I have often thought that if the U.S. were as well run across the board as is the National Park Service and the Coast Guard, we would have one really exceptional and responsive form of government. Wishful thinking aside, however, and recognizing that even the NPS has a (relatively small) share of the bureaucratic pie in Washington, D.C., it has been my privilege to meet, learn from, and work with literally hundreds of park rangers in the field who do an outstanding job of administering, protecting and interpreting the 398 units that are currently under the jurisdiction of our National Park Service.
Day in and day out, these committed public servants, aided by a substantial cast of volunteers, can, almost without exception, be characterized as knowledgeable, friendly, helpful and cognizant of the fact that their jobs can be defined as working for, representing and serving us, each a part owner of the world’s greatest collection of historic, scenic and geologic treasures, rather than the other way around.
It is sometimes difficult to imagine much in the line of real service being provided in a day when lackadaisical attitudes and “good enough” mentalities are all too frequently encountered when dealing with “service” personnel. Yet I have found that NPS employees do take their jobs extremely seriously, even when posted to infrequently visited (especially during wintertime!), lesser-known parklands in the “wilds” of North Dakota, Alaska or Oklahoma, or even to some relatively obscure NPS historic sites that are overshadowed by their much more popular neighbors.
I am presently on a personal quest to visit all of our NPS-administered facilities, a journey than, as of this week, has reached 339 different units or just over 85% of the existing (but gradually expanding) total. By next summer, I hope to have made all 379 sites in the continental U.S., Hawaii and the Caribbean, leaving only 19 well “off-the-beaten-path” units in Alaska, Guam, and American Samoa.
This effort has been made immeasurably easier, more educational, and simply more enjoyable because of the countless fine NPS rangers that have assisted me along the way. As we continue to approach the NPS centennial in 2016, I propose that we take the time to often doff our own headgear, whether fedoras, cowboy hats, or (in my case) baseball caps, in tribute to those exceptional ladies and gentlemen who wear their own “Smokey the Bear” ranger hats with pride, dignity and professionalism.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, SD