Did you know that July 31 is World Ranger Day?
According to the International Ranger Federation “World Ranger Day is celebrated worldwide on July 31st to commemorate Rangers killed or injured in the line of duty and to celebrate the work Rangers do to protect the planet’s natural treasures and cultural heritage.” Reading this it got me thinking about a recent conversation during a hike with a group of Women Who Hike Minnesota ladies. The park ranger, who I’ve now had several conversations with, joined us for about an hour or so of hiking before she started her shift for the day.
As we hiked and she offered her knowledge of the park, we discussed what her days are like. What it’s like to be a female ranger patrolling parks, at times after hours, our favorite Minnesota places to hike and so many other things. What struck me was her complete and total love for the outdoors. Unlike many of us who would be happy leaving work behind and recreating in a completely different way from our jobs, she likes it so much that her vacations are most often hiking and camping. She doesn’t seem to want to be anywhere else.
It got me to thinking about the type of people who chose the job of Park Ranger. I’ve become more and more appreciative of these unsung heroes of our public lands. They hold many responsibilities, the first being to protect our beloved public lands. That means protecting the lands themselves from threats natural and man made. The responsibility of protecting the people who venture into small and vast tracts of land.
They are the ones who keep a watchful eye for wildlife that might become a challenge for park goers. Knowing where a particular bear or fox is roaming helps visitors and their belongings stay safe. Making rounds of the campgrounds in their park, they look for potential hazards and try to get them fixed as quickly as time and resources allow. They have training in first aid and rescue, hoping each day that neither is a skill on which they will have to draw.
“…a park ranger is a protector. You protect the land from the people, the people from the land, the people from each other, and the people from themselves. It’s what you are trained to do without even thinking, a reflexive and unconditional act. If you’re lucky, you get assigned to people who seem worth saving and land and waters whose situation is not hopeless. If not, you save them anyway. And maybe in time, saving them will make them worth it.”Kurt Caswell
In many cases they are also the educators. With a knowledge of the history of the park, its terrain and trails, wildlife, flora, water sources and campgrounds they are living encyclopedias. Want to know the trail that will provide you a relatively flat surface? Ask a ranger. Looking for the rock face that you can climb? A ranger can help you find it. Traversing an island or canyon? They can recommend routes to suit your skill level and often are the best source for trail conditions. Need to know the weather report for the day? You guessed it.
They see the best and worst of it all. From the park visitor who left their trash all over a campsite and embers smoldering in the fire ring to the heron who just took up residence on the side of the lake that isn’t well traveled. They maintain the park’s buildings, toilets and trails. The signs along the trial were likely placed by a ranger or at their direction by park staff. And they manage it all with small budgets and in all manner of weather.
One of my more memorable moments of gratitude for a ranger was my arrival into Isle Royale National Park. We were hours behind the scheduled arrival time. The ranger station was officially closed for the night by the time we docked. But because the rangers take responsibility for those within the park boundary, they opened the station so we could obtain our necessary paperwork, file trip plans and get any supplies we might need due to the late arrival. They had even made arrangements for the tiny restaurant at the resort to open for anyone wanting a meal. We were advised on shelter options and given updates on trail conditions. All of it after “normal” working hours.
In the U.S., in state and national parks, they may live on or very near the park for days or weeks at a time. At youth camps, they most definitely live onsite for lengths of time that often take them away from family. The park is their home. So as you look at that building when you check it, take a minute to consider that they might be sleeping on a cot in the next room some nights.
They fight for our parks with limited budgets and resources. And a few have even gone rogue to try to ensure that the nations parks are protected from encroachments they believe are detrimental to the enjoyment of our parks and lands.
Across the globe park rangers protect endangered species. The put their lives in harms way so that wildlife are kept safe from poachers.
Almost every trip I make to a park I’ve ever visited has included a stop to the Park Office or Ranger Station. It’s a great way to help them know who is in the park, to learn about what is going on that day, hear about any issues you might encounter and even get a tidbit about something unusual you might see or do during your visit. You might even find out that the ranger loves the same ’65 Mustang convertible you do – like I did on a recent hike.
My only regret with each and every one of my ranger interactions is that I haven’t treated them with the rockstar status they deserve. I realized that I want to get a selfie with the ranger on my next park visit where I cross paths with one.
So the next time you are heading out for a hike, instead of driving by the Park Office or Ranger Station, stop in. Say hi. Ask some questions about the park and what the staff might recommend. Get a picture with ranger and share it with me. Most importantly thank that individual for the work they do. Make every day #worldrangerday.
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