Dear Ranger, You Inspire Me
But, a few days later, when we interacted with the rangers in Olympic National Park, I began to suspect that the special ranger spirit that Mather described was not only real, but alive and well in today's parks. Here are the inspiring rangers we encountered during our time at Olympic.
Ranger Greg Marsh
On our first day of the expedition, we met Ranger Greg in the Olympic National Park Visitors Center where he gave us an orientation to the park. With his description of park geography, salmon populations and other wildlife, it was clear that he is knowlegdeable and great with people. But it was when he showed us a rock and recounted, with youthful excitement, the day he found it, that I got my first glimpse of that park ranger spirit. To our untrained eyes, his prized possession looked like a smooth, oval-shaped pebble, but Ranger Greg suspected more. He worked hard to crack it open and inside there was a seashell. Yup a seashell inside a rock. He went on to explain it's called a concretion and how it most-likely formed. But, all I kept thinking was "OMG! How did he know it was there? Can I crack open a rock too? Please teach me what to look for. I want to find one. Can I have your rock. Of course I can't. But, can I please?" My inner child met his inner explorer and I walked away awed by the encounter.
Ranger Lucia Napolitano
When we arrived at Hurricane Ridge, Ranger Lucia was waiting for us. It was so great to meet a woman ranger, and it was even cooler to soak up the endless information she had to share. As we hiked through the meadow and the higher trails, she explained the lifecycle and growth patterns of trees in the area, helped us identify plants unique to the ridge, described the seasonal differences in the landscape and tested the windspeed. I was amazed at Ranger Lucia's encyclopedic knowledge, but it was the way she handled the deer on the trail who'd wandered too close to hikers, that gave me a deeper appreciation for her compassion and her three-steps-ahead thinking.
Ranger Dave Conca
Because Olympic National Park was once inhabited by the ancestors of the 6 neighboring Native American tribes, the park is full of hidden artifacts, unmarked burial grounds and landmarks documented in centuries of oral history. His role as the Chief of Cultural Resource Management would be nirvana for any archeologist, but it's especially great for someone like Ranger Jeff whose deep respect for native communities and strong commitment to preserve their cultural history in the park is clear. As he shared the tales of buried history, archeological digs, and preservation processes, I kept imagining what it would be like to travel back in time to meet the indigenous men and women of the Olympic Peninsula.
Ranger Steve Fradkin
When we pulled up to the small lake house, we were surprised to discover that it serves as the base for the Lake Crescent Natural Resources Lab run by Ranger Steve. He gave us a geographical overview of the parks, its many ecosystems, and the work he and his team do to track the changes happening in certain regions of the park. In efforts to collect samples for their research, the lab team regularly takes dangerous pre-dawn hikes into the mountains or along unpredictable coastal terrain while packing 50 pounds of equipment. It's amazing to think that there's an entire team of people who embody the superhero-like combination of intelligence, physical strength, fearlessness, and passion for nature.
Ranger Danielle Archuleta
Ranger Danielle is a seasonal park ranger, who has served at places like Rocky Mountain National Park and Olympic National Park, during their busiest times of year. This summer, she's based in Olympic's coastal region where she's become an expert on the beach trails, marine animals and sea plants. When we discovered a 10-foot piece of seaweed on Second Beach that resembled an alien creature, she happily explained the science behind it. This young Latina has a master's degree in Public History, an insatiable thirst for knowledge, a deep love for nature, and an easy spirit. It's clear that she's the future of the park service!
Ranger Jon Preston
It's impossible to summarize, in just a few short sentences, how amazing Ranger Jon is. He spent an entire day with us, starting with Hoh Rain Forest and wrapping up on the coast at Second Beach. He taught us about local history, the qualities of temperate rain forests, the lifecycle of trees in the Hoh, the food elks eat, the beauty of moss, how to make toys and musical instruments from seaweed, and the ways to avoid wasps in the forest. I really think Ranger Jon knows everything about the Olympic Peninsula. But, that's not only what makes him special to the Travelistas in Nature. He charmed us with his stories, made us laugh constantly with his comedic timing, enticed us inner city girls to eat the berries and leaves he found in the forest, and at one point he brought us all to tears. That day, Ranger Jon gave us a piece of his heart, and we will never forget it.
In two short days, we met six of the most amazing people we've ever encountered. They're scientists, archeologists, historians and naturalists. They had great answers to every crazy question our team was curious enough to ask. They told engaging stories that made us connect with the park on an emotional level. Their collective passion for nature and sharing it with others is undeniable. So, it's clear to me now, that the spirit of Mather's rangers has never faded.
"Though small in number, their influence is large. Many and long are the duties heaped upon their shoulders. If a trail is to be blazed, it is 'send a ranger.' If an animal is floundering in the snow, a ranger is sent to pull him out; if a bear is in the hotel, if a fire threatens a forest, if someone is to be saved, it is 'send a ranger.' If a Dude wants to know the why of Nature's ways, if a Sagebrusher is puzzled about a road, his first thought is, 'ask a ranger.' "
-Stephen Mather, the first Director of the National Park Service