Ranger Kathryn's Arches

October 10, 2013

Trespass and vandalism: civil disobedience, or misplaced frustration?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:14 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Things are quickly going from “okay” to “not okay” in our parks, and it isn’t because of the animals. My friend/colleague in California offers a ranger’s-eye view —

Meanwhile in Death Valley National Park, the tally so far stands at:

– 6 padlocks cut
– 7 closure signs removed
– 3 locks picked
– 2 deadbolts vandalized beyond repair
– 2 piles of poo outside locked restrooms
– 2 big-ass boulders moved aside for a vehicle to drive off-road around a locked gate
– And an unaccountable number of traffic cones and sandwich boards tossed aside or run over by a vehicle

Thank you for vandalizing! Please come again!

Multiply this by more than 400 park units. People intent on getting into a forbidden place rarely stop to consider the consequences of their actions. I fully understand the public’s anger at being locked out of public lands, and their ideological ‘solution’ of trespass, but the repercussions contain unforeseen outcomes. Resource destruction is guaranteed; there is no one to clean and stock bathrooms, monitor trails, protect priceless rock art or other cultural treasures, staff visitor centers, empty trash bins, stop graffiti-ists. Emergency help will be far away. Damage repairs and resource restoration could take years — yes, years. And, not at all subtly, the Park Service ends up being portrayed as the enemy against whom desperate measures must be employed.

Storm clouds rolling in at Canyonlands -- and in every other NPS unit.

Storm clouds rolling in at Canyonlands — and in every other NPS unit.

It’s our elected officials in Washington, remember???

Chills went up my spine when I read that an elected county commissioner in southeast Utah disclosed plans for “peacefully removing barricades” to Lake Powell and other federal areas, stating that “local sheriffs are in on the plan, too.” He states, “This is not anarchy. This is government doing what government does which is look after the health and welfare and safety of their citizens.” And I sit in disbelief, wondering how barricades ordered put up by one government can be taken down by another, claiming they are a health and safety issue. Health and safety issues would be exacerbated, not alleviated, by having no bathrooms, maps, and helpful personnel nearby. No — let’s call it what it is: an economic hardship, and a difficult one. Removing a few barricades might feel productive, but it is an inferior solution. We need answers from the top, from those who don’t appear to be listening right now.

No matter what the media says, we’re not trying to “make things as difficult as possible.” My Death Valley counterpart, a law enforcement ranger, was told the exact opposite: be as low-key and accommodating as possible. It is not our goal to stir up trouble, no matter whose political agenda that might help, and I am issuing a plea: DO NOT TAKE OUT YOUR FRUSTRATION ON THE NPS. Please avoid using inflammatory language like “gestapo” and “Nazi.” I am feeling the same sense of helplessness as you are. Writing an email or making a phone call to your representative in Washington may feel like banging your head against a locked door, but DO IT — every day! And, if you’re contemplating civil disobedience, read this brilliant link first — “Do Visitors Really Need to be Shut Out of National Parks During the Government Shutdown?”: http://www.parkadvocate.org/qa-do-visitors-really-need-to-be-shut-out-of-national-parks-during-the-government-shutdown/


  1. The land was here long before the park service put up those gates and fences, with their padlocks and deadbolts. Personally, I’d like to see motorized vehicles of any type banned from all parks, at all times. Won’t happen, of course. Fact is, people are far removed from the land; most visitors don’t see the parts of the parks that aren’t paved. But to put a “Closed” sign across a trail head — which I saw in Acadia last week — is insane. My hat is off to all those who ignored the signs and walked into, and onto, their public lands these past two weeks, as I did.

    While I admire the park rangers for helping protect the resources of the national lands, I don’t see it as their job to “protect” me from hiking in the wilderness. To be honest about it, I do not remember ever seeing a ranger while I was hiking in the back country. Whether the parks are “open” or not, odds are good we won’t see rangers when we’re hiking in the wilderness. Rangers work where they can do the most good; that is, where most of the people are. So you find them concentrating at visitor centers and nearby sites, where they lead nature walks etc. I enjoy them immensely. But not as much as I enjoy hiking the back country, where there are few people.

    Finally, it’s not realistic expect “answers from the top.” The politicians in DC don’t know how to proivide answers. They play games and behave as children, and the damage they do in the process is far greater than anything I’ve done after walking past the “Closed” signs.

    Comment by Ron Carroll — October 10, 2013 @ 2:13 pm | Reply

    • Ron – Have you ever thought to consider that the land may not still be here for us to enjoy without those “padlocks and deadbolts.” Even those with extensive wilderness experience run the risk of damaging the resource. And the truth is that most visitors to these parks do not fit into that experienced category. You may not see the rangers in the backcountry on your trips, but I assure you they are there, monitoring the resource and the people who come to enjoy it. We don’t like closing trails either, but it is necessary to protect both the resource – our number one priority (and yours too, by the tone of your comment) – and those who strive to enjoy it.

      Whether or not you consider it the Ranger’s job to protect you, we care deeply about the visitors to these parks. You, after all, are our greatest allies in protecting these special places. Just days ago, the staff at Acadia had to carry a woman off a trail after she violated a closure and fell and injured herself.This severely strained the park’s already limited resources. I’m sure she felt confident in her hiking abilities too. But accidents happen. It’s a liability issue. Trails need to be closed when staff is limited to monitor them.

      A true supporter of our parks and all the good they do should stand with us to protect them. Be a steward of this land by obeying closures. We are frustrated too. So you can’t go hiking in the park for a few weeks? Neither can we. But there are other lands both public and private that are available to us. Meanwhile, most of Rangers are out of work and helpless against those who irresponsibly and selfishly ignore signage and recommendations.

      I agree that our leaders are acting childishly. But stubbornly walking around closure signs doesn’t seem a very adult solution to me either. The big problem in DC right now is that no one is working together. You are not contributing to a productive conversation by digging your heels in too.

      Comment by Mariana — October 10, 2013 @ 4:28 pm | Reply

      • Mariana, thank you for your comments. You’re right, most park visitors lack the experience to venture far from the paved roads — thankfully, most don’t — and I certainly didn’t mean to suggest I was questioning the dedication and commitment of the rangers; I know they all care. To be honest about it, I thought Kathryn made some sweeping generalizations that weren’t universally true. Namely: 1) “Resource destruction is guaranteed,” 2) the Park Service is being portrayed “as the enemy,” and 3) “People…rarely stop to consider the consequences of their actions.” Those statements may be true of some park visitors, but not all of us. Kathryn’s experience is different than mine; she has to deal with every type of person — and personality — that comes onto park land; you do too. But the tone of her post struck me as though she were directing her comments to the least educated, and least experienced, among all the parks’ visitors.

        I consider myself a “true supporter” of the parks, as you said. I will call people out on their “bad behavior” if I see it — I do it in a friendly, instructive manner — and I will even carry out other people’s trash when I find it. May I please have my Junior Park Ranger badge now? : ) And to address Kathryn’s points, whenever I’m off-pavement I’m vigilant about “resource destruction” and the “consequences” of my passing through the land. I make it a point to walk softly in the wilderness. But my impact on the land does not increase simply because someone put a “Closed” sign at the trail head. And my solidarity with — and support for — Kathryn, you, and all the other park rangers is not diminished by it. I’ll end this with one anecdote from my hike in Acadia last week…

        I hiked to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. I didn’t plan to, but along the trail I remembered they had closed the road up the mountain, and I wanted to experience being at the summit without the cars, the congestion, and pollution. It was a beautiful sight and I couldn’t stop smiling. In fact, I laughed at one point. The were 5 guys on bicycles and, maybe, 8 other hikers. Gone were the cars and the motorcycles and the tour buses and the crowds of people. It was very nice.

        Comment by Ron Carroll — October 10, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

  2. Reblogged this on Mariana on the Move and commented:
    As I contemplated my keyboard this morning, wanting to write about some recent frustrations, I noticed a new email in my inbox and found my good friend and fellow ranger had already beat me to it. Knowing I could never improve on her eloquent writing and persuasive grace, I thought I’d share her post here. Please pass along her observations with whomever you can. I find them to be very important.

    Comment by Mariana — October 10, 2013 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

  3. Ron – I understand your opinion, and it’s true you aren’t likely to encounter many rangers in the back country – unless you need help. The reality is there just aren’t enough rangers available to cover the territory.

    Do people need – and get — help from park staff? According to a recent article, “There were 2,876 reported search-and-rescue missions in National Park Service areas in 2012…. “What activity most likely will get you in trouble in the parks? Day hiking. During 2012 there were 1,817 SARs involving day hikers, or 43.3 percent of the 2,876 total.”

    Here’s the link to that article:

    I’ve seen one report this week about a visitor who ignored the closure signs at Acadia, went for a hike, and had a serious injury. Her evacuation out of the back country tied up the entire staff of the limited number of rangers still on duty in the park. There will undoubtedly be similar situations, but many are likely to go unreported in the media. Among other things, the few staff members still working in parks have much more important things to do that write reports and press releases.

    Comment by Jim Burnett — October 10, 2013 @ 4:09 pm | Reply

    • Hi Jim. I think the SAR missions of the park rangers is undoubtedly the most heroic aspect of their job. I make it a point to to read the detailed reports of their missions when I see them, and I am always amazed to learn how the rangers risk their lives to help others who are at risk of losing theirs. And of course the rangers also put their lives at risk when the grim mission is to recover the body of someone who has died. Rangers working those missions are true heroes.

      Perhaps I am in a minority here, but I don’t think we can expect rangers, or anyone else, to protect people against themselves. I think highway accidents are a good example. We have lots of laws and we have lots of traffic signs and we have lots of uniformed police — not enough to cover all the highways of course — but there were still 34,000 highway deaths in the US last year (up 5.3% over 2011 btw). No one can protect all the people all the time. People are only human, and we should take that into account.

      Personally, I think the “Closed” signs are there for only one reason. There’s a lawyer somewhere in Washington who told told someone in the Department of the Interior — probably the Secretary — that putting the signs up would help minimize the government’s liability. It’s really that simple. So I take back what what I said initially about the signs being “insane.” They’re really quite logical. What is insane is thinking they will be enough to keep the people out of their parks. It’d be a little like putting up speed limit signs and expecting people not to drive over 65 mph. They will. And some will die. That’s life.

      Comment by Ron Carroll — October 10, 2013 @ 10:00 pm | Reply

      • Ron, I truly appreciate your thoughtful perspective. In response to your response above, I tried hard to avoid sweeping generalizations but my very strong feelings got in the way. (1) I know “guaranteed” is a strong word for resource destruction, but we see it EVERY DAY in people trampling our fragile biological soil crust (often unwittingly) or carving their name or initials on our rocks. (2) Are NPS staff being seen as the enemy? Perhaps my sensitivities are heightened, but it seems we ARE getting blamed for the closure that was forced upon us by Congress’s failure to act. There’s likely a better word than ‘enemy.’ I try hard to select accurate words and didn’t consult my thesaurus on this one. (Good for you for pointing this out; any writer worth his/her ink will appreciate such accountability.) And, you are right — (3) it is wrong of me to lump all visitors together when they span an entire continuum of responsibility. You, ever-vigilant and leaving no trace, are at one end of that continuum. Every day I see the entire spectrum, and would dearly love to see more of your ilk. Even you would find it disconcerting to see the behaviors of the masses. I shall endeavor to direct my comments more toward the middle of the pack in the future. Thank you for making this whole conversation more balanced by presenting your perspectives.

        Comment by Kathryn Burke — October 10, 2013 @ 10:36 pm

      • Hi Kathryn. You’re welcome. And thank you for your reply; it was much appreciated. The answer to these problems lies with education, of course, and that has to be one of the main missions of the NPS rangers. So keep up the good work. Just as soon as they let you get back to it. One other thing…

        If I were in charge, I’d lobby to raise the pay of the rangers. Like all educators, they are underpaid. NOW can I have my junior park ranger badge??

        Thanks again,

        Comment by Ron Carroll — October 11, 2013 @ 5:53 am

      • What?!? My $15/hour isn’t adequate?!? We are in austere times with alarming sequestration cut-backs two years running. Not only no raises in sight, but fewer rangers will be hired. “No money” is a very powerful deterrent to running first-class parks.

        Your badge is waiting for your next trip out here. Just tell ’em I said so!

        Comment by Kathryn Burke — October 11, 2013 @ 7:41 am

  4. I also don’t car much for this post….since when does mother nature need MAINTENANCE. The Park Service has created alot, as far as I’m concerned, a lot of tourist “vehicle” friendly amenities that are not necessary for those that truelly want to experience the real out doors. Yes, Thank You, I am glad dome exist, but THEY ARE NOT ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY, and we should be able to visit the wilderness without being treated like children, that will hurt them selves, that don’t have common sense, or that need to be supervised. The Park Service, as a “Service” should not exist just for the sake of existing, and it’s existence, or not, should not prevent us citizens from utilizing the public lands.

    Comment by Markdek — October 10, 2013 @ 5:14 pm | Reply

  5. Congress and Obama are at fault, not the Park Service. Last weekend I did hike on national forest land. The trails were not marked closed, but the outhouse was locked. People were respectful of the trails; I saw no litter and we all discretely used the woods. Granted, biological products decompose much faster in this climate than in the desert. THESE AREAS BELONG TO THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE PAID TAXES. WASHINGTON WOULD DO WELL TO REMEMBER WHERE “THEIR” MONEY IS COMING FROM. Going past US Forest Service campgrounds which were posted closed, we noticed several campers. Going into the campgrounds, we again noticed no litter, and quiet and respectful use of OUR land.

    Comment by Chris Youngman — October 10, 2013 @ 5:41 pm | Reply

    • Ah, Chris, it’s those Minnesota-nice campers — always quiet and respectful! Even when the outhouse is locked! So glad you’re enjoying Lake Superior’s best spots.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — October 10, 2013 @ 10:40 pm | Reply

  6. Readers…take note…….This thread has already been edited, and therefore is biased and not genuine. You had a great opportunity to converse with the pubic…….but you choose censorship instead……good job!

    Comment by Markdekmarkdek — October 11, 2013 @ 3:29 am | Reply

    • Not so quick, my friend. My edit removed none of the original wording. It simply added one phrase I forgot: “protect priceless rock art or other cultural treasures.” I value authenticity too much to bend with the wind. You can breathe more easily now.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — October 11, 2013 @ 7:35 am | Reply

  7. Quite the discussion, I see truth in all the perspectives. The difference for me I think lies in the conundrum of whether it is truly “public” land or whether it is “nationally owned” land. If the land legally belongs to the US government, then it is their right to limit access to it. If it belongs to the public they do not have the right to keep people out, but only limit services. Rangers and all who dedicate their lives to trying to protect special places from the foolishness that human beings get up to do not get enough respect or pay. Sorry to hear that some are blaming the park staff, I myself cannot imagine how ignorant someone must be to not know where to place the blame! Hopefully it will be over soon before much damage is done to visitors and parks both.

    Comment by Pam — October 13, 2013 @ 11:34 am | Reply

  8. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen…”

    — Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Comment by Ron Carroll — October 21, 2013 @ 7:26 am | Reply

    • The longer version…

      “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

      ― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

      Comment by Ron Carroll — October 21, 2013 @ 7:33 am | Reply

      • Nothing short of brilliant, Ron. I thank you. — K

        Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — October 21, 2013 @ 7:41 am

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