Visitors see them regularly, tending to animals and taking care of county parks. But what exactly is a typical day in the life of a park ranger?
As she starts her shift, park ranger Helen Overman, a senior ranger at Kinder Farm Park, knows that she has a long day ahead of her. Among her first items of the day is to open the gates, both the main gate in the park and the gate along East-West Boulevard for foot traffic. From there, Overman and her fellow rangers open the barns. Perhaps surprisingly, park rangers aren’t there to only care for the outside. Their duties include taking care of all of the facilities visitors can use, including cleaning the park’s bathrooms and vacuuming the visitor center.
From there, Overman’s daily activities begin. “Rangers’ jobs are a triangle of safety, enforcement and education,” Overman said. “For me, especially in the winter seasons, I start out by looking for any safety issues, maybe injured animals, talking to farm volunteers, seeing how their day is going.”
Safety and maintenance of the park go together, from clearing brush to fixing a broken board on a fence. During the winter, Overman said that rangers will drive around the walking trail looking for any icy patches to treat with salt.
The enforcement aspect involves ensuring park and county rules are always followed. Park rangers rely upon volunteer compliance to make sure that visitors know about and then follow those rules. Overman said that dogs off leashes is one of the most common rules broken at the park.
“If your cute, adorable little dog, who is off their leash, goes up to a dog that isn’t friendly but is on their leash and your dog gets attacked, then you will be held liable for that,” Overman explained. “So educating people about those rules, which is the final corner of our duties.
“We don’t want to tell you, ‘No, you can’t do that thing,’” Overman said. “We want you to have a good experience here, but we also want you to be advocates for the parks, so let me educate you so you can tell the next person not to do something.”
Educating the public ranges from telling and teaching people what the rules of the park are to teaching kids about nature. “We offer educational programs like Nature Escape, teaching kids about tracking, wilderness 101,” Overman said. “There are a bunch of programs to teach people and their kids about nature.”
Park rangers see the forest for the trees, Overman said, so they know many things must be tended to and fixed, but they need to find the time to do all of those tasks.
As her day winds down and the gates are ready to be closed, Overman and other rangers remind people that the park is about to close, often driving around in one of the park’s trucks to find visitors. Overall, Overman wants the public to know that she and the rest of the park’s staff aren’t there for the money.
“We’re here because we love nature and we’re here to get other people enthusiastic about nature,” she said. “Our job is to protect this land in the present and for the future.”
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