Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Pig’s Tail – The Park Ranger’s Dilemma

Starting a vocation as a National Park Ranger is a bit like entering into a marriage.  You feel confident in the knowledge of what you are getting into at the start, but have no real way of predicting what is to come.  Such are the many duties and experiences of a park ranger throughout a career.

 As a District Ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway in 1987 I was responsible for management of the living history farm at Humpback Rocks in Virginia.  The objective of the farm was to transport visitors back to the late 1800s when small farms were common in the Southern Appalachians.  One element that was felt to be critical to creating the farm ambience was the presence of domestic animals.  The farm had chickens that free ranged during the day and a pig who was kept in a “bear proof” pig pen as mountain farmers had done when fattening them up for market.  The pig was quite popular with visitors, with children taking the most interest.
Barn with Bear Proof Pig Pen to the right at Humpback Rocks

About half way through the summer an obviously upset woman came into the cabin at the farm outraged that this poor pig was being confined in the pen.  She wanted to know if we took it out for walks and accused us of most likely not even giving the pig a name.  The employee that the woman confronted was flabbergasted to say the least.

The truth be known, we had indeed given the pig a name.  An annual employee name the pig contest had been conducted and the winner was a play on the current director of the National Park Service, William Penn Mott.  The costumed interpreter stuttered and could not bring herself to tell the woman that the swine’s name was “William Pig Mott.”

Within days the Park Superintendent received a letter from a Congressman’s office accompanied by a complaint protesting the treatment of the pig.  Being a diligent manager I enlisted the assistance of an Interpretive Specialist from HQ and had the pig examined by a veterinarian and its living conditions evaluated by a professor of animal husbandry from Virginia Tech.  The Vet certified the pig as healthy and happy and the professor wrote a statement outlining the infinitely better living conditions as compared to a pig in a commercial farm operation.

Even with all this documented information the Park Superintendent did not want to be bothered with any more Congressional questions about pigs.  So he ordered us to get rid of the swine as soon as possible.
In the past a local farmer had loaned the park a pig for the summer at the end of the season the pig would be returned to the owner.  Several years before an administrative officer at Headquarters had found out about this arrangement and declared it illegal and put an end to it.  Apparently the fact that the pig was fed by government employees and was provided free government housing made the animal the property of the US Government and therefore it could not be given back to the farmer.  By 1987 for us to provide an ambience of pig on the farm I had to take part of our limited budget, find a farmer willing to sell us a single young pig, and then take it to the livestock market to auction at the end of the season.  We could not return or sell the pig to the original owner since it was then government property.

Once the Superintendent made his decision the only choice we had was to take the pig to market.  It was awkward getting the auction to sell just one little pig, but we were able to persuade them to cooperate and eventually talk them into giving us a written receipt.  Once the sale was complete one of my fellow park rangers asked the purchaser what his plans for the pig would be.  “Oh, he will be bacon by next week,” was the response.

That fall the woman who had complained and wrote the letter showed back up at the Humpback Rocks Farm.  She did not appear to believe that the folks working recognized her, but they knew exactly who she was since her actions had resulted in the lost of their beloved piggy friend.  Suddenly her children came running up to her in front of the cabin calling out “Mommy, Mommy, we can’t find the pig.”

Although several explanations were ripe on the tongues of the two interpreters present they just stood there perhaps glaring a bit at the woman and did not say a word eventually turning their backs and walking away.  The woman and her children eventually wondered off to the parking lot and left.  No one ever remembers seeing her in the park again. 


  1. Typical...Leave it to someone who don't have a clue to ruin good things for others...

    Paula M. Rakes

  2. This story is so wrong and so right in so many ways.

  3. "Well, we reviewed your complaint, ma'am, and we had to get rid of the pig. But we saved you a pound of the bacon."

  4. This is a great analogy for unintended consequences.