Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bikes On The Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is presently attempting to complete the six or more year process of developing a General Management Plan (GMP).  This document is essential for establishing the management direction and policy development for any National Park area.  Although the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited unit in the National Park Service and was first established in 1936, it has never had a GMP.

This lack of a GMP has at times resulted in a publicly perceived flip flopping of management on priorities and at times a dearth of direction for supervisors in making decisions on controversial topics of civic interest.  The lack of a GMP has also hindered the Park in justifying additional funding for preservation programs and staffing.

The GMP process has been started several times during the history of the Blue Ridge Parkway only to die before it can be completed due to lack of funding and the complexity of developing a single plan that covers all the resources, communities, and special interests along a 469 mile park.  During my career I served on two GMP planning teams.  The first was part of a dying effort.  The second was the beginning of the process now coming to fruition.

When the current process started the public was asked for comments to determine their highest priority of issues facing the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The number one issue, far ahead of any other, concerned the use of bicycles on the Parkway.  This surprised park staff and planners.  What was even more surprising was that these comments were split right down the middle.  Half were in favor of cycling and the other half against even allowing bicycles in the park.  This level of interest prompted the planning team to contract with David Evans and Associates to conduct a Bicycling Feasibility study for the park.  The report examined present use patterns and looked at the practicality of infrastructure improvements to accommodate bicycles in high use areas.  The final report was very much in favor of encouraging the use of bikes in the park.

Now that the GMP is reaching its final stage of public review and comment some cyclist are reading into the plan’s reference to the park’s original enabling legislation’s wording establishing a “motor road” and predicting that bikes could be banned from the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I would call this a bit reactionary and based on my experience working with management of the park I can say with certainty that there is no intent or thought to put an end to cycling on the Blue Ridge Parkway.   As a cyclist myself, I have every confidence that people will be able to enjoy bicycling on the Blue Ridge Parkway for generations to come.  After all, that is what our National Parks and the National Park Service that manages them are all about.

See what Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Phil Francis had to say on this topic at:

Utah State Park Ranger Brody Young Returns to Work

Those of you who have been following this blog and the news should remember the shock when on November 19, 2010 Utah State Park Ranger Brody Young was shot three times in a gun battle that resulted when he stopped a vehicle at a trail head.  After a year of fighting against life threatening injuries Brody has been able to fight his way back and be able to return to full time work.

Congratulations go out to Brody for winning his fight and I wish him the very best in and his family's future.

Utah State Park Ranger Brody Young

Your can learn more about Brody at:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"A Park Ranger's Life" Reader Review

This reader review appeared recently at

I finished Mr. Bytnar's book a few weeks ago. I found it to be very interesting as well as educational. Being married to a man who was also 'on call', brought back some memories of how most dinners went cold waiting for him to have the time to sit down and dine with his family. I found the story about the lady who was outraged at Mr. Bytnar not being able to give her an accurate weather report at 2 a.m. in the morning quite appalling. I wish you could have named her and sent a copy of your book to her, as well as other morons who felt they had been disrespected, when they were the ones who owed you an apology. There are many more stories I chuckled at and will have your book in my library shelves for house guests to devour while staying at our lake house. I'll also recommend they buy a book for their own library! Thank you Mr. Bytnar for your sacrifices and wonderful service to our parks and to our country. (Has your wife ever forgiven you?) A reader in Franklin County, Virginia. 

Seasonal Park Ranger Application Season Opening

For those who might be interested in pursuing a life as a National Park Ranger, the time for applying for seasonal jobs this coming summer is fast upon us.  These positions are generally available from some time in this coming May and run through October.  It all depends on which park you apply to.  Anyone interested in this exciting opportunity should now be keeping a close watch for open job listings at:

Most positions will be announced in January, but it appears that some parks are getting the jump on everyone else and announcing jobs early.

So keep your options open and start updating those resumes and reading announcements to tailor your applications to what qualifications fit each job.

For more information on applying for seasonal park ranger jobs go to the search window in the right hand column and type in "jobs."  This will bring up several past blog posts that explain this application system.

Good luck.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Looking For A Christmas Present?

Looking for a great Christmas Present for that person who is planning to work as a National Park Ranger or had that dream years ago?  Or maybe a gift for someone who loves our National Parks.

A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks would make the perfect gift.

A Park Ranger's Life is now being used as required reading in universities across the country for students studying to be a park ranger.  The book has been praised as one of the best honest behind the scenes look at what it is like to work in our National Parks.

You can find A Park Ranger;s Life available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and many other online sources.    You can also find the book available for the Amazon Kindle.

Conviction for Plant Theft From the Blue Ridge Parkway

As our economy continues to struggle, pressure on the resources within our National Parks will 
Increase.  Those with the proclivity toward stepping over the line for financial gain will be tempted by the international markets for plants, animals, insects, and minerals.

As an example three men were recently convicted of stealing plants from the Blue Ridge Parkway.  
With the impending budget cuts facing our National Parks, it will become more of a challenge to  prevent, enforce, and prosecute criminals that degrade our natural and cultural heritage.

Below is taken from  the National Park Service's Morning Report.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Three Men Convicted In Separate Ginseng Poaching Cases

Three people were arrested separately in September for digging ginseng
along the parkway. On December 1st, Thomas Jones pled guilty to possessing
12 roots and was sentenced to five days in jail, Jason Hughes pled guilty
to possessing 167 roots and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, and Delmar
Hughes pled guilty to possessing 103 roots and was sentenced to 50 days in
jail. Hughes was arrested with 138 ginseng roots in his possession in 2009
by the same ranger involved in this case. He served 30 days in jail for
that offense. [Tim Francis, Pisgah District Ranger]

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Park Ranger Job Advice

I recently received the below questions from a reader: 

 I am desperately seeking employment with the NPS.  I hold a bachelor's degree in history and wish to become an interpretation ranger.  I am also eligible for a 5-point veterans preference in the hiring process.  I have applied to as many jobs as I can through USA jobs.  Some of them I get rated eligible on, but never hear anything in return.  My professor advised me to start volunteering to make my resume more attractive.  I have been volunteering at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park for the last several months.  Do you have any advice or inside information on how to get hired quicker by the NPS?  

Thank you, 

It sounds like you are on your way to checking all the boxes to start your career.

Your professor has given you sound advise to get some volunteer experience.  It will greatly enhance your resume, show your dedicated intent, and aid in making contacts and getting yourself know to Park Service employees.

If it is permanent jobs you are applying for, it is very difficult to start there.  You are most likely competing with people with similar qualifications with the addition of seasonal or temporary employment experience on their record.  So keep those applications going, but consider seasonal employment opportunities to get a foot in the door.

Also look at locations that may not be on the top of your list.  Parks such as Independence in Philadelphia, The Statue of Liberty in New York,  The National Capital Parks in DC, and Jefferson Expansion (more commonly referred to as "The Arch") in St. Louis all have larger staffs and constant turn over.  These locations do more frequent hiring.  Many of the park rangers I worked with during my career started in these urban areas since that was where jobs were available.  Once your foot is in the door and you gain experience you can transfer to other areas that may be more appealing to your expectations. 

The key to the whole process is getting started with your first job.

Best of luck in the pursuit of your career aspirations.  

Bruce W. Bytnar

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Blue Ridge Parkway May Not Open Facilities Next Year

I have written several times about the constant cutting of National Park Budgets.  An article in the Times Citizen from Asheville, North Carolina gives some specifics of what additional cuts will mean to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the most visited unit in our National Park System.

During my thirty two year career the parks never had enough funds to do the job as expectations from politicians, managers, and the visiting public increased.  I know that Superintendent Phil Francis is being accurate and sincere in his statement that the Park is already down to a bear bones operation.

Read more at:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

National Park Funding Threatened Again

A new report by the National Parks and Conservation Association highlights how the budget cuts being considered by the Super Committee in Congress will impact our National Parks.

Some interesting facts include:

Funding for National Park Budget accounts for 1/13 of one percent of the Federal budget

The existing appropriation for National Parks is already $400 million or 13% less than it was ten years ago.

In FY 2011 the operations budget for our parks was reduced by $11.5 million.  They are now facing more cuts.
You can learn more about this report by going to:

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Park Ranger Ghostly Expereince

In my book A Park Ranger's Life  I told the story of my experience with some unexplained phenomena at Hampton House in Towson, Maryland.  A recent article in the Towson Patch references this adventure.  Check it out at:

Hampton House in Towson, Maryland

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Park Ranger To Be Executed In Iran

It is often difficult for us as Westerners to understand Muslim law and how it works.  A prime example is now unfolding in Iran.

A park ranger who was working in the remote province of Dena confronted five illegal poachers who had killed a protected wild goat.  In the ensuing confrontation the poachers shot at the park ranger attempting to escape.  Reacting to protect himself the park ranger returned fire apparently killing one of the poachers.  This incident that occurred in 2007 has now resulted in park ranger Asad Taghizadeh being convicted of manslaughter and condemned to death, a sentence that is to be carried out within two weeks.

According to the Iranian Mehr News Agency:

 Following the shooting, Taghizadeh was condemned to a retributive death sentence (Qesas), something the family of the deceased hunter have been demanding insistently
The sentence of death has now been affirmed by the Iranian Supreme Court.

In Iran more than one hundred park rangers have been killed on the job in the past thirty years.  Iranian park rangers are looked down on as lower members of society due to their poor economic compensation.  This contributes to their treatment by fellow Iranians and disregard for their mission of protecting natural and cultural resources.

For more information you can go to the following links.  The second includes an online petition should you wish to take some action.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Park Rangers Catch More Plant Thieves On The Blue Ridge Parkway

Park Rangers made another arrest of individuals steeling native plants on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.  As you read this entry from today's National Park Service Morning Report, note that this was not the first time at least one of these individuals has been caught thieving plants and that the other two share additional criminal histories.

I found the connection of criminal activity between natural resource thieves and other violations to be a common thread.  Most poachers that we charged had criminal histories ranging from attempted murder, assault, and drug trafficking, to bad checks and fraud.  In a number of instances we uncovered evidence of these other crimes while investigating individuals for resource law violations in the park.

Someone who is uninhibited enough to commit crimes against others will often look to the  presumed easy dollar to be made in the illegal wildlife and plant trade.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Three Arrested For Ginseng Poaching

On the afternoon of September 29th, rangers saw a suspicious vehicle and three individuals in an area known for ginseng poaching.  As the rangers approached, they began throwing items into the woods and into their vehicle. Upon investigation, the rangers found that the trio had collectively dug up 350 ginseng roots. All three were arrested and taken before the federal magistrate, with a pending court date in December. One of them had been arrested two years previously by one of the same rangers for the same offense. One of the others is presently on probation and also had outstanding warrants on him. The third, although not wanted, also had a criminal history. [Tim Francis, District Ranger]

Employees in our National Parks deal with these career criminals regularly.  For me it became just another part of a Park Ranger's Life.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Park Ranger's Fall Color Season Travel Tips

I posted these tips a while back, but they still apply;

If you are planning a trip to the Southern Appalachians for the fall color season and want to stay in hotel or lodge accommodations, have reservations in advance. Many times I have seen travelers on the Blue Ridge Parkway in October thinking that they would just take a leisurely drive and find a motel room at the end of the day. In many cases they would find no room at the inn. I have seen people drive seventy five miles or more away from the park to find a vacant room.

October is the peak visitation season for this region of the country and a pretty weekend can see huge crowds in the parks.

October is also college football season. Colleges also sponsor their family and alumni weekends durng the beautiful fall weather. Such events can fill hotels for miles. You can check college web sites for their schedules. Some of the key colleges that may affect hotel availability are:

The University of Virginia
Virginia Military Institute
Washington and Lee University
Virginia Tech
Appalachian State University
University of North Carolina At Asheville

Fall festivals in specific communities can be a great attraction to visit, but also fill hotels.

Traffic in prime viewing areas may also become congested which will result in slow downs and delays. So make your plans for the distances you travel are reasonable and attainable. Come the end of the day you do not want to be hundreds of miles away from your planned stop for the night.

When ever possible travel during the week. Weekends are always the peak traffic times. Hotels rooms are also more easily obtainable on weekday nights.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Park Rangers -You Should'a Been In Pictures

With the advent of compact video and audio recorders that are now part of most cellular telephones, the public has in many cases become news cameramen.  If their film footage does not reach the level of newsworthiness for the visual image hungry 24 hour media outlets, they can always self-broadcast on services such as YouTube or blogs.  Of course these video clips are like the political sound bites we see every day, they are edited and expanded on to show an often uncomplimentary or partial view.

I used to tell other Park Rangers that whenever in public you should consider yourself to be on camera and to make decisions, act, and talk as if you are.  The intent is not to be false or less efficient but as a reminder to always remain calm, professional, and to do the right thing.

Here are some examples of recent views of Park Rangers placed out in cyberspace for anyone to see.....

Be sure to listen to the audio in this filming of an arrest at Cape Hatteras.  You may note that the producers left out any information as to why the Park Rangers were contacting this suspect.

This public fascination with video recording of Park Rangers in the performance of their duty makes the use of In Car Video and Security Cameras by Rangers exceptionally relevant.  I remember when we first started to purchase car camera units for field Park Rangers on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The initial resistance to have them installed was predictable.  Once the video recordings were applied to answering frivolous complaints and to substantiate reasonable suspicion for stopping vehicles, the application of cameras became part of the everyday operations of Park Rangers.  It got to the point that when I received a letter or telephone call complaint about how a person we treated by a Ranger, all I had to do was say that I would review the video and in almost every case the plaintiff withdrew their accusation.

The use of In Car Cameras also served as a valuable tool of self-evaluation for Park Rangers to improve on their officer safety and information gathering skills.

So whether it is a by stander to an incident or their own equipment, National Park Rangers are becoming screen stars.  My advice is to keep this information in the back of your mind and use that thought to your advantage remaining professional and focused.  Get used to being filmed and do not let the presence of cameras intimidate your decision making processes.

ProRanger Program With The National Parks

In the past I wrote about the implementation of the ProRanger Program.  This partnership with Temple University was developed to meet the challenge to our National Parks of up to 55% of the present Park Rangers retiring over the next three to five years.

Check out this link to find out more about this program  and meet two students who will be starting their careers with the National Park Service this month.

OPM Job Search Site To Be Down For A Week

The Office Of Personnel Management has announced that they are revamping their Federal Job announcement site known as USA Jobs.  In order to complete this change over the site will be closed from this coming Thursday until the following Thursday.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Park Rangers Get Convictions On More Plant Thieves

This morning's National Park Service Report has the story of two men convicted in Federal Court for stealing ginseng of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Two Men Plead Guilty To Ginseng Poaching In Separate Cases

Rangers conducting surveillance on August 27th near an area known for
ginseng poaching saw a man dressed in camouflage in the woods. The man,
identified as Brian Witherel of Fletcher, North Carolina, admitted to
digging ginseng and was found to have 21 roots in his possession. A second
surveillance operation at another site known for ginseng poaching, this one
on September 17th, led to a contact with Gregory Grycki of Asheville, North
Carolina, who had 79 ginseng roots in his possession. Both were arrested.
Last week, each man appeared before a federal magistrate and entered a
guilty plea. Witherel was sentenced to 11 days in jail and Grycki received
25 days in jail. The current price for ginseng in western North Carolina
ranges from $410 to $425 for dry ginseng and $110 for green ginseng.
Rangers also determined that Witherel had sold 16.6 pounds of dry ginseng
and 3.5 pounds of green ginseng in 2008 for an estimated return, based on
the market at the time, of over $10,000. [Tim Francis, Pisgah District

The theft of native plants from our National Parks for personal monetary gain remains a serious threat to our natural 

Friday, September 23, 2011

More On Deaths In National Parks

Once again deaths in National Parks are in the news.  See this article:

Recent deaths in Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks seem to be the focus of media coverage.  The fact is that an average of 155 deaths per year are the result of accidents in National Parks. 

In many cases fatalities and serious injuries to park visitors are the result of taking unnecessary risks.  Is this caused by a feeling of invincibility or a false sense of security generated by what many in the media are deeming a “nanny state?”  During my career as a National Park Ranger I saw many instances where people took risks well beyond their capabilities because they knew someone would rescue them.  Technology such as cell phones providing instant communications and GPS units showing you where you are can contribute to an over confidence in one’s ability to deal with the unknown
This number of accidental deaths does not include fatalities as the result of medical conditions such as heart attacks, homicides, and suicides.  It was just last year that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a report on the significant number of suicides in National Parks.  According to the report between the years of 2006 and 2009 there were 286 reported suicide attempts resulting in 194 fatalities.

In a recent conversation I learned that in the Ridge District of the Blue Ridge Parkway (a 106 mile section of the Park) there have been seven fatalities already this year.  The causes of these deaths are from a fall, motor vehicle accidents, and suicides.

I have written in this blog on the topic of suicides and deaths in our parks before.  To access these posts you can use the search window to the right.

The fact is that people do die in National Parks just as they do anywhere else.  The American people have a rightful sense of ownership of our Parks that is often times amplified by the media.  When fatalities occur in these special places for many, although they may live a thousand miles away, it feels like it occurred in their own backyard.
For National Park Rangers and their fellow staff members dealing with the death in our National Parks and the potential emotional turmoil that can linger for years is another challenge faced all too often.

For more information you can go to the following links:

I also have written on this topic more extensively in my book A Park Ranger’s Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.  You can find a copy on Amazon and other on line sources.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Impact Of Your Writing

When a person sits down and starts to write that book that has been rolling around in their head for years it is hard to predict the impact that final product may have on others.  I received this message through Facebook and am humbled and a bit flabbergasted.

Just wanted to say thanks for everything. Read your book a while back and decided to give it my all to become an LE ranger. Got to go to the academy and meet your friend Chief Garrison last fall, and promptly got tased and pepper sprayed. I have yet to find any employment beyond an internship with the SCA. Seems this is probably the worst time ever to try and become an LE ranger, or anything in the government for that matter. I do not have a degree and would need to get hired under STEP or SCEP. I'm still hopeful though and keeping some peoples e-mail boxes full and phones ringing. Looks like I might join the military to stay competitive in the changing government job landscape.

Any who, you helped turn my life around for the better. I hope all is going well in retirement. Thank you for keeping America's wide open spaces safe. I hope to return the favor in the future


There is not much more that a writer can ask for than to know that their efforts positively influenced their readers.  He sounds determined and I wish this young man the very best in his future and a successful ending in the pursuit of his chosen career.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Park Rangers Catch Plant Poachers

As I have written before in this blog, the theft of plants from our National Parks is a serious threat to our fragile habitats.  In the National Park Service Morning Report today there is a report of Park Rangers on the Blue Ridge Parkway catching criminals taking over 30,000 galax plants from within the park.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Three Arrested For Galax Poaching

An operation to interdict galax poaching was conducted near the Mt.
Mitchell area of the parkway over a two-day period last week. The operation
involved two teams conducting surveillance at two access points where
violators were either accessing and/or being dropped off to harvest the
plants. The first day was unsuccessful, but three individuals were arrested
on the second day.  The three were in possession of more than 30,000 galax
leaves. On Thursday, September 15th, the three appeared before a U.S.
magistrate and pled guilty to illegally harvesting galax and commercial
operations, with two receiving 30 days in jail and the third receiving 90
days (second offense). This area has historically seen a high amount of
such activity and is closely monitored by both rangers and members of the
Appalachians Highlands Inventory and Monitoring Network. This particular
type of galax has a very large leaf and is a target for poachers because it
can bring five cents a leaf for floral arrangements. It only grows in areas
along the parkway. [Tim Francis, Pisgah District Ranger]

A Well Done to the Park Ranger staff of the Pisgah District of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  
Thanks for keeping watch over our precious heritage.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bears In The News

As I was fixing breakfast this morning I was watching WDBJ Channel 7 news out of Roanoke, Virginia when they showed a video of a black bear walking right up to a father and son fishing at a nearby pond.  The bear after observing them for some time came out and eventually sniffed the father and mouthed (as a apposed to bit) the father on the foot.

You can view the video at:,0,7177693.story

Although the bear appears to be young, he is close to full size and this is not normal bear behavior.  These two guys were extremely lucky.  Apparently this bear is acclimated to being around humans and is most likely used to being fed or eating out of human trash.  The problem as I used to describe to children while doing school programs is that "bears don't share."  If these men had food that the bear wanted, he would have taken it by force if necessary.  Watch the entire video you will get some good advice from State Biologist Jim Bowman about keeping a distance between yourself and any wild animal.  The number one source of human vs. wildlife conflicts and injuries in parks is from people getting to close to take photos.

In my book "A Park Ranger's Life" you can read about my encounter with a bear that was acclimated to considering humans a source of food and transportation.

Photographed following his eventual capture, the acclimated bear that you can learn more about in the chapter "Close Encounters of the Bear Kind" in A Park Ranger's Life.

Do not let what appears to be domestic behavior of a wild animal lure you into a fool-hearty decision.

If you are still not convinced of the seriousness of bear encounters, check out this site for information on bear attacks in North America;

"A Park Ranger's Life" at the Mountain Spirits Festival October 1

I am looking forward to being at the Mountain Spirits Festival in Rocky Mount, Virginia on October 1.  I will be in the authors tent from 10am to 4pm with copies of my book and ready to talk and answer questions about park rangers, National Parks, and life.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9-11

Watching the 9-11 Commemorations this morning has brought out strong emotions. I responded to Washington DC the next day to work on an Incident Command Team out of the Dept. of the Interior Building. The hotel we stayed at looked directly down on the still fresh hole in the Pentagon. I remember seeing fear and disbelief in the faces of those few people walking around the deserted ghost town of the Mall. We have to remember that at that time no one knew that more attacks would not occur. During that time I also witnessed the strength and resilience of our Nation and its people. Today let us remember those heroes that we lost during these attacks and those who have paid the price since, both our brave military and the first responders who continue to deal with health issues and the loss of their comrades as the consequence of doing their duty.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Affects of Further Cuts to National Park Budgets

Check out this article from the Great Falls Tribune on the affects of budget cuts on our National Parks.|topnews|text|Frontpage

This article is of interest since it outlines some of the ideas of how to reduce the number of National Parks in our system including turning some over to states and others to non-profit organizations.  I have quite a few concerns about such proposals.  But here are some of my key ones.

National Park areas are created by Congress and in some cases by the President (National Monuments) because they have been determined to have some cultural or natural significance to our Nation and its people.  So how would it be determined which of these areas now do not have this level of significance.

What states have the funding available to take over a park.  From what I am hearing in the news most states are in dire financial situations unable to fund schools, infrastructure, and public safety.  Most states would most likely apply for Federal funding to care for such an area anyway.  Putting a park under the responsibility of a state government at this time could spell its demise or death.

I have recently entered the world of non-profits.  As managing director of a nature center and arboretum I am attempting to deal with the lack of funding available from grants and donations, the life blood of any non-profit.  Between the down turn in the economy and cuts to Federal programs there is more competition than ever between many worthy causes for limited dollars.  Individual contributors and foundations are cutting back on established grants and not accepting new applications due to losses in the stock market and their donor base.  Federal grant programs are being shut down.  Grants and donations from private industry are being vastly reduced as profits and investments drop.  Families with the increases in gas and grocery prices can ill afford to support local non-profits.

If you were to look back at the history of some historic sites within the National Park System you would find quite a few that were formally state parks or run by non-profits.  These sites were transferred to the National Park Service because they could no longer be financially sustained, were sites of National significance, and could contribute to boosting local economies.

With our current economic conditions I see these quick fix politically motivated solutions contributing to the fall of one of our Country's best ideas and the best park system in the world.

The Great Falls Tribune article quotes Tom Kiernan, President of the National Parks and Conservation Association as saying, "Every $1 invested in them (National Parks), ..... generates $4 of economic activity in return."  Yes we all have to tighten out belts, but removing parks from a system that feeds local economies may prove destructive in the end.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Illegal Trails On the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through over 469 miles of mountain scenery and habitats in Virginia and North Carolina.  When originally built this road was in what many would consider the middle of nowhere providing access for new populations to experience Southern Appalachian natural and cultural environments.  In many cases visitors fell in love with the region and its charms.  As a result the number of homes and communities along the edges of the Park has grown.  Over time many adjacent home and property owners have wanted their own piece of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The National Park Service has identified approximately 400 illegally built trails within the park providing access to the Parkway road.  More than 40 of these trails exist in the Roanoke area alone and are being used by pedestrians and bicyclists.

Most users of these trails do not see any problem with cutting trees and brush and in some cases constructing steps on park lands since it makes it personally convenient for them to gain access to the park from their home.  In some other areas trees have been topped and even removed within the park to open up views for home owners.  I have even seen these accesses and views used as an enticement for real estate sales. 

Approximately five years ago the Park Service attempted to close off several of the illegally cut trails in the Roanoke area.  People immediately started contacting their Congressional representatives, local politicians, and the news media to paint a dark picture of evil park rangers stopping their fun.  As a result the Blue Ridge Parkway has spent several years studying the situation and developing a proposed trail management plan for the Roanoke area of the Park.    A lot of time, expense, and effort have been spent by the Park Service just in planning to deal with this problem.

Granted my opinion is tainted by more than 32 years as a park ranger dealing with many similar issues.  I guess the points I keep coming back to are these:

The trails were built illegally in violation of federal regulations without permission from the Park Service.  Were the park staff to build such a trail there are numerous requirements for cultural and natural resource impact studies to be completed and approved to ensure such construction does not damage valuable or irreplaceable plants, habitats, or archeological sites.  Considerations are required as to the safety of the trail and its access point into the roadway.  None of the builders of these trails went through this process or even considered such impacts on public lands.

The construction of the trails impacted resources that the Park Service is charged with protecting.  Cutting limbs, trees, and shrubbery are all violations of regulations within National Parks.  Many of these trails also cause eventual issues with erosion of sparse and valuable soils in mountain areas.  This erosion further damages root systems of other plants and trees adjacent to the trails.

The placing of these trails and the reaction of the public to attempts to close them are examples of how many have become more interested in what can benefit them as an individual than on how their actions will affect others.

It would be interesting to see what the reaction would be from these neighboring land owners if someone came onto their property without permission and started cutting vegetation to open a short cut to another house.,0,1185373.story#tugs_story_display

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Happy Birthday National Park Service

Today, August 25, is the birthday for the National Park Service.  Although the first National Park, Yellowstone, was established in 1872 it was not until 1916 that the National Park Service was established to manage the growing park system.

2016 will mark the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service with planning starting to celebrate this milestone.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Park Ranger Comes Out Of Retirement

As many of you who follow this blog may have noted, my posts have slowed down significantly during the past two months.  I have not lost interest or inspiration to share my thoughts and experiences.   Since retiring from the National Park Service I have at times felt a sense of loss not waking up in the morning being a part of an organization with a mission that I felt passionate about.  I have found a source to help fill that need while allowing me to give back to our community.

Since retirement I have been volunteering at the Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden in Lexington, Virginia.  For more than two years I helped with facilitating environmental education programs for elementary and middle school students.  I was impressed with the organization and content of these lessons which are tied directly to the State of Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL’s) and the experiential presentations that allowed students to connect their classroom learning with the real world of nature.  During these two years I have seen the magic and the direct link of young students becoming interested in science and the outdoors.  I hope someday that this seed of curiosity and awareness develop into support of our park systems.   The pay off for me was the feeling of connection to the interests and enthusiasm that led me to the start of my National Park Service career so many years ago.

A year ago I advanced my involvement at Boxerwood by becoming a member of their Board of Trustees.  More recently I have stepped up that commitment again by accepting the job as Managing Director for the Boxerwood Education Association.  In this position I am responsible for the administrative and financial health of the organization in addition to the management of the facilities and grounds including a woodland garden.  You can learn more about Boxerwood if you visit the web site at;

You can also view an article about my new job in the Rockbridge Weekly newspaper at:

My time dedicated to writing may be challenged for at least a while, but I hope to keep this blog going with points of interest as to the career of being a Park Ranger, our National Parks, and answering any questions posed by readers.  If you should have a question or topic of interest you wish to hear about, I can be reached at:

And if ever in the area of Lexington, Virginia stop by at Boxerwood Nature Center and say hi.

More On Risk Takers And The Risks in the NY Times

Check out this article in the New York Times about the increase in deaths this year at Yosemite National Park.  So far sixteen people have died in the park since January.

I am confident that  this increase in injuries and deaths is in part due to visitors’ false sense of security that someone, in most cases a park ranger, will bail them out before a situation becomes too dangerous.  As we can see that does not always work and people need to realize, as we used to teach in Wildland fire training, the individual is ultimately responsible for their own safety.  The challenge is how to get this message to take hold in the populace that visits our parks from all over the world.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Waivers for Risk Takers In National Parks

From a reader:

I enjoy your blog and would like to read your take on an issue.  I just read an opinion piece in the LA Times which posed the question "Should hikers be required to sign a waiver form in National Parks". (

For context of the opining piece: there have been 14 death in Yosemite this year.  I would add that in my local news there were 2 hikers stranded on Angel's Landing (I know there have been a number of fatal falls in recent years) in Zion this past week and every year people get injured and killed in the slot canyons due to flash floods.  I'm sure that you know of other NP's were people have made poor choices on dangerous hikes which have cost them their live.

Personally I think it's a great idea - or at least a good idea for certain hiking/climbing trails.  People don't read the signs and climb over railings, but I think if they have to sign a legal document they might curb their stupidity and/or be more cautious in their activities in the park.

Since I started my career with the National Park Service in 1975 this issue has come up numerous times.  This dialog is often generated by facts such as; in 2008 there were more than 3,500 search and rescue operations in National Parks at a cost of $4.8 million dollars (

It has been my experience that visitors to National Parks have a false sense of security because they believe that when they get in trouble a Park Ranger will miraculously arrive at the scene to rescue them.  This sense of euphoria contributes to poor decision making when facing challenging situations.  The consequences can result in being lost, injured, and in extreme cases death.
In addition to the obvious monetary and time cost of search and rescue operations, there are also the risks taken by responders.  Park employees, cooperating agency personnel, and volunteers often risk serious injury and death to save the lives of victims of their own dangerous decision making.
Exhausted searchers from another all night operation on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Suggestions have been made to have people involved in high risk activities, hiking in dangerous areas of a park, and even persons who are at risk due to violating regulations pay for search and rescue operations resulting from their actions.  It has been further proposed to have individuals planning high risk activities sign legal waivers so the National Park Service would not have to initiate search and rescue operations should they get in trouble.

In my opinion and experience there are several factors that would not make this practice affective.
An individual cannot release the National Park Service from its legal responsibility to protect persons visiting parks.  This is one of the main reasons that Congress and the courts have not been a supporter of the Park Service recovering costs for search, rescue, emergency medical, and investigative costs.

On a practical level;, even if an individual signs a waiver that states the Park Service does not have to come find them if they get lost or injured, their parents, family, and loved ones did not.  Many times emergency operations are initiated at the frantic demanding requests of family members or friends.  I would not want to be the park superintendent that has to answer to a crying mother on the 24 hour news network about why the Park Rangers are not going to save their son or daughter.

Another influence that may prevent such waivers could come from the outdoor equipment and supply industry.  This segment of our economy would not want to reduce the customer interest in higher risk outdoor activities.

When I get a chance I will write on this blog about some of my own experiences with such search and rescue situations.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

World Park Ranger Day

Sunday July 31st will be World Ranger Day.  This annual date is set aside to remind us all to pay tribute to the work around the world done by rangers to protect our earth's natural and cultural heritage.  And let us not forget those rangers and other employees of parks who have given their lives in the line of duty.

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 founding of the IRF.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Many Other Career Paths Available In Our National Parks

Another reader wrote asking for advice on pursuing a career as a park ranger.  This reader's concern was that they were starting this course at the age of 39.

I understand your frustration over age requirements for National Park Ranger jobs.  Unfortunately your age does prohibit you from qualifying for law enforcement or firefighting jobs with the NPS.  If that is the organization or resource you really dream to work for, I would recommend that you look at the myriad of other jobs in National Parks.  You could still work in resource management, as an interpretive park ranger, in maintenance, or administration.  Protection park rangers are actually a small percentage of the people who work in our parks.  To get a flavor of what types of jobs are available in parks, go to 

In the search window put type in "National Park Service" and you will most likely see a lot more than park ranger positions advertised.

If you are more interested in doing the work of a law enforcement park ranger or firefighter, then I would suggest the route you are following by looking at local and state agencies with the same or similar mission but different age requirements.  I know there are many outstanding state and local park agencies in this country that provide professional training and service in protecting the resources and people under their responsibly.

No matter who you are applying to work for, here are a few tips to keep you viable for employment as a park ranger:

Get all the related training you can on your own.  Look for emergency medical, incident command, and leadership training.  Much of this can be found on local levels with fire and rescue departments or colleges.

Get all the related experience you can on your own.  Look for opportunities through local public service organizations.

Maintain your physical fitness.  Even if the agency you are applying to does not have requirements, the job will demand immediate physical responses to a variety of situations.

Be as flexible as possible in your availability and choice of locations to work.  Many times you may get a foot in the door offer that may not be your first choice or one you ever considered.

Park Ranger Advice Request

This reader is concerned that his college degree is in engineering and that it would not qualify him for protection park ranger jobs.

The main qualifying point is that you have a college degree.  As long as you meet the minimum course requirements you should be fine.  During my career I have worked with fellow park rangers with degrees in nuclear physics, Russian Studies, Business Management, Communications, Hotel Motel Management, Education, Physical Education, Criminal Justice, English, Spanish, and many more majors that are not specifically related.  Now if you were applying for a specific job as an interpretive ranger or researcher in say a civil war park, they would definitely be looking for a history degree.  So I do not believe that your degree field will hamper you in any way.  In would think that your military and previous law enforcement experience will highly benefit you in the selection process far out weighing any concerns about your college major.

I am considering rescheduling my (seasonal law enforcement) training dates, meaning to go one semester later.  My reasoning is because I was recently hired on as an engineer for the Department of the Interior.  I am working for the Bureau of Reclamations.  I want to give this job at least a year before I head off to do something different.  I figure it would look back to take a job and then only six months later leave it.  Would it be wise to hold off for this non-related job?  And does prior work experience within the federal, especially the Dept. of Interior, help when applying to future seasonal LEO Park Ranger positions?

As to the job offer you have, is it a permanent status job?  If so, I think you are wise to pursue the course you have laid out.  Many times people will work for years as a seasonal park ranger never able to get into a permanent position.  With the Federal Government once you are permanent you are in for all agencies.  As an example, should you take the job offer you can transfer directly into a job with another agency without going through the Office of Personnel Management.  The application process is much easier.  You can also develop rehire status for any government jobs even if you leave the position.  I would recommend you check on the current standards, but when I was working if you worked one year in a permanent position you could still apply for any government job for one year after leaving.  If you worked three years, you had status for life.  The one drawback is that you may be competing with people having more direct park experience.  Some thoughts for you to consider.

  I am older than what many would be when they go into Park Ranger training.  I am 31.  Does my age hamper me in any way and would it be unwise to start a career as a seasonal officer at my age?  I know that the federal government has an age cut off of 37 for law enforcement careers. 

At 31 years of age you still have a pretty good window of opportunity to meet your plans.  The key for a law enforcement park ranger job is that you have to be hired and get to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center before you turn 37.  If you are a viable candidate with the prior experience, any manager that knows they can get you into training before your birth date will not hesitate to seriously consider you.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Suicides In Out National Parks Update

In response to a report from the Center For Disease Control and several reader questions I wrote several posts on suicides in National Parks.  In today's National Park Morning Report there is a brief accounting of three such incidents that occurred in Shenandoah National Park just this month.  Kudos and a well done go out to the Ranger Staff at Shenandoah for their intervention and saving of two lives while handling these incidents.

Taken from the June 14, 2011 NPS Morning Report

Shenandoah NP
Rangers Investigate One Suicide, Intervene In Two Others

Rangers successfully intervened in two suicide attempts this spring and
investigated a third in which a woman succeeded in her efforts by driving
her car off Skyline Drive and crashing several hundred feet below:

   On April 29th, a police dispatcher in Harrisonburg received a call from
   a man who said that he was camping on Turk Mountain and was going to
   shoot himself. Park dispatch was contacted and rangers helped the
   Harrisonburg dispatcher talk the man into leaving his weapon at his
   campsite and hiking to Skyline Drive to meet them. They took the man
   into protective custody at the trailhead and transported him to the
   Augusta Medical Center. They then recovered his weapon and all the items
   from his campsite. The man had been hiking the Appalachian Trail in the
   park for a week when he made the call.

   On May 17th, park dispatch was contacted by the sheriff’s office in
   Jefferson County, West Virginia, and advised that a man had called his
   wife and told her that he’d taken enough medication to be dead within 15
   minutes. Rangers determined that the 53-year-old man had registered at
   Skyland Lodge. When they reached his room, several hours after he’d
   called his wife, they found him unconscious in his room and suffering
   from severe respiratory distress. Basic and advanced life support
   measures employed by rangers and Page County rescue personnel greatly
   aided in keeping him alive.

   On June 2nd, a park maintenance crew working at Horsehead Overlook on
   Skyline Drive noticed that vegetation was laid down at the edge of the
   overlook and discovered a vehicle 300 to 400 feet below. Rangers found
   that the sole occupant had not survived the crash and that she had been
   listed as missing and suicidal by police in Farmville the day before. A
   suicide note was found inside along with notes indicating that she’d
   scouted other Shenandoah overlooks that night.