CODY, Wyo. — Richard Jones of Cody grew up in a Park Service family and then he became a ranger for 25 years. The national parks were in his genes.
His dad was a ranger and the family lived in Yellowstone National Park year-round when he was a youngster, reported the Cody Enterprise (http://bit.ly/2e9a9uP). The seed was planted when he spent four years, from 1953 to 1957, inside the nation’s oldest national park, leading Jones, 66, to follow his father Harold Ray “Bob” Jones into the role.
Richard Jones worked for the Park Service in numerous locations, indoors in offices and outdoors in the field, in Washington, D.C., Omaha, Nebraska, Arizona, the Virgin Islands and Mississippi.
“There are wonderful things everywhere,” Jones said.
That could well be a Park system motto.
This has been a year of celebration for the 100th anniversary observance of the creation of the National Park Service.
The Park system and the Park Service are vastly different today than when the fledgling government agency was established by Congress and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on Aug. 25, 1916.
There are now 59 National Parks and more than 400 monuments and other historic sites under the umbrella of a department that employs more than 22,000 people and relies on approximately 400,000 volunteers.
For some, being a National Park Service employee is a calling. For many it is a quest for adventure. But for most, wearing the uniform produces a sense of pride.
Colin Campbell, deputy regional director for intermountain operations in Denver, is a 37-year Park Service employee. He said he decided early in life that this was what he wanted to do.
“This is the career I had in mind,” Campbell said of his mindset coming out of college.
In his travels, Campbell spent four years working in Yellowstone and 11 years at Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone’s next-door neighbor.
“The power of that resource, of that landscape, is just extraordinary,” Campbell said of Yellowstone. “It’s an opportunity few people have.”
Campbell has transferred from park to park like most Park Service employees, but didn’t have a master plan.
“Opportunities would come and go and present themselves,” he said. “All of these parks were the same and all were different.”
Creation of the Park
Yellowstone was born as the first national park in 1872, but simply gaining such designation did not mean operations arrived fully organized.
A superintendent was appointed, but no salary appropriated. The land became a park, but no method of running it was imposed. For years the Army supervised Yellowstone.
By 1916, Yellowstone had company. Due to a budding conservation ethic, more parks had been established, Sequoia and Yosemite in 1890, Mount Rainier in 1899, Crater Lake in 1902, Wind Cave in 1903 (one of Jones’ stops), Mesa Verde in 1906, Glacier in 1910, Rocky Mountain in 1915, and Lassen Volcanic in California in 1916.
It was apparent somebody needed to take charge of the burgeoning operations. It fell to the passionate Stephen Mather, who became the Park Service’s first director, and his deputy, Horace Albright, who succeeded him, to spearhead passage of the Park Service legislation and then they administered the department.
In the act creating the Park Service, an overriding philosophical outlook was assigned “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
That philosophy remains the guiding principle of the Park Service in 2016.
Campbell said the 100th anniversary is a time to “reflect on an extraordinary event in our country’s history” when it was determined to “set aside and (leave) open to all” the wild lands in the parks system.
A 1971 book dear to Jones is titled “Islands of Hope” because of its view of protection and preservation. The author, William E. Brown, focused on what he termed an environmental crisis.
“Islands of hope. That’s one of my favorite phrases about the Park Service,” Jones said. “I’m a great admirer of the Park Service. We have so many great things that could be lost so easily.”
A lone ranger
“Rocky Mountain” Harry Yount was basically the lone ranger, then called a gamekeeper. Long before there was a Park Service, Yount roamed Yellowstone on behalf of the government, chasing off poachers and protecting those animals that were supposed to be around for future generations. He was paid $1,000 a year.
A Civil War soldier for the Union, Yount, who lived from 1839 to 1924, was also a trapper, a prospector, and a wilderness guide. But Yellowstone is 2.2-million acres large and impossible for one man to patrol.
After living it, Yount was the first to explain this to government officials.
Yount recommended “The appointment of a small, active, reliable police force, to receive regular pay during the spring and summer at least, when animals are likely to be slaughtered by tourists and mountaineers.”
The need was recognized when park protection and administration was turned over to the military.
Even after the Park Service replaced the military, uniforms reminiscent of an army were retained – that was Mather’s choice.
Yount lived long enough to witness the changes and Albright anointed him “the father” of Park rangers.
Life as a ranger
Even today, Park rangers, especially those in parks of a certain type such as Yellowstone and Denali National Park in Alaska, are tasked with many of the same assignments as Yount, from backcountry patrols, to being watchful of fire setters, to apprehending anyone engaged in illegal hunting.
There are interpretative rangers who give educational talks and there are rangers who are trained law enforcement officials.
The vast majority of rangers making a career in National Park Service transfer from park to park, some for the experience and some because they wish to move up the professional ladder.
A tiny percentage manage to spend nearly an entire Park Service career in a single park, a location they fell in love with and are loathe to leave.
One such ranger is Roger Robinson, a climbing ranger for Denali, the tallest peak in North America at 20,310 feet. Robinson has been in that job for 37 years.
“I sometimes can’t believe it,” said Robinson, who first visited the mountain in 1976. “It’s so great to be able to use past experiences from so long ago.”
During Robinson’s tenure the number of mountaineers attempting to climb the peak has grown from 600 to up to 1,300 people a year.
Some three-and-a-half decades ago, after President Jimmy Carter vastly expanded the park system in Alaska, the National Park Service was seen by some as implementers of a land grab. But views have softened over time.
“There is less opposition to the work of the National Park Service than there used to be,” Robinson said. “There’s a huge amount of money made from the parks.”
Talkeetna, the main gateway town for Denali National Park, caters to climbers, hikers and park visitors by selling scenic flights, equipment and as headquarters for tour companies.
“Back in 1980 none of that existed,” Robinson said.
It is a relationship akin to the one between Cody and Yellowstone.
Wearing many hats
There have never been more devoted fans of the National Park Service and its rangers than the men who created them, Mather and Albright.
In 1928, Albright gathered material to write about rangers. In 1972, for the 100th anniversary of Yellowstone’s creation, the book “Oh, Ranger!” was reissued.
While rangers essentially have literally only ever worn one hat, the trademark, wide-brim, half-cowboy, half-military top, they figuratively wear many hats, almost daily.
Early in the book, a ranger was asked what he does and replied, “Show folks where to camp, and how to keep on the right road, and answer questions, and see that people don’t tease the animals, and keep things orderly, and put out forest fires, and give lectures on Nature, and rescue Dudes in danger and ‘most anything anybody wants done around here.”
Clearly, versatility was prized.
Mather was quoted in the introduction of the original volume of “Oh, Ranger!” speaking about some of his most pleasurable moments with rangers.
“I like to picture the thousands of people gathered about the park camp fires, asking questions of the rangers,” Mather said. “In fact, I like to be at the camp fire myself, and listen to the thousands of questions asked about the parks and their wildlife.”
Inside Yellowstone National Park is the Museum of the National Park Ranger, set off in the trees near the entrance to the Norris Campground.
The building opened in 1991 to recognize and honor the history of the Park Ranger. It contains exhibits on everything from paintings to clothing, illustrating the evolution of the ranger over the last century.
According to Brian Suderman, an education ranger, daily operations are staffed by volunteers who are retired rangers. Some 300 to 400 people a day visit.
“Attendance at the Ranger Museum is definitely up this year,” Suderman said.
A big museum
Yellowstone attracted 4.1 million visitors in 2015, a record, and is on another record-breaking attendance pace in 2016. Given the anniversary, that is no surprise.
Jones is a regular customer, visiting the park of his youth in all seasons, taking snowmobile rides in winter and like everyone else admiring the scenery and wildlife the rest of the year.
He got his first break in the Park Service with a 180-day appointment in Flagstaff, Arizona, and because his future was tenuous he didn’t buy a uniform.
“I borrowed some shirts from my dad,” Jones said.
Then his stay was renewed and he advanced.
Jones was fond of Saguaro National Park near Tucson, home of giant cacti. He met his first wife at Natchez Trace in Mississippi, and spent 10 years at Virgin Islands National Park.
“I was warm every day I was there,” Jones said.
Jones said he is always asked which his favorite park was, but answers diplomatically.
“When I was growing up, I saw the value of every place I lived,” he said. “When I made a change, it was a big change. It was a change of culture, a change of climate.”
Yet he regularly gravitated back to the Cody area and to Yellowstone, which as a senior citizen he views through different eyes than he did as a kid.
“It’s just a museum,” Jones said of Yellowstone and other parks. “That’s my concept. These are just big museums. You don’t roller skate in a museum. You don’t fly a kite in a museum. There are a million other acres where you can go for that.”
Museums. A synonym for islands of hope.
Information from: The Cody Enterprise, http://www.codyenterprise.com