Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Park Ranger Duties

This is the Fort Pulaski National Monument moat gator catching some rays. The NPS Ranger in the picture is my friend Talley. This picture dates from the mid-80's so you may not see a gator if you go there (Savannah, GA) today. Talley could imitate the distress "gwhonk" of a baby gator really well. When he did it, this gator would swim right up to him. Talley was an interpretive Ranger and may still be there ...I have lost touch with him.

When you go to a National Park and see a "Ranger", there's a good chance you are seeing someone who is a "Seasonal Ranger". Seasonal Rangers are hired during the peak season and then laid off during the slow season...kind of like teachers. At any park, the number of permanent career Rangers is usually low.

In the NPS Ranger world, there are basically 3 types of Rangers:

Interpretive Rangers are the friendly folks who take you on those interpretive talks, give campfire programs, and answer your many questions. Talley was an interpretive Ranger and one of the best I have ever met...Why? Because he loved history and it showed in every talk he gave, even the last one of the day. He had a sense of humor and great patience for the many questions (which he had all heard before) that park visitors asked. (yes, there are stupid questions, but we don't let the visitors know that...)

Resource Management Rangers are often behind the scenes and probably wearing dirt of some kind on their uniform and the NPS ball cap instead of the Smokey Bear Hat. They are out there stabilizing historical sites, trapping feral hogs, and doing controlled burns.

Law Enforcement Rangers are fully commissioned law enforcement officers. They are graduates of FLETC (see links to the right) and go through the same basic police training as Customs, Border Patrol, etc. Their job is protection of the visitor and the resources of the park. They write tickets, make arrests, all the usual cop stuff.

I did all of these roles in my time with the NPS. Some Rangers are specialists in one area only, but most are comfortable wearing many hats. From my experience, I would say people tend to specialize in one of these areas in larger parks and be more of a "jack of all trades" in smaller parks. My experience is also dated now since I have been something else for the last 16 years, but I bet the above is still true.

So, when you go to a park, be nice to the Ranger. She may be a teacher working her summer off as a Seasonal Ranger, or she may be a career Ranger with years of experience to share. Ask 'em, they'll tell you.

...and don't feed the bears, or litter, ....sorry, old habits.

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Hick said...

It sounds fascinating. If I may be so bold...why did you change careers? You obviously love nature and know quite a bit about it along with a bunch of history stuff about Florida. I think you are a great teacher, also, but that's just me...

I will also reiterate your admonishment: DO NOT FEED BEARS. We have a real problem at Lake Tahoe with bears and I'm afraid they will not learn how to forage naturally if they are continually fed by careless people. They have also been known to break into houses in areas where people feed them. Pretty scary.

And yes, I love seafood...I'd eat it 6 days a week if I could afford it.

Rexroth's Daughter said...

When I think about people feeding the bears, I think of the Sierra. So, it's interesting to read Hick's comment from Lake Tahoe. I remember the first time I hiked the Sierra, the thing that worried me was feeding the bears-- with me being the food! I am always amazed the no matter how many times people are told not to, they still put out food.

I hope the work you are doing now is as stimulating and interesting for you.

Floridacracker said...

National Park Service careers hinge on mobility. To move up-you move geographically. I never thought that would bother me until that first baby came along.The thought of us being far away and of her only knowing her grandparents from an annual visit or of her growing up in an urban spun me around 180 degrees. Amazing the effect a child can have...
By the time she was 8 months old I had made my career switch. I soooo did the right thing.

Floridacracker said...

You and Hick are right about the bears. Down here, we have bears, but the big feeding problem is gators, which are much more common. Our bears are so secretive, I have never seen a Florida bear in the wild, yet I've had gators show up in my pond and must monitor it carefully to avoid losing a Labrador...or worse.
Present job is in education and is very rewarding.

Zanne said...

I've encountered lots of park rangers in my day, and some are so downright excellent purveyors of history. Two years ago we visited Charleston (and going back in 3 wks). We took the ride out to Fort Sumter and got an excellent tour. I still can't believe they spend all day out on that hot-as-hades rock.

There was a civil war buff and his family that showed up at the Fort in full costume, Confederate uniforms and hoop skirts and bonnets - in 100+ degrees of heat. The Rangers ducked behind a post to giggle a bit but they were quite professional and polite. You gotta laugh a bit when you deal with the general public.

Thanks for the insight into the world of the Park Rangers.

Floridacracker said...

I giggled alot at our visitors...privately of course.

pablo said...

Here in Missouri there were some rumblings when the new director of the Conservation Department had the rangers "dress down" in polo shirts with the logo on them. They didn't feel official, and they found that visitors tended to approach them less with questions and such. Not sure what the current policy is since I suppose polo shirts are much cheaper than a full uniform. I see both.

Zanne said...

I actually just e-mailed the Rangers at Fort Moultrie in Charleston to see if Chief Osceola's grave was maintained and accessible. They answered right back and I'll be there in about 3 weeks taking photo.

My two cents - uniforms please, including the "Smokey Bear" hat. You just gotta love a guy in uniform. Polo shirts would look like they're going to play golf and it doesn't say "authority", you know?

Floridacracker said...

I am with you 110 percent. Don't mess with tradition.

Rick said...

Two years ago while turkey hunting in Bunnell I was in a blind along a dirt road with 3 decoys out.Lookind down the road I saw something black moving towards my decoys.At first I expected it to be a turkey,but was I surprised to have a blck bear walk up to the decoy nose to nose.I was about 10 feet from the bear thinking this is a once in a lifetime experience.All of a sudden the bear spooked and ran by my blind I could have reaced out and touched him or her.As I was smilimg about my close encounter I heard something in the bushes behind me I turned to see the bear slowly coming back to see what was that he ran by.Now he or she was 25 feet away and slowly moving toward me.Enogh of the cool experience I took of my camo face mask shook a myrtle bush by me and yelled hey get out of here.He went one way and I gathered up my decoys and I went the other way.It probley was the best outdoor experience I have had.

Floridacracker said...

What a great moment! I am envious.