My first job for the National Park Service was at Great Basin National Park. One of the things that they gave me when I first got there was a lime green government notebook. They told me that I could do whatever I wanted with the book. What I wanted was a sense of humor, so from that day forward it has been used to capture interesting quotes from park visitors. The first batch of sayings from the green book is all quotes about Great Basin NP’s wonderful cave Lehman Caves. This particular collection focuses on the youngest visitors, because as the age goes down the chances for them saying something funny go up.
Ranger: “What does this formation look like?”
Boy: “ A long, dark, orange tunnel we can’t go down.”
Ranger: “It’s made out of the mineral calcite.”
5 year old boy: “So it’s a germ?”
Ranger: “What does this look like to you?”
Boy: “A cave.”
Ranger: “The early visitors wrote here with pencil.”
Boy: “ They wrote with pretzels?”
Boy: “I know what this room’s called.”
Ranger: “What’s it called?”
Boy: “It’s called something room!”
Ranger: “People had a habit of telling tall tales back then…”
Boy: “People had tails?!”
Welcome to be my first blog. Today’s topic is going to delve into the heart of the ranger. Who are rangers? While it may seem simple enough it’s actually a bit complicated. Are they the guys who wear those funny hats? Do they keep the park safe? Do they arrest people? Do they run the visitor center and give tours? Or do they run around keeping bears out of picnic baskets? The answer is that rangers do all of these things and none of these things. See what I meant when I said it was complicated?
While rangers are known for their uniform and the iconic hat not all uniformed employees of the park are rangers. The park has employees in maintenance, administration, historic preservation, and an array of scientists. All of these employees may or may not be in uniform and none of them are technically “rangers.” So it is impossible to tell a ranger by uniform alone. To make matters more confusing there are times when a ranger will not wear a uniform at all, such as historical reenactment or going on a stakeout.
So how do you tell who is a ranger? You need to look at their job. All rangers interact with people as one of their main duties. Rangers are of the face of the park and act as the “front-line” of contact and communication with park visitors. They try to make sure visitors don’t damage the park and conduct themselves in a safe manner. Out of all the park employees there are only three types of rangers.
The type of ranger most people are used to is the interpretative ranger, which I am. We are the ones who run the visitor center, gives tours, and programs. Interpretative rangers take the vast amounts of data about the park and “translate” it so that it is easily understood and enjoyable to the average visitor. We are on the preventative side of things. After all visitors cannot follow rules they do not know of or if they don’t care. If interpretative rangers do their job well everyone can enjoy the park without having to interact with the second type of ranger: Law Enforcement.
Law Enforcement rangers are exactly what their name sounds like, the police of the park. They have all the authority their non-park comrades have, so if you are ever pulled over by one please don’t ask, “Well what are you going to do, give me a ticket?” because the answer is YES! This may seem like a stupid question, but a lot of people make that mistake. They can even go so far as to arrest people. Now that being said park Law Enforcement generally tend to be rather nice people. If you are in trouble or need information please don’t hesitate to contact them.
The last type of ranger is a bit of an odd bird. It is the General Ranger. Parks have never been well funded and as such are chronically understaffed. To make up for this, parks sometime will employ general rangers who literally do everything in the park. From maintenance, to law enforcement, administration, and interpretation, there is nothing in the park that a general ranger cannot do as part of their job. While interpretative and law enforcement ranger will pitch in and help with other park duties, the general ranger takes generalization to the extreme. These rangers are commonly found in small parks with limited staff. They are the closest to the old fashioned rangers and because of this I have the utmost respect for them.
I hope you enjoyed our little exploration into the world of the ranger. Just remember that although not all park employees are rangers, their jobs are just as important to the health and well-being of the park as any other position. If you have a question, feel free to ask them. They would be happy to help or point you to a ranger that can.