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Reader Participation Day: What Deviations From National Park Standards Have You Seen?

Elk Bugle Corp VIP in GRSM

Four VIPs (Volunteers in the Parks) in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

When I was a volunteer in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we were handed two shirts: a long-sleeve for the winter and a short-sleeve shirt for the rest of the year. But how did we know when winter ended and summer started?

Twice a year, former Superintendent Dale Ditmanson put out a directive when it was time to switch from one shirt to another. Other rules took up two pages of the training manual for volunteers.

The year after the accompanying picture was taken, VIPs (volunteers in the parks) handed in their green ball caps and given brown ones, so that we couldn't be mistaken for rangers.

I became attuned to looking for procedures and standards and deviation from them. For example:

* Visitor Centers open on time, to the minute.

* Ranger flat hats are worn outside and not inside a buiding.

* Rangers and volunteers who staff the desk at the visitor center never recommend a specific private business. They'll say in general, "there are lots of places in [the gateway town] where you can get lunch.

* People coming into parks are referred to as visitors and never tourists.

* And the stores in the parks are bookstores, never gift stores, no matter what they sell.
Have you seen deviations from National Park Service practices by rangers or volunteers? In what parks?

Do these breaches bother you?


Long ago in a galaxy far, far away...NW trail crew seasonals were required to wear the standard 'green & gray'. The synthetic fabric and tight fit were totally unsuited for hiking, working and living in 'the land that dry forgot'. The uniforms would be shed at the trailhead and left in the crew truck for the day, or the week, until returning to Hindquarters. There also seemed to be quite a black market in hats, arrowhead insignias, and such, especially among volunteers.  I think the bosses were clueless, so everybody was happy.



I suspect the percentage of miscreants in the NPS/Volunteers is no more than any other random population. Probably less.

ecbuck, don't you think the NPS ought to shoot for a percentage of miscreants that is dramatically below what is in a random population? Don't you think we should have higher expectations than that?

And I'm not talking about difficult to solve problems here much of this penny ante stuff could be ended simply by simple supervisory presence and control over their staff. This kind of stuff goes on because of supervisors who either don't care or rarely get out from behind their computer screens.

don't you think the NPS ought to shoot for a percentage of miscreants that is dramatically below what is in a random population?

It would be nice, but I can think of many other places within government and the private sector where I prefer to see the effort/money spent.

When I visited NPSA [National Park of American Samoa] the trail crew was working on the sides of steep mountains battling invasive trees, and often had nothing better than flip flops on their feet as they were trying to both stand upright and climb the soft soil of the hillside and also swing machetes. A temp administrative person made an executive decision and bought them - I believe it was rugby or football cleats. Not exactly a uniform standard but the perfect footwear for what they were doing. That's a common sense exception to standards.

One of the old time rangers at Grand Canyon said on the North Rim they used to run around in any old thing, even though the superintendent at the time required class A uniforms at all times. When the super was coming over to the north side, the copter pilot would call them so they had time to change into their good clothes. One day the super was coming back from a conference in Utah and decided to drive to the North Rim. His wife started to tell the entry station who they were, but he said, "No, pay to get in. It will be worth it." The story goes that the first ranger who saw the super radioed everyone else, and they were changing into their class A's in their cars, in the bathrooms, and behind the trees while he stood there and chortled.

As a visitor to parks I often experienced instances where I thought the visitor was being ill served. I have also been involved in, as well as the subject, of the management evaluation process. Too often a management evaluation focused on whether the T's were crossed and the i's dotted from an administrative standpoint. The result was that most evaluations were of the parks administrative functions. I have always thought a management evaluation should emphasize how the visitor is served and the resources were bring managed. The first step in that process should be two to four individuals visiting a park doing what any other visitor would do and without the knowledge of park management.
It is not that employees are uncaring, but more a case of being unaware of anything beyond their immediate concern. I recall a meeting in the Chief Ranger office in Yosemite. Each of us went through what we thought was happening in the park, when one of the naturalists reminded us of what the birds and other park wildlife were doing. Often as a ranger I would walk around in uniform oblivious to the visitors I was passing, being lost in my own thoughts about my job. I think we all tend to be that way and it takes an outside force to make us realize what we are doing.

There is a wonderful story about Frank Kowski and the Southwest Region's forester Es Lampi. (I've heard it from a couple of good sources, so I think it's actually true.)

Once upon a very long time ago, Frank and Es and some other regional office folks were on the north rim of GRCA when someone asked if a lightning fire on an isolated chunk of rock might spread to the forest on the rim. Es replied that it could and to illustrate his point, he made a paper airplane and tossed it off the edge of the canyon. It caught a thermal, climbed and circled gracefully and finally landed back in the forest.

Boys will be boys, and soon the whole gang was making airplanes out of any paper they could find and were having a gleeful contest to see whose could fly farthest.

Someone reported it and a brand-new seasonal ranger arrived. He took a look at all the paper strung around the forest. Approaching the group, he is supposed to have said something like, "Gentlemen, I'm sorry, but this littering is simply inexcusable. I'm going to have to write citations. May I see your driver's licenses?"

Frank stepped forward and handed his to the young ranger. The ranger clamped it in his clipboard and started writing. Then he paused, looked at the license and then at Frank. "Uh, Sir, do you happen to be the same Frank Kowski who is the Southwest Regional director of the National Park Service?"

Frank allowed as how he was and introduced his companions. The young ranger is said to have chewed on his lower lip for a while before he took a deep breath and said, "Well, Sir, if anyone should know better, YOU should." Whereupon he finished writing the tickets.

Frank and the others left the north rim, visited the magistrate at the south rim and paid their fines. Frank is said to have told the young ranger later that, " . . .if you had backed down, I'd have had your badge on the spot."

If the story is indeed true, I believe that young ranger retired a few years ago as superintendent of one of our larger park areas in Utah. I never met him, so never had a chance to ask.

They just don't make 'em like Frank any more.

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