Friday, February 27, 2009

Behind the Scenes.... A Ranger's Office

Before I begin, let me remind everyone that the term 'ranger' is generic. Park visitors use it to refer to anyone in the grey and green uniform. There are law enforcement rangers who are actually U.S. Park Police. I'm thankful they do their job; I don't want their job! I work in the Interpretation Division. We are the visitor's main person-to-person contact with the park. Within Interpretation, there are interp rangers and education rangers. We basically do the same types of things, but to different audiences. The interp. staff generally stay in the park and deal with everyday park guests and programs/hikes, whereas education staff are responsible for writing and delivering the park's formal education program, visiting schools, leading field trips, training teachers, etc.

Back to my real topic.

Today I got to see what 30 years of seasonal interp./ed. rangers leave behind when they vacate for the winter.

I was the only person from the education office in the park today. Anne was out sick still (bronchitis is nasty) and Fawn had a scheduled day off. So I had to head up to Longmire alone and pick up some of our education materials from the Interpretation Field Office, which is to be renovated and thus had to be emptied. This little cabin, like the rest of Longmire, is on the historic register, so things can't be changed too much, but at least the windows won't leak, right?

I was not really prepared for what I saw. I wish I'd taken some pictures inside.

On the outside, the Field Office is this little cabin, not unlike the other cabins at Longmire. Inside was a mess of desks, computer hardware, and boxes - to the ceiling - of paperwork, park brochures, field guides, bear skulls (hey, this is a National Park and these are ranger offices...), safety equipment, snowshoes and a myriad of other things used by our rangers. A park volunteer helped me box up the education office's things - mostly curriculum notebooks, models and things you'd find in a science classroom. We loaded the eight boxes into the back of my truck.

Soon, Curt joined us. Curt is the West District Interpretive Lead. Great sense of humor; you can tell he's been around the Service a while. At some point, he announced that 18 people shared this cabin last summer.

Yes. You read that right.


Before it was an office, it was a one-bedroom cabin, meant to sleep TWO. A bedroom/living room, kitchen and tiny mudroom. That's it.

Now, these are rangers, and they are frequently out and about in the park, giving talks, working in the visitor centers, or roving on trails. But what if you were trying to get some paperwork done in the office? This is the government, after all. There are reports and paperwork to be done daily. Every time a ranger gives an interp. program or hike, they basically have to write the equivalent of a teacher's lesson plan. I think I'm glad that I didn't have to find a flat space to write anything in that office...

The west district's office space for this summer, during the renovation, is even more limited. If you've ever been in the tiny museum at Longmire, the west district's seasonals will be sharing the upstairs loft of the museum. But don't worry, there's only going to be 16 people up there this summer.

Boy, oh boy, do I have it easy. I share an office with only one other person. (Our boss has her office in the admin. building at Longmire.) Fawn is a 30-year veteran of the National Park Service, and she is kind enough to share the office with me - it's about the size of my bathroom - and so far, we seem to get along well.

The lesson here?

You think our parks are amazing? What's even more amazing is how the National Park Service manages millions of park guests with so meager resources.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fear of Nature?

It's just by coincidence that I was listening to a couple of podcasts tonight during the Forums chat hour and afterwards while doing some online research for work. I listened to a couple of past episodes of Talk of Alaska from Alaska Public Radio. This is one of my favorite podcasts! One of the episodes featured (mainly) Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, and a variety of callers. I know several of you have read this book; I myself read it a couple of years ago and have heard Louv talk several times.

Among the topics discussed was the concept of people who are scared of "nature". Often times, I think this fear is basically a fear of the unknown. During my stay in Alaska a couple of years ago, numerous visitors to the state asked me about seeing (and being attacked by!) bears. I saw lots of bear scat, but no bears outside of Denali National Park. Seriously. It was a bit disappointing, but totally expected! In my experience, bears generally try to stay away from humans, unless they are food-habituated near cities, campgrounds, etc.

But I digress.

Today's children generally don't have the same set of outdoor experiences that their parents/grandparents did. They, instead, play video games and/or watch TV. Today's kids might very well know every animal living in the Amazon forests, thanks to Animal Planet (which in itself is NOT bad), but really don't recognize the robins in the trees in their own backyards.

Monday morning, I had the priviledge of trekking with some 7th and 8th graders from Seattle out into the woods and snowy slopes of the park. Most of these kids were really out of their element. The girls were concerned that their cell phones weren't working; the boys were asking if they'd see bears. (Aren't bears in winter lethargy or hibernation this time of year?! They are up here.)

After addressing their concerns and heading out on the trail, most of the kids in the group seemed to enjoy themselves - particularly when we reached the sliding hill.

As a nation, we really need to work harder at getting our kids away from technology - even if it is just for an hour every day - and get them outside. Unstructured play outdoors forces them to use their senses and their imagination. It generates problem-solving skills and a broader sense of community. Perhaps if we get our kids interested in the park down the street, they will form a sense of place within themselves, and learn to not only enjoy their community but work towards preserving and bettering said community.


IDEA #1: Family Play Dates at the Park. Invite a neighboring family (or a family from school, church, etc.) to join your family at the local city or county park for a picnic and some frisbee time. Let the kids feel the sunshine on their faces and the wind in their hair. You'll see. They'll have fun.


Need further ideas? Look at Children & Nature. Tons of ideas and stories to get your family moving outdoors!

Welcome to Mount Rainier National Park!

Last week Tuesday, February 17, I started a new position at Mount Rainier National Park. Most of you know I've been lucky enough to visit a lot of our parks. And you know how I love mountains and wildflowers.

Growing up in St. Louis, my parents loaded up our car every summer and we would travel out west. Part of the Annual Mass Midwest Migration to escape the heat and humidity and hike/camp in the mountains. Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Montana, and of course, Colorado. I've been very lucky to visit some of our iconic parks. A couple of years ago, I even got to see Denali National Park, and tiny little corners of Gates of the Arctic National Park and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Those vistas amazed me. There is just no other word, other than "amazing", to describe Alaska.

But back to Rainier. Short of flying through Seattle, I'd never spent any time in Washington state, so I was eager to accept when the job was offered to me. Mt. Rainier is the dominating feature of any skyline in the state. No matter where you are, you know what "The Mountain" is. And now I do to. But I only know a little bit of it. For the next year, I'll be working in and exploring this beautiful park. My goal is to share my experiences in this blog. Don't expect posts or pictures every day, but I'll do my best to keep it updated.