Thousands of Canadians and tourists alike swamp our many national, provincial and municipal parks on a daily basis. But have you ever given any thought as to who maintains those trails you hike? Or posts those signs that a bear is in the area? Well as much as you and I may be oblivious to it, the work is performed by dedicated professionals day in and day out, working in the best and worst conditions ensuring the sustainability of our parks and the safety of their visitors.
Recently I had the chance to sit down with a “Park Ranger” and find out all the titillating tales of nature’s ambassador. Bob “Magnumforce” (an alias he provided without a straight face I might add) is a young, articulate, university student who has spent this past summer working in one of the many parks across Canada. An avid outdoorsman with fond memories of camping in northern Alberta and Ontario as a child (Lesser Slave Lake and Algonquin to be exact), he has emerged from his summer stint wiser beyond his years but begging for more. “Park Ranger is more of an American term,” he teaches me. “In Canada we perform the same duties but our actual job title aligns more with security.”
Someone who has always dreamt of a career in law enforcement, Bob was intrigued with this role, “I was drawn to this job because it places me in the nature I love with the duties of a police officer”. In fact many police officers, as he would find out, blazed the same career path Bob now sees himself on. These seasonal jobs are stepping-stones into other roles within the criminal justice system or the parks themselves in positions such as Conservation Officer or Park Warden.
So while we’re canoeing, hiking or cooking up some “Fundy Hash” at our camp site (our fond term for potatoes, bacon and onions cooked on a camp fire) what are those Park Rangers doing any ways?
Bob confirms down time is spent doing a lot of maintenance. Yep he’s the one adding the mulch back to the path, or clearing hazardous trees. Those beaver damns threatening to flood the park – yes sir, Mr. Park Ranger is getting rid of those as well. And although many parks/conservation areas will have specialized staff for educating and engaging the public in nature, Bob confirms he teaches people about waste management, how to identify poison ivy/oak and answer basic questions about the ecology of the park on a daily basis.
But by the very definition of their job, those are the easy tasks. Wildlife management remains one of the more difficult areas on his list of “to-dos”. Since hunting is not allowed in most parks and natural predators can be slim (count not literally), one of his duties is to ensure numbers are controlled to protect the health of the eco-system as a whole. He admits this can weigh heavily on his moral compass. What he finds exhilarating though and at times intimidating, is when he must step in to “aid” an animal in need, which is only ever performed when the cause of the issue is man-made. He recalled such a time when a Canadian goose was stuck in fishing line, which if not removed jeopardized the life of the bird. “They’re really big,” Bob’s eyes flashed large as he explained, “And when you corner them they hiss at you, it’s kind of scary”.
The largest and possibly most dangerous duty as Park Ranger is that of security. “I knew people would be difficult to deal with,” Bob says chuckling. “Some people have no idea what conservation means, others know better but just don’t care”. He is referring to the many incidents over the course of one summer he told me about that had me scratching my head. It’s like a Rolodex of stupidity and ignorance as he rambles off a list of things he has had to stop people from doing. Cutting down trees in the park for firewood, dumping garbage including food all over God’s creation, desecrating sacred or protected ruins within the boundary of the park. These acts are not only lazy, hazardous to the environment and the wildlife but can be down right dangerous especially in bear country.
And as bad as all of this appears, the worse he admits is the drinking. Alcohol provides stupid people the platform for doing stupid shit, diminishing their inhibitions and freeing them to do things they might not otherwise do sober. Bob tells me tales of cults gathering and chanting among the trees, weirdos dressing in animal costumes and people having rowdy, wild sex mid-day so drunk they were unaware they could be heard clear across the park. And as much as these tales are crazy and oft-times humouring, some people break rules that are life threatening. One such rule enforced at most parks, is that all visitors must remain at their camp site after dark (with the exception of bathroom breaks). “People have a few drinks and want to stargaze, get nude and go swimming”, says Bob. “but people have gotten lost or fallen from cliffs in the darkness”. Since this rule has been imposed, Bob confirms these tragedies have dwindled.
But the most disruptive patrons are those who want to drink and fight. “It’s mainly people in their 30’s and 40’s that give us the biggest hassle”, Bob smiles “It’s like disciplining your parents”. Funny that people who should know better, should act like twits until they are evicted by someone their kid’s age. And although they have the authority to do so, Bob says some people are difficult to remove from the park. “When you enter a camp site, there are fishing knives and axes. We were taught to take note of everything that could be used as a weapon and stand between the object and the person,” this of course while attempting to defuse the situation Bob notes. Many times, and hence the reason he has met so many, the police are called in to aid in the eviction.
Although he may be the swan song to some people’s vacation, Bob maintains he is not only keeping order but the patrons safe, ensuring a good time can be had by all. So with that in mind, here are some tips Bob “Magnumforce” the Park Ranger has for you on your next outdoor excursion.
- Educate yourself on your equipment. Watch youtube videos, take a class or ask personnel at the store where purchased. “I’ve seen people who know nothing about canoes, walk right off a dock and step in only to have it flip on them,” Bob states. Understand the limits of and how to use your equipment.
- Practice preservation and conservation when in nature. Quit destroying the ruins that have been preserved from yesteryear. Stop dumping your garbage in the bush. Yes this includes shitty baby diapers. Pack it back out with you and dispose of it in a garbage can! The balance in nature is easily tipped when man is walking through it acting like a shithead. Your children will never see the beauty if you keep acting like a tool.
- Understand the environment you will be visiting. Are there bears in the area? Can the weather change drastically and abruptly. Knowing about the area will prepare you for the unexpected or unplanned and possibly save your life.
- Know your limits. If you are new to camping it’s probably best you don’t try back country tenting in grizzly territory. If you really don’t know much about navigation, probably not best to start out with long, remote hikes on scarcely marked trails. Instead, start small and work your way up to the more adventurous regions and activities, learning along the way before moving onto something bigger.
- It’s important to see whats in your own back yard but venture out – Canada is a great big place. Go east, go west and go north – there are adventures to be found everywhere – even beyond that hour drive from Toronto.
- And last but not least, Bob says listen to the Park Ranger. Don’t question the rules, they are there to keep you safe and yes, he does know them and the law surrounding your eviction!
This past summer has been filled with crazy antics, belligerent guests, questionable outdoor practices and of course the nature itself and Bob says he loves it all. “You never know what’s going to happen, it keeps it exciting,” he smiles glancing across the way. “It’s nice to know your work is protecting the park, I love that the forest is my office.” And who can argue with that.
As the words by John Kay go “ Take nothing but pictures, kill nothing but time, leave nothing but footprints, to show you came by!”
~ True North Nomad
How do/would you feel seeing someone disrespect the environment as described above? Have you been guilty of any of these offences on nature?
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