There are many types of park rangers performing a variety of duties on our public lands, but what they all have in common is working in service to the resources, wildlife and future generations. Today, July 31, 2017, is the 10th Annual World Ranger Day. I hope that we all reach out in some way or another to thank the park rangers we know or meet.
The best way to “Thank a Park Ranger” is something we can practice not only today, World Ranger Day, but every time we trek across, swim or boat around, hunt in, gawk at, learn from, sleep upon or picnic in public spaces: be prepared, respectful and compassionate.
By being prepared with some basic knowledge and gear, we decrease the chance of having an emergency which requires a park ranger to risk his or her life to save our own. For example, I had my first rattlesnake encounter a couple weeks ago. Imagine that — living my entire life in rattlesnake country and never seeing one in the wild until now. Conveniently, I was with a park ranger and a big, curious dog who saw the snake before I did. But that’s exactly why I almost always hike in ankle high boots and long pants, because many rattlesnake bites happen on the ankle. When I call a park ranger, I want it to be for another hiking date, not the four-hours-to-get-antivenom-or-die kind of call.
A map of the area and adequate water also go a long way in preparation that can save you from needing emergency assistance on the trail.
By being respectful when using public lands and waters, we are thanking the park rangers, volunteers and funding entities who keep the spaces accessible as well as aesthetically appealing. When I am a house guest, I try to leave the place as nice as I found it, if not better. I don’t always succeed in that… the last place I stayed, I managed to break one of the only three plates my minimalist friend owns, even though I was trying to help by making lunch and doing one last round of dishes!
Similarly, simply by walking around a muddy trail or dispersed camping in a grassy field, we are disturbing the natural space in which we are merely a guest. But we can still be respectful of it by staying on the groomed trails as much as possible, resisting the urge to pick wildflowers, carve initials in a tree or toss an orange peel on the ground. We can carry two extra sacks when we hike — one for litter including our own and what we encounter on the trail, and the other to act as a glove. We can use outdoor ethics principles of Leave No Trace and Stay the Trail so that rangers are able to spend their time working with the land instead of working against those misusing it.
By being compassionate for the wildlife, our planet and each other, we are helping park rangers complete their missions. Park rangers are full of knowledge, but they don’t know every thing about millions of acres. Many are seasonal employees and may have recently arrived from hundreds of miles away. They might be living in a temporary trailer or crashing in bunk beds. Backcountry rangers might be hiking or on horseback for several days in a row before they encounter another human voice, let alone one that’s shouting nonsense across a canyon or blasting “Despacito” from a Bluetooth speaker. They’ll gladly save your life or save your hiking day, but they are people too! No one gets into park rangering for the glamour, comfort or paycheck. But they are in it for the lands, for us, for our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s grandchildren.
For more ideas about celebrating World Ranger Day, check out International Ranger Federation and The Thin Green Line Foundation. Dr. Jane Goodall has a particularly neat message by video for this 10th Annual World Ranger Day.
Thank you to the literature of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire and Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels for their reflections on life and nature during stints as a park ranger and a fire lookout, respectively. [Amazon affiliate links]
How do you thank a park ranger when you visit public lands? Please share your ideas or a story of a great ranger you met in the comments below, or join the conversation on Twitter at @trailheaders #WorldRangerDay.