Disclaimer: OK, so the photos in this post have little to do with its content, but what’s a good blog without pictures? They are pictures of the park that I’m writing about, so not totally irrelevant.
Usually when someone’s riding in a law enforcement vehicle, it’s the result of recent misbehavior. But in my case, sitting in the bow of a park service skiﬀ plowing the waters of the Diablo Lake Gorge, I was merely getting a ride with a Law Enforcement oﬃcer because she was headed in the same direction I was. In North Cascades National Park, there’s a lot of ride-sharing. I’d like to think it’s because we’re a collaborative, generous folk, but a lot of it has to do with many of the park’s trailheads being almost exclusively water-accessible. Hence the need to connect with those people that are certiﬁed boat operators.
It was in about my second week zipping through these waters that I started to realize how fortunate I really was. The early morning air blew brisk. Car noises had yet to muﬄe down from the highway. Paddlers were yet to dot the waters. It was just me and the policewoman passing beneath the jagged canyon walls of a stream that runs milky jade due to its glacial provenance. This is my job? I smiled contentedly to myself.
As with aforementioned private chauﬀeuring, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing a National Park from the inside over these past two months. I’ve gotten to go behind the “staﬀ only” doors and observe just how the park operates. Everything from the political machinations of upper level oﬃcials (I kid) to who removes sewage from lakeside toilets - I’ve satiated all kinds of curiosities.
For instance, I got to see how the park assesses ﬁre threats ﬁrsthand. One morning, while going out with my boss to meet up with a youth crew on the lake, we gave two ﬁre oﬃcials a lift on their way to a ﬁre site. We took them to the base of a slope with a relatively small ﬁre smoldering up near the top. They had already done a ﬂyover of the ﬁre to assess its size and character. From there, they decided that they would actually hike right up to it for closer inspection. We dropped them oﬀ on the banks of the lake in a tangle of cedar limbs. The grade around them was steep. No obvious approach emerged. So that’s really it? I thought to myself. They send top ﬁre oﬃcials bushwacking several miles up a steep hill to determine whether a ﬁre is worth ﬁghting. (In the end, they decided that the ﬁre was not a threat to visitors and to let it burn itself out.) I couldn’t believe it was as simple as that!
And there are other things. Like being privy to all the radio traﬃc that goes on within the park, everything from medical airlift dispatches to writing tickets for oﬀ-leash dogs in the campgrounds. Watching the Search and Rescue crew perform training drills with the septuagenarian helicopter pilot. Learning the whereabouts of secret backcountry campgrounds for staﬀ (I’m not telling). Discussing science technicians’ ﬁeld assistance for ongoing research projects– they’re literally counting butterﬂies, birds, and pikas to determine how climate change is aﬀecting populations. And participating in brainstorming sessions on how to best engage the park’s partners in educational eﬀorts.
Of course, there are plenty of mundane tasks that one could point to when discussing the park’s operations – toilet paper refreshment in campground bathrooms, data entry in administrative oﬃces, cutting back brush on trails. Somehow though, when the Arrowhead is attached to it, the sense of mystique lingers. So, down the road, even if the only job I can get with the NPS is cleaning horse poop out of stalls, I’ll be able to look at my uniform and feel proud. Visitors don’t really know the diﬀerence between a ranger and maintenance man anyways. ;)