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Guardians of the Yosemite (1961) by John W. Bingaman


Chapter IV

RANGER DUTIES IN A NATIONAL PARK

The ranger is the law, the information bureau, wild life protector, handy man, forest fire fighter and rescuer. He is responsible for the protection and administration of his area. He is trained for these duties and must be mentally and physically qualified to handle them competently. The two most important duties of a Ranger is the saving of human life and fighting forest fires.

In the first decade of Park Service beginning 1916, a Ranger was selected for his physical strength and ability to ride and pack horses, to take care of himself alone under all conditions and to see ihat the work assigned was accomplished. Often he was a “one man crew” with few facilities and equipment to aid him. He was on duty every day, seven days a week through the summer season. When a Ranger rode alone into the back country there were no telephones or radios, to keep him in touch with headquarters. In those days it was real pioneering. Had it not been for those dedicated men the first rangers, the purpose of the Park Service might well have fallen short of its original concept.

So it went through the years, the ranger always alert, patrolling the forests and trails, protecting and maintaining the Park in safety for the thousands of visitors that came to see the wonders of nature, and get rejuvenated

from the stress of every day city life. Rangers have some tough problems but they must be met and solved as part of the rangers’ duty. Inexperienced visitors climbing the rocks and precipitous cliffs without proper guidance and technique often get into trouble. It is the ranger’s job to risk his life, if necessary, to bring them down safely.

At the Badger Pass Ski Field over 100,000 people participate in this sport each winter and many accidents occur. Broken legs, cuts and sprains are all too common. Rangers assigned to these areas handle all the first aid cases and assist with the transporting of accident victims down off the ski fields to where medical and hospital service is available. Splints, toboggans and Stokes litter are used for this work. Some week-ends two thousand people will be skiing at Badger Pass. I have assisted in ten rescues in one day. Even a good skier may break a leg if conditions are not just right and he hits an iced up place or obstruction.

In summer the type accidents are more varied. All too often people Attempt swimming in cold swift water when they are hot and tired. The shock may bring on cramps rendering a good swimmer helpless. Unless help is at hand he may well drown.

Heart attacks also happen. Some hikers take too strenuous a trip in high altitude without conditioning first. This should be done gradually until the hikers are acclimated to mountain conditions.

Careless and foolish people who insist on feeding the bear and deer are lucky if they receive only minor bites and scratches.

The ranger is a uniformed man wearing a badge, and required to dress neatly. A wide brimmed Stetson hat, forest green trousers, and a uniform shirt with insignia, set him apart from the park visitors. In the early years he wore riding boots, and breeches, for full uniform. Later this was changed to slacks and oxfords for formal dress. When in the field on patrol, he wears blue jeans and field boots along with his uniform shirt and Stetson hat. On patrols into the remote areas the ranger carries a .45 Colt on his belt. Some of the first rangers also carried a 30-30 Carbine on their saddle. On remote patrols camp gear, bed roll, ax, shovel, note book, map, and food are standard equipment. Binoculars for spotting forest fires are also carried along.

Full instructions for all first aid work is part of the ranger’s training. In later years the training included attendance at a two week F.B.I. School to learn the techniques of law enforcement. In the 1930’s a routine Forest Fire Training School was established which the rangers attended.

Chief Ranger Townsley insisted on mounted patrols. And it impressed Park Visitors. A mounted man in uniform attracts attention. Whereas the same man in a car might well pass unnoticed. I hope to see the mounted rangers come back in the Parks. It gave the rangers an added touch of dignity and authority.

Another important duty is the taking care of the camp grounds in the valley. The ranger is asked hundreds of questions, some of which are most difficult to answer, but he usually comes up with a satisfactory answer. The holidays and peak travel periods are particularly challenging to the ranger on campground duty for it requires a great deal of tact, and a real love and understanding of people, not to get nettled or brusque at some of the park characters.

I well remember July 19, 1935, when I was assigned as patrol ranger in Tuolumne Meadows. The Chief Ranger called up and said, “John we want you to come down and take charge of the camp grounds.” That was an order. Ranger Billy Nelson had been assigned there but was retiring soon, and now I was to take charge. The next day we bid farewell to the Meadows and reported to headquarters.

Billy Nelson was a veteran at Camp Ground duty, and probably the best known Ranger in Camp Ground work. He proceeded to teach me all the tricks of the trade in the next few weeks. The five camp grounds accommodated approximately 8,000 campers. The hardest part of the work was to enforce the 30 day camp limit which had gone into effect that spring. Prior to this year there was no camp limit. As a result a percentage of the families came and stayed all summer. They set up large camp sites along the river. This was the most desirable location so it was felt in fairness to other campers who came to the park for a shorter period that a 30 day limit had to be imposed. With this new regulation, it was necessary to have a card system and to tag each camp. The camper was instructed to register at the Ranger Tent at the entrance to the camp ground when he arrived. He would then receive a tag with his name and entering date. Upon leaving, he checked the tag out. This required a ranger on duty full time at the camp. The ranger had a long day, but he had control and the system worked.

There was little trouble and few complaints once the plan was put into effect for the average camper appreciated the facilities offered by the Park. The question of when the Park would provide more facilities, particularly rest rooms and hot showers, was asked, at least once, by every family. The popularity of the camp sites made it necessary to plan more camp grounds.

A camp in the lower end of the Valley at what was known as “the old bear pits” might well serve for some over flow and take the place of Old Camp Four. It would be available for both winter and summer use and allow Camp Four to be abandoned for it was a less desirable location.

Camping in the high country was encouraged. The camping time limit could be taken off at some of the high camps as an added inducement.

In 1926, I was assigned to Entrance Station at Alder Creek on the Wawona Road. Travel was heavy and more help was needed. The work day began at 6 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m. with no time off. The Superintendent recommended the hiring of women to assist on the stations. July 1, Martha was appointed a Seasonal Ranger and assisted with duties at my station, collecting fees and giving information to the visitors. Other women were hired at this time to assist on other stations.

On July 31, 1926 the All Year Highway from Merced to Yosemite was finished and opened for traffic. Travel increased double that year. It seemed like all the people in California came to visit the Park that summer.


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