It is a little disheartening to see my job being called “not essential.” I know that my coworkers and the people who visit our national park do not believe that. But Congress has deemed over 87% of National Park Service employees as “non-essential.”
Now let me tell you a little bit of what I have done as an interpretation park ranger.
I’ve convinced parents not to bring their children on trails where they likely would end up dead. We have a number of trails in our park that should never be attempted by children, especially very young children. However on multiple occasions I have had parents who were determined that their children could hike those trails. One of them even had a 3 year old that she was “training” to hike an inland mountain later in the year. Even after explaining that the trail is not suitable for children these parents tend to not be convinced. It is up to me to do my best to discourage them from putting themselves and their children at risk. Park Rangers prevent a lot of deaths in National Parks just because they are there to inform and discourage potentially dangerous activity.
I’ve found injured visitors while roving, provided some basic first aid supplies, contacted rangers fully trained in emergency response, and stayed with visitors until other rangers arrived. Many of my coworkers have assisted on carry-outs of injured hikers, everything from a simple sprained ankle to serious life threatening injuries. They even did a carry out of a Newfoundland dog who had collapsed from heat exhaustion!
I’ve had a young women come to me asking for help because she had been hitchhiking and gotten in a car with a bad individual. This man had made multiple sexual advances towards her and refused to let her out of the car until she finally lied about having to use the bathroom and got to us.
I’ve made people’s day better just by talking to them. A gentlemen who had faced discrimination in other places due to having a service dog was happy to find that I have trained service dogs and understood his worries and the situation. A women on a program heard a story that her mother use to tell to her and which she had not been able to find to share with her grandchildren until I sent her the source. People joke with me, complain to me, share their worries and concerns, ask their questions.
An interpretation park ranger is the face of the National Park. They provide information that visitors desperately need.
What time does this open?
Where can I take my elderly parents?
Where can I see the sunrise/sunset?
Why is that memorial there?
What places will my 2 year old enjoy?
Where did this name come from?
Is this trail safe for an 8 year old?Where is the hospital?
What does this program cover?
Where can I get water/food?
And the most popular question I get is,
What do I do?
The huge majority of the time a visitor is asking a version of “what do I do?” Park Rangers are essential because visitors cannot get the same depth of information from a book, website or video. Because we do our very best everyday to make sure our visitors have a great visit and also stay safe and well.
It is frustrating for someone who truly has a passion for the work they do watch as their position and their department gets dragged through the mud. Not just by Congress but by American citizens as well. I have read so many comments today about how non-essential employees should just be fired anyway. How the National Parks should be turned over to private organizations. About how the non-essential employees don’t do anything. How we don’t deserve any pity because we work for the terrible government and therefore are terrible ourselves. The one that really gets to me is people that assume we are getting a “paid vacation.”
Yeah, doesn’t work that way. As far as I have read and been informed I will not be getting paid for any work I would have done normally. I will still get paid for work I did prior to today. But as of today I am basically on mandatory unpaid leave until further notice. No money coming my way. I am right now preparing to lose my entire last month of work and last month of pay I would have made this season. Money that would have been used in my families budget to help keep us fed and the bills paid over the winter.
Now if Congress decides to be kind they could POSSIBLY pass legislation that would pay us for the work we would have done had a shutdown not happened. What is the chance of that? Little to none. So right now I am in limbo. I am not laid off from work. I am not allowed to work. I can’t go too far away from work just in case Congress works something out and I am needed as scheduled. I am basically suppose to sit here and twiddle my thumbs as I wait for Congress to stop bickering like little children.
You have every right to be angry at the government (specifically Congress and the president) for this shut down. But please reconsider directing your anger at the employees not directly associated with this budget crisis. We are just as upset as you are. We are just as concerned. We have a lot to lose the longer this shut down goes on.
Don’t think for a minute that any National Park Employee has been happy to see the park gates close today. Or been overjoyed when they turned away a visitor. We don’t take pleasure in having to explain to visitors (some who have traveled from other countries just to see our park) that they are not allowed in. We share in your frustration and we want to see this shut down end as much as you do.
Please be considerate to us “nonessential” employees. Because the truth is, we are far more essential than Congress yet they are still drawing their paychecks while we are forced to sit idle.