I work in our Parks’ central office and not at a park but most of my job beyond blogging and tweeting supports the work of our park staff who work in the trenches in our parks.
Two recent tweets led me to this post. On July 4th I saw a rather clever tweet the gist of which was if we go to parks and nature to relax and de-stress what do park rangers do? Since it was the 4th of July and I have a good idea what parks are like on major summer holidays, I started thinking about what it is like to have a career in State Parks. Certainly not the first time I have thought about it but it’s been tickling my brain off and on.
I’m a little bit of an introvert so after working at one of our parks on a holiday weekend, I’d need a few hours in a dark room, all alone.
I’m sure you have heard the term “Jack of All Trades.” Years ago, that was probably a good description for what career park field staff were. From our Park Rangers to Park Managers, the daily work has always been diverse. Most senior staff in our parks are also Law Enforcement. So one minute you may be dealing with a customer who is making too much noise in the campground, the next you might be snaking out a toilet, and following that you could be dealing with a customer who might challenge every ounce of customer service skill you possess. Oh, and since our senior staff live on the park, odds are you were called out of your bed to do those those things.
Park staff are handymen/women, customer service representatives, police, water and waste water treatment specialists, business managers, accountants, computer technicians, wildlife relocators, educators, natural resource managers, project managers, facility managers, human resource specialists, volunteer managers and trust me, that’s not all.
But “Jack of All Trades” hasn’t been accurate for more than ten years. More and more our staff are expected to be experts in all those fields. Running a park is like running a small town and a handful of full time people with the help of valuable seasonal and year round non salaried people fill all the roles required to keep the park going. Meeting federal and state laws and requirements, completing paperwork with unreasonable deadlines, and doing all those tasks I listed above while protecting the safety and welfare of every park visitor is an incredible responsibility. For the most part, our staff could probably get paid better doing any one of those tasks. Most law enforcement professionals are paid better than our park staff who are also sworn officers. Many of our parks have visitors in the park 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day.
When you think about what the staff have to do, you begin to realize what special people they are. To be dedicated to preserving our natural resources and making them available for other people to enjoy is more of a calling than a job. It’s a way of life. They have to be doing it because they love it.
That brings me to the tweet from today that made me decide to write this post: @RMNP4MS (Rocky Mountain National Park Forums) tweeted today about “Thank a Ranger Day.” Since 2006 their community has been celebrating “Thank a Ranger Day” to show appreciation for the hard working staff at Rocky Mountain National Park. Their tweet today suggested that we all show our appreciation on July 29th. The date has a special significance because Jeff Christensen, a Rocky MountainNational Park Ranger died that day in 2005 while on a back country patrol. Their post can be found by download one by clicking here.