Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 10, 2014

Respect: optional?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:40 am
Tags: , , ,

IMG_3116With a warm smile and friendly greeting, I welcomed the vehicle full of young people to Canyonlands. As I leaned out the kiosk window to collect their $10 entrance fee, the acrimonious diatribe began. Abbreviated version: “You mean I have to pay to get into public land? Doesn’t it belong to all of us? I already paid at Arches, you mean I have to pay AGAIN? Is there free camping? What service are you providing? You don’t NEED services in a national park; just let people in to enjoy the land.” I listened and acknowledged their concerns, then began to calmly explain, but they did not want to hear it; their minds were made up. “This is ridiculous — we’re turning around.”

The splenetic young man in the next truck, same party, fairly spat out his words at me: “Standing here collecting $10 is NOT  a service.” He squealed his tires as he drove off to follow his buddies.

The 20-somethings’ selfishness and rancor threw me. Something tells me they didn’t grow up seeing gratitude modeled, or respect, and it isn’t easy to learn these character qualities as adults.

Who provides clean toilets and toilet paper, prints maps, empties trash, plows roads, erases graffiti, installs water faucets for their safety? Who rescues them when they get lost or their car runs out of gas? Who maintains the trails they want to walk on, erects radio repeaters for communications, or takes their mounds of empty bottles to the recycling center 35 miles away? Who creates and installs signs so they can find their way in this wilderness? Who drives the 6,000-gallon water trucks up from Moab? Next time they need any of these things, perhaps the national park entrance fee would seem a reasonable exchange.

Yesterday a man let his two dogs out of his car just as I arrived at an overlook, and they took off running. “Sir? Your dogs are welcome here, but they must be on leashes.” “ANTI-ANIMAL,” he vented, as he whistled for his pets to return. When they got to his side, he loudly told the canines, “NOT YOUR FRIEND.” I took a deep breath to say something but chose to walk the other direction instead of getting tangled up in this miasma of emotion and strong opinion.

Most of my conversations with visitors are delightful, but ones like these drain my joy. I’m a Minnesotan, for crying out loud, and just want people to get along, be happy, and play by the rules. Four cars after the one that opened this post, an elderly Georgia gentleman with a long soft drawl showed me his senior pass, then said, “Do me a favor?” “Sure.” “You have a real wonderful day.” And off he drove.

And I did, by choice.


Leave a comment about some brief interaction you’ve had that startled you.




  1. I know the feeling! Sometimes you want to shout everything you just eloquently said to those ungrateful folks, but then I remember we’re public servants, and it’s not about us particularly (though I too wish for civility and respect!)

    Mary W. shared the acronym LAST with us the other day, which I liked a lot… L: listen to their concerns, no matter how uneducated or impolitely phrased – A: apologize, not taking blame, but to show concern and empathy that they feel badly about xyz – S: solve the problem, if possible or provide an explanation – and T: thank them for their concerns and for sharing them…. Wow can that be hard some days, and most of the time it won’t actually solve their “issue”, but it can turn a negative encounter into a positive one for that visitor, and maybe for the next ranger they encounter… ~L

    Comment by oursunnyday — June 10, 2014 @ 9:49 am | Reply

  2. My friend and I are visiting as many national parks as we can on our road trip, and we have never once met a ranger who got grumpy after talking to an obnoxious guest. At Mesa Verde we were in line behind one of those “What does my annual pass get me, why doesn’t it cover camping, why do tours cost extra, I already paid to get in, this is stupid, you’re stupid,” people. Ten seconds later the ranger smiled at us like nothing was wrong. You guys must be made of stronger stuff than the rest of us, and us visitors really appreciate it!

    Comment by thegreatamericanparkstrip — June 10, 2014 @ 12:46 pm | Reply

    • It deflated me for a few minutes but I determined not to let some entitled folks shake my equanimity. We’re here to help connect our visitors to these beautiful places, and have to let stuff like this go. As Leigh mentioned: we are public servants and it is not about us.

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — June 10, 2014 @ 11:00 pm | Reply

  3. Yet another example of people who do not have a clue what is involved in providing them with the opportunity to visit and enjoy – safely – the great gift that our national parks and other public lands are.
    Years ago, my husband and I encountered a young woman on a “spiritual journey”, just outside the VC at Natural Bridges. She explained to us that she just didn’t understand why she needed to pay an entry fee when she was on said journey. The fact that buying an annual pass would have saved her paying a separate entry fee to each park seemed to have escaped her. Also, she completely missed the fact that she was complaining bitterly about paying a fee as she filled her water jugs at a tap provided by that park, in the arid SW.

    Comment by Andrea Vaughan — June 10, 2014 @ 3:46 pm | Reply

    • Or the 65-year-old Swiss gentleman in an expensive 35-foot RV who insisted that he should get $5/night camping (half price) because he was old.

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — June 11, 2014 @ 6:05 am | Reply

  4. this is so sad. If these beautiful wilderness areas weren’t managed and maintained by the government they’d be exploited by private companies and if there were anything left they’d pay more.

    To visit such places is a privilege not a right. I’m sorry you encounter such hatefulness in a place of such beauty

    Comment by Ana Perry — June 11, 2014 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

  5. I was at Canyonlands in April, and loved every minute of it. Our annual Parks pass is one of our best investments! All those gorgeous places for a mere $80 – the best deal ever! Thank you for all you do, and don’t let those ingrates bother you. There are a lot of people who really appreciate the service and you… and the parks… provide.

    Comment by wineandhistory — June 11, 2014 @ 8:07 pm | Reply

    • Very glad you got out here! Thanks for supporting ALL our national parks. And… I DO feel people’s appreciation, every single day. I love making eye contact as I’m helping them plan their visit, conspiratorily whispering to them, “You’re in the most gorgeous place in Utah,” with a twinkle in my eye. They get it. And they are good stewards of these places, as you are too.

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — June 16, 2014 @ 6:30 am | Reply

  6. We consider our annual state park pass the best value available. A movie or concert ticket, tv (which we choose not to have) provide short term entertainment, while a park pass provides fishing, camping, hiking, cross country skiing, awesome fall leaf scenery, plus geological and historical education, all for 12 months. We hardly fuss at all about the modest fishing license and camping fees!
    Besides, Kathryn, they’re just jealous of your very cool hat!
    Chris Y

    Comment by Chris Youngman — June 16, 2014 @ 4:24 am | Reply

    • It’s definitely the hat. I am often asked where they can buy one… and we all know the answer to that!

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — June 16, 2014 @ 6:30 am | Reply

  7. […] at two National Parks, and experiences like the ones chronicled in those posts (you can read them here and here) are a major reason I chose to leave the Park Service. I guess you could say that I […]

    Pingback by [New Post] You Don’t Deserve Your National Parks | Mariana on the Move — June 20, 2014 @ 10:42 am | Reply

  8. I love that a fellow Southerner encouraged you to have a great day…and love even more that you chose to! I would have a tough time not letting that exchange affect me. Kudos to you and all park services!

    Comment by Lorraine — June 28, 2014 @ 11:07 am | Reply

  9. Just yesterday I received a very rude comment from a state employee while I was actually helping her communicate with a Spanish speaker. Apparently she failed to understand the role of an interpreter .and vented her impatience. It left a very bad taste in my mouth but, thinking back on all the others who appreciated my help all day long, got me over it quickly. Most people do appreciate all the work you do and how much you sacrifice in order to do it. This world would be a very sad place if we didn’t have the wonders of nature and people like you.

    Comment by Dyana — July 1, 2014 @ 10:04 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for sharing your story. We never know what burdens people are carrying, and I am glad you could move on and not let rudeness taint your day. I appreciate the work you do and the assistance you provide!

      Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — July 2, 2014 @ 1:34 pm | Reply

  10. I’m a little late to chime in here, but thought I’d let you know I’m linking to this post from my blog tomorrow. You all are appreciated for not only the hard work you do but the abuse you take from those who don’t look beyond their own selfishness to see the bigger picture. Big fan of your blog!

    Comment by Pam Leonard — July 15, 2014 @ 9:56 am | Reply

  11. You get arseholes like that everywhere. We have them here in the UK. $10 is a cheap day out in the parks like you have over there. As for dog’s We have two and keep them on leads (Leash) but we still come across people who think it is their god give right to have theirs off lead even saying my dogs are ok. We just tell them “ours are not so keep away” It only takes them to see something interesting like a rabbit or deer and they are gone. You keep up the good work there are more people appreciate you then do not

    Comment by Bill Nicholls — July 16, 2014 @ 8:23 am | Reply

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