Saturday, May 21, 2011

National Police Week 2011

Reflecting on the passing of 2011’s National Police Week earlier this month provoked thoughts of all the law enforcement officers that I worked with during my career as a National Park Ranger.  This included my fellow Rangers and others from Federal, state, and local agencies who back me up on car stops, arrests, investigations, serving warrants, taught me their wisdom and skills, and at times most importantly were just there to listen.  It was this corps of dedicated professionals that made it possible for me to survive more than thirty two years of dealing with the daily unknown threats to personal safety and mental stability that is law enforcement work.

So a shout out and thanks to all of you I had the privilege to work with and a special thanks to those officers who continue to risk it all every day to protect the rest of us from the crazies and predators that are out there.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

First Year Seasonal Park Rangers

I stopped by a Blue Ridge Parkway visitor center the other day and met a new seasonal/temporary park ranger.  Seasonals are the people that work summer visitor seasons in parks with no promise of permanent employment, no benefits, and are the front line park rangers that most visitors will meet.  I found this latest recruit’s positive enthusiasm reassuring for the future and reminiscent of my first National Park Service job at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, Maryland.

I will never forget the excitement that I could barely contain the first day I showed up for the job that would eventually become a thirty two year career.  It was June of 1975 and I was still young, impressionable, naive, and full of exuberance for the opportunity to work in a job I had dreamed about for years.
Although my first few years of seasonal work with the National Park Service provided some bumps along the road, I was hooked and looking back do not believe I would have done it to many different ways (well… there can always be some fine tuning identified when you look back).

So to all you first year seasonal park rangers out there, good luck, stay focused, and never lose faith with the mission of the agency you have chosen to work for.

... to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. 

The author in July 1975 inside Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

National Park Budget Cuts And Their Affects On Local Economies

With the need for belt tightening and related rhetoric in Washington to cut the Federal Budget, our National Parks are being identified for funding reductions.  The entire National Park Service budget accounts for only 1/13 of one percent of the Federal Budget, but unfortunately it falls into the category of non-protected programs making this agency easy prey for financial slashers.

The National Park Service not only protects and preserves our natural and cultural resources, it provides unparalleled and irreplaceable recreational and education opportunities.  For many of our citizens parks provide low cost and accessible physical and emotional release during these hard financial times.
Our National Park areas have been working on a shoestring budget for many years resulting in the degradation of nationally significant resources that our citizens and politicians have designated for protection and preservation.  This drop in the bucket of our Federal budget keeps park facilities open, the water supply in parks safe, the trash removed, and provides experiential education that enable our students to make connections between the classroom and the real world.  Many people today remember some of their fondest childhood memories visiting parks with their families. 

The reduction of funding to parks will ultimately result in cutting back of programs, repairs to already crumbling infrastructure, and reductions in the availability of visitor centers, emergency responses, and even bathrooms.  These actions will eventually impact individual wallets during this time of economic slowdown.  Research has shown that for every single dollar spent on our National Parks four dollars is generated in local and regional businesses.  As an example a study was conducted in 2008 proving that $2.3 billion is pumped into local economies from the 16 million annual visitors to The Blue Ridge Parkway.  Consequently, any move that could impact and reduce visitation to an area will result in a down turn in money being pumped directly into what are mostly small businesses. 

Unbeknownst to most citizens, the National Park Service is responsible for managing programs that provide grants and funding to local, state, and tribal governments for projects related to recreation and tourism.  This is one of the budget lines that are identified for deep cuts.  Programs such as these provide local jurisdictions with the ability to support or improve their individual economies and contribute on a regional financial level.

As citizens we have the right and the duty to let our elected officials know about the issues that affect our lives and beliefs.  If you share my trepidation with budget cuts that will have little or no impact on our Nation’s financial mess and could result in false economy that will trickle down to the local level, then contact your representatives in Washington to express your concerns.

For more information check out these links:

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Visit To Shenandoah National Park’s New Rockfish Gap Entrance Station

Today I stopped by to check out the new Rockfish Gap Entrance Station at the southern most entrance to Shenandoah National Park.  The Entrance Station is just north of the junction of Skyline Drive (the roadway follows the length of Shenandoah) and the northern terminus of The Blue Ridge Parkway where I spent twenty six years of my National Park Service career.  The new Station replaces the small wooden structure that for seventy years served as the first job location for many career Park Rangers during their first job with the Park Service as a fee collector.  The old entrance station also served as a late night way station and source of communications for park rangers from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Old Rockfish Gap Entrance Station

The entrance station had no running water, no bathroom facilities, a single telephone line, and at times periodic electric service.  It remained the only National Park Service building open for many miles during the winter when the facilities at Humpback Rocks on the Blue Ridge Parkway were shut down.

Although there were no modern bathroom features at the Entrance Station, there was a pit toilet just over the hill down a steep and uneven trail.  I remember many a cold winter night slipping and sliding down that trail to use the “facilities.”  Not only was one relieved of the pressures that may have been urging them to this location you were rewarded with what had to be one of the best views from a pit toilet in the National Park Service.  One could sit there and look up the Shenandoah Valley and almost be distracted from the cold, odor, and during the summer the flies.

The new Entrance Station is missing some of the character of the old facility, but it does offer accommodations that most modern humans are attuned to in today’s world.  There is an indoor bathroom with running water, a flush toilet, and a sink to wash your hands.  I did note that there is no longer a view from this windowless but inordinately large room.  The building is heated, air conditioned, has the latest in security and air quality monitoring systems that run on a more permanent and reliable power supply.  There is even an indoor room accessible to visitors to obtain backcountry permits and ask for more detailed information.
The New Rockfish Gap Entrance Station
Probably the most important part of the new Entrance Station

An Park Ranger View of the interior of the new Rockfish Gap Entrance Station

The loss of character with this new structure may not produce the nostalgia and memories but does provide a much more efficient, secure, and healthy environment for employees and visitors.

Will Closures Of State Parks In California Increase Visitation and Demands on National Parks

This is from the LA Times today:

70 state parks targeted for closure, Brown administration says

Los Angeles Times | May 13, 2011 | 12:40 p.m.

Gov. Jerry Brown's administration said today that dozens of state parks could close as part of the effort to reduce the state deficit.

The parks include the Salton Sea State Recreation Area, Palomar Mountain State Park in San Diego County, Candlestick Point State Recreation Area in San Francisco, Tomales Bay State Park north of San Francisco, Point Cabrillo Light Station in Mendocino and more than 60 other properties.

For more information go to:

Californians are known as lovers of the outdoors and their parks.  Should these parks close would this result in  higher numbers of people going to National Parks within the state?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lessons From My Golden Retriever

A brief diversion from the normal posts you will find here:

Our Golden Retriever Baird is now three years old and I was reflecting on his morning routine and how we can learn from his healthy habits.

Once he finally decides to get up off the floor from his deep and extended beauty sleep his first steps are long and deep muscular stretches.  First he locks his front feet to the floor and leans back long with his chest on the floor, his tail up in the air, and his neck stretched up and forward while holding his breath and tensing his stomach muscles.  This is followed by several short steps forward with his front paws leaving his rear feet attached to the floor extending his rear legs as far as possible while dipping his back and once again stretching our his neck forward.  If you were to touch his stomach you would note that it is held tight as a drum head producing a stretch in his body core.  He will repeat this process several times.  We refer this as “puppy pilates” and prepares himself physically for any immediately demanding duties such as chasing cats or squirrels who infringe on his territory.

Through the day he will drink only water finishing off several bowls a day.  This keeps him hydrated for those prolonged Frisbee catching sessions.

When Baird starts to become fatigued from the challenges of the day and begins to lose his edge in pursuits and security patrols of the yard, rather than make mistakes or becoming frustrated he will relax in the shade and take a quick nap.

All of these habits if followed by humans would make us all healthier and better able to handle the rigors of everyday life.  Of course there are other habits that dogs exhibit that may not be the healthiest practices such as licking their private parts and constant fascination with feces.

So perhaps you can learn from your pets, just be careful which habits you decide to adopt.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Park Rangers In Cars

I got this question from a reader in relation to how much time Park Rangers spend hiking in backcountry areas.

I spend a considerable amount of my free time rock climbing and hiking, and lately those hikes have been on sections of the AT off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I've seen a few rangers but they were all in vehicles, my question is: do any rangers patrol the wilderness on foot? I suppose what I am really asking is; is one of the responsibilities of rangers on the BRP (or in other parks) to go on long treks through the parks on foot? Being 18 and beginning to search for my future profession, becoming a park ranger seems incredibly interesting, even more so if they have to patrol large expanses on foot.

Although Park Ranger responsibilities are centrally the same in that they work to protect and preserve resources, the ways in which they accomplish those duties vary based on the specific park and its resource base.

You mention seeing Park Rangers in vehicles on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Most of these Rangers would rather spend more time in the backcountry patrolling trails and park boundaries.  That is one of their many responsibilities.  The fact that The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited National Park area in the country and that 98% of those 18 million visitors stay close to the road and facilities keep Park Rangers close to those areas.  Where visitors are concentrated along the road corridor is where the majority of incidents and problems occur.  I remember many instances where I had planned to spend a day patrolling trails or boundary only to be called back for a human caused emergency.  Park Rangers on the Blue Ridge Parkway are also spread thin and have to cover long distances to respond to emergencies.  A consequence of these conditions is that Park Rangers in this park do not as often as they would like have the chance to spend extended time in the backcountry.

Other parks with larger land bases and staffing do hire Park Rangers that work specifically in remote backcountry areas.   Many of these positions are filled by seasonal temporary employees since their services are only required during the summer visitor seasons.  There are a number of well known and respected park rangers in Western National Parks that have declined opportunities to become full time permanent employees so they can keep their backcountry experiences alive.  I would recommend that you read the book Uncertain Path by William Tweed (you can find it on who hiked the Muir Trail in California and meets several of these Backcountry Rangers along the trail.

So although the Blue Ridge Parkway may not be the best example of an area where Park Rangers spend a significant amount of time in the woods, there are many other parks that would make these opportunities available.  Just a few of the National Parks you may want to check out would be:

            Sequoia Kings Canyon
            Rocky Mountain
            The Grand Canyon
            Great Smokey Mountains
            The National Park areas in Alaska

And there are more out there.  You can learn more about National Parks at: