our National Parks,” the job isn’t all glamour. Author and retired ranger, Bruce W. Bytner recently told the Staunton News Leader that “Park rangers are responsible for everything that happens in a national park.”

That includes the mundane — answering inane questions, shoveling poop from escaped cows, and monitoring dogs for leashes — but also the bizarre:

“I remember one incident when a ranger was conducting an evening campfire program showing slides to an audience of over one hundred visitors. Suddenly they were interrupted by a man covered with blood, who ran in front of the group, lighted by the projector, screaming for help. Most people initially thought it was part of the program. When the ranger followed the man out to his vehicle, she found a second man who had been shot.”

Nora and I aren’t deterred. If you work with us, don’t look in the doublewide the next time we miss an all-staff meeting. We’ll be in the Great Smoky Mountains scouting injured bears or maybe shoveling a composting toilet. Either way, we’re we’ll be wearing the hats.


"A Park Ranger's Life" Featured in Newspaper Article

Above photo by Mike Tripp of The New Leader

An article entitled "It's no walk in the park: Ranger recounts life on the job" appears on the front of the Lifesyles section of The News Leader newspaper from Staunton, Virgina. You can view an online version of the story at:

You can copy and paste this link to your computer browser.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Report on Young People Not Getting Into The Outdoors

Check out the above site to a report by the Outdoor Foundation on the decrease in young people's involvement with the the environment.

Memorial Service for Chris Upton

The following is taken from the Natioinal Park Service Morning Report for March 12, 2010.

Memorial Service For Slain USFS Office To Be Held Tomorrow

Chris Upton. USFS photo.

A memorial service for US Forest Service officer Chris Upton, 37, who was shot and killed last week during a routine patrol of a recreation site on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, will be held on Saturday.

The NPS will be represented at the ceremony by a group of protection rangers with marked vehicles.

Director Jarvis has authorized NPS employees to wear black mourning bands through the date of interment (tomorrow). They should be removed thereafter.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

U. S. Forest Service Officer Killed in the Line of Duty

U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers are brothers and sisters of National Park Rangers dedicated to protecting our nation's national heritage and natural resources. The loss of any of the family strikes hard in all our hearts. We must all remember Christopher Upton, his wife and daughter during this time of indescribable grief.

The following is taken from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

A U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer was shot and killed in middle Georgia by a hunter who apparently mistook the ranger for a coyote.

Officer Christoper Arby Upton, 37, was on routine patrol in the Ocmulgee Bluff Equestrian Recreation Area in Jasper County on Friday when he was shot by Norman Clinton Hale, 40, of McDonough.

The incident happened about 11 p.m. in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest near Monticello, according to a statement from the USDA Forest Service.

Hale and another man were hunting coyote in the area. Hale and his hunting partner called 911 and reported the incident, but Upton died at the scene.

The Forest Service and the state Department of Natural Resources are investigating the incident. No charges have been filed.

Upton, a 4-year veteran of the Forest Service, previously worked as a game warden for the Department of Defense, U.S. Marine Corps, in Beaufort, S.C., and as a conservation officer, game warden and pilot for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

He is survived by his wife and a 4-year-old daughter.

Working in wild places holds many risks and dangers. We must always remember that.

March In Our National Parks

March is when most National Parks start to swing into full gear preparing for the coming visitor season. Even though the ground may still be covered with snow and ice and roads closed, employees in the parks have lots of work to do on facilities and staffing to be ready for busy spring visitation. And this spring promises to be a busy one considering the epidemic of cabin fever in the East and the promise of a well watered wildflower bloom.

Even though the fiscal year officially starts in October, it is this time of year that field offices get a better picture of what their operating budgets will be for the season. In some years we were not informed of our bottom line for funds until June. Supervisors should have received their registers of job applicants from those who applied back in January to work this coming summer. So the laborious assignment of completing the hiring of seasonal staffs is in full swing. This process keeps supervisors in offices glued to the phones making contacts, checking availability, and eventually making offers. So if you applied for a National Park Service seasonal position, stay by the phone or in reach of one.

As the weather starts to break Park Rangers and maintenance staff are able to get out to facilities and roads to assess what damage there may be to park infrastructure. The most common damage found is from fallen trees and limbs. Many times roads may be blocked or structures will have roof damage. This can result in planning for minor cleanups to major repair projects. Under the ground and harder to locate there may be water lines and sewage systems cracked due to age by the shifting of earth and rock from the freezing and thawing of ice. Leaks in water systems may not be found until they are activated just days before facilities are opened for the visitor season.

Another important work force will be out this month. Volunteers who maintain trail systems through the region will be scouting and monitoring for damage on the Appalachian and Mountains to Sea Trails among many others. These volunteers spend thousands of hours each year clearing, marking, maintaining, and building trails for the public to enjoy.

A lot of work begins now so you can enjoy our National Parks later this spring.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Patience – Spring Will Come Some Day

Snow and ice continues to melt and break up in the lower elevations leading up to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains themselves remain locked in winter’s icy grasp with melting involved in a much slower process. The higher elevations where temperatures are significantly lower, received more snow than below in the valleys. That snow was then pushed and sculpted by high winds to produce drifts that stood in excess of seven feet in depth at many locations. Limited daily radiant sunlight then started to melt on the surface of the drifts on those few clear days that allowed the rays to peak through. That melting then refroze turning the snow drifts into ice bergs blocking roads.

These conditions will take longer to disappear as spring approaches. The now rock solid ice cannot be plowed with equipment. As a park ranger I remember using a heavy sledge hammer in attempts to break ice that had formed across the road surfaces from water seeping from springs and melting snows. This was ineffective and normally resulted in the road remaining impassable and my back being sore.
The slopes and aspect of mountain sides and road cuts also contribute to the slowing of thawing and melting. That legendary location “where the sun don’t shine” can be found all along the Blue Ridge Parkway. These constantly shaded areas are always the last to warm up enough to melt.

So even if you have a beautiful day at your house, do not be surprised if you visit the Blue Ridge Parkway and find sections still closed to traffic. The road may not be safe for vehicle travel until there are several days of warm rain that will help break up the stubborn ice.

The reward for our patience promises to be a delayed but spectacular spring. Trees, shrubs, and wildflowers of the Southern Appalachians are being well watered by the slow melting of natures white carpet.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Read Digital Books On Your PC

You can now download Amazon's Kindle Software for free to your PC. The download is quick and free. Once the software is downloaded, you have access all the Kindle digital books without having to own a Kindle Reader.

It is free and now another way you can read "A Park Ranger's Life."

"A Park Ranger's Life" Now Available on Kindle

My book, "A Park Ranger's Life" is now available in digital format for the Amazon Kindle. You can order the book by going to, searching for the book by title, and then clicking on the Kindle version.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Book Events Update

Today I will be interviewed by the Staunton News Leader. This paper is based out of Staunton, Virginia. They are preparing a Sunday edition story on my book, "A Park Ranger's Life."

Other upcoming events.

March 6 Book Signing at Bookworks in Staunton, Virginia 1pm

March 13 Book Signing at the Tanglewood Barnes and Noble Book Store in Roanoke, Va. 1pm

March 20 Book signing and sales at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Va. 9-4pm

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Review for "A Park Ranger's Life"

The following review appeared in the Winter 2009-10 edition of "RANGER: The Journal of the Association of National Park Rangers" on page 27. The following are excerpts from that review.

Reviewed by Warren Bielenberg

His book chronicles interesting supervisors and park visitors, adventures in training and travel, intriguing cases, searches, fires, and the joys and frustrations of being a National Park Ranger. Through his stories you can see how the job of a ranger has evolved since the mid-70s.

...some well-told stories of rangering that some of us could only imagine.

Much of the book reads as if Bruce were telling his stories to you over hot coffee or a cold beer. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in seeing how varied a national park ranger's job can be, or for you old rangers to compare Bruce's stories with your own

Park Rangers and Technology

Technology has improved our world bringing information to our fingertips and communications within the blink of an eye. When I started with the National Park Service in 1975 a lot of the technology that we take for granted today did not exist. There were no cell phones, fax machines, computers, CD’s, DVD’s, and radios were large suitcase size units in the trunks of cars and handheld radios were larger than and as heavy as a brick.

One of the side effects of technology is the taking of Park Rangers from the field in order to spend time meeting the requirements of our technological world. As a District Ranger I once counted approximately twenty different software programs that I needed to be conversant with to do my job. These programs were used to manage budgets, order supplies and equipment, produce work schedules, email communications, write and review incident reports, maintain inventories, track training needs and accomplishments, file personnel actions, payroll, and more. No two programs were alike, used different passwords, and would not cross communicate or share information.

Today’s Park Ranger can spend several hours a day in the office writing reports, tracking duties, completing required on line training in equal opportunity and cyber security, training nominations, keeping up with email, etc. etc.

With the advent of the computer age there has been a decline in patience from administrators for reports and forms that do not directly apply to a field ranger’s job to preserve and protect the park.

Today’s Park Rangers need to be well versed in computers and their applications. Gone are the days of supervisors as I had that would become angry if they caught you in the office. A Park Ranger’s place was in the field. Today supervisors can be under more pressure from higher level managers to ensure their staff members get online administrative training done than protecting our parks and visitors.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Drug Gangs on Public Lands

This morning National Public Radio ran a report on the increase of drug gang activities on public lands. The major impacts are on areas such as National Parks and Forests. What officials are finding is large marijuana growing operations. These are on a scale of commercial farms with plants in the thousands. The resource damage as the result of these illegal operations is extensive. The criminals introduce chemical fertilizers, animal poisons, reroute water courses, and leave hundreds of pounds of trash and debris in remote sensitive habitats. Most sites are in isolated areas away from places frequented by visitors or established trails. The criminals’ plan is to keep their plants hidden.

These grow operations are being organized and managed by criminal gangs out of Mexico. Crime organizations are bringing undocumented aliens across the border from Mexico specifically to work these marijuana operations.

You can read the details at:

The criminal activity that is described in this article took place in California, but these same grow operations are being found on public lands in the East and more specifically the Southern Appalachians. In 2005 marijuana grow operation was discovered on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. Over 8,900 plants were removed as well as hundreds of feet of hose for irrigation, large amounts of camp trash, fencing to keep out deer, chemicals, and sleeping bags. Although no arrests were made, evidence at the scene indicated that Mexican Nationals had been occupying the site for an extended period.

Should you be hiking off the beaten path and come across what looks like a garden with hoses for irrigation and cleared canopy, leave the area immediately and report your observations to authorities.

Reader Review for "A Park Ranger's Life"

If you love our national parks and are concerned about the future of the "best idea we ever had", read this book. The author provides the reader with an outstanding peak into the life of a park ranger through entertaining recounts of memoriable experiences but more importantly reveals that our extremely dedicated national park rangers are not being adequately staffed, often provided with substandard housing, and placed in dangerous situations unnecessarily. It also reveals that the NPS needs to fully review its hiring policy of park management and promote people that actually understand the job of their subordinates. Hats off to a true professional who is willing to stand up for the existing and future park rangers serving to protect our national treasures and visitors.

William O.

The Gorilla Rescue

It was a winter and the Blue Ridge Parkway was coated with ice and snow. Most of the roads within the park were closed with snow gates. At mid morning a call came into my office reporting that a car was off the road near mile post 16. This was within a three mile section of road that was not closed off by gates. The report through our dispatcher included the information that the car had a gorilla in it. My first thought was that this was quite an unusual situation since for those of you who are not zoologists; gorillas are not native to the Southern Appalachians.

Ranger Allan Morris and I both responded and searched up and down the Parkway for several miles north and south of mile post 16 with no sign of a vehicle or gorilla. Dispatch called back and said a second call had come in reporting the vehicle still stuck on the icy road and that the gorilla was in the driver’s seat of the car.

We decided to start checking the several side roads that intersected with the Parkway in the Love, Virginia area. At the bottom of a steep ice covered hill on a dirt surfaced road we could see a small sedan sitting off to the side of the narrow road. We eased our four wheel drive SUV down the slope keeping the driver’s side wheels in the right hand ditch to give us some traction. As we got closer to the car we could see that the rear seat was filled with shiny anemic helium filled balloons. We both had to look twice as we noted a gorilla behind the wheel.

As we turned our vehicle around the driver took off the head of a gorilla costume and stepped out of the vehicle. The woman worked for a florist shop in Waynesboro and was trying to find the Wintergreen Resort to deliver birthday greetings for a resident. She had gotten lost and ended up in her present predicament. She had donned her gorilla costume to keep warm.

We were able to push her car out of the ditch and Allan was able to drive it back up the hill to the Parkway. I am sure that the two vehicles that she said passed her while she was stuck did not stop due to the gorilla costume. I admit it did look at bit odd if not dangerous.

This is just one more example of how National Park Rangers never know what they will run into even during the winter on the Blue Ridge Parkway.