Ranger Kathryn's Arches

October 17, 2013

Open, open, open!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:32 am
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Ranger Victoria, Ranger Rob, Ranger Lauren -- Arches NP, 2010

Ranger Victoria, Ranger Rob, Ranger Lauren — Arches NP, 2010


A sixteen-day closure was excruciating, but in the last year America’s national parks welcomed more than 270 million regular people. They all came, and continue to come, for their own reasons — beauty, refreshment, to-do list, head-clearing, exercise, inspiration. If I could give only one message to Congress, it is this: These places are essential in the fabric of our lives.

To those putting on the green and gray today: brace yourselves for the most sincere, profuse, grateful expressions of joy and delight and relief that you’ve likely experienced in that uniform. My experience in the entrance station on the first day Canyonlands opened (under state funding) was almost surreal: nearly 100% of the cars that drove up were grinning, clapping, laughing, high-fiving me — ecstatic to be able to return to their parks. It was an unceasing stream of “I’m so happy to see you” and “Thrilled that you’re back at work.”

I’ve seen lots of smiles in this park — but this day was one solid grin, from beginning to end. And, to my peers working in entrance booths and visitor centers across America today, all I can say is: ENJOY IT. There’s nothing like ‘going without’ to remind us to be grateful.



September 13, 2012

Packrats? Not my favorite.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:36 am
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Gloved up and ready to remove packrat nesting material from my car’s engine.

Scritch scritch scritch.

The unmistakable rodent sound came from within my car’s engine, audible as I sat watching my umpteenth sunset from the front porch. I heard it again, sighed, wandered over to pop the hood open, and found what I least wanted to see: nesting material, freshly-harvested greenery, piled behind one headlight. Poop pellets confirmed that it was indeed Neotoma albigula, our local packrat.

Last season, a co-worker spent $1200 repairing her rodent-gnawed vehicle. Twelve hundred dollars! I had no mothballs or peppermint oil (two alleged deterrents), so I did something rash: set a mousetrap under the car. Baited it with the only thing I had, which was Biscoff spread. Caught me a 13″ (nose to tail) half-pounder. I apologize if that sounds un-rangerish, I really do. Normally I live and let live. But not when my car is at stake, and this critter had already staked its claim.

Ants, feasting. Bypass this photo if you are squeamish about dead things. I made it small on purpose.

Hantavirus is the other concern. Several deaths have happened recently from this rodent-transmitted disease at Yosemite National Park, and in the NPS we don’t take safety issues lightly. All rodent clean-up involves latex gloves, bleach water, and (if necessary) mask to prevent inhaling the virus.

I’ve returned the carcass of the packrat to the back yard, ensuring that the circle of life continues. It’ll make good food for some raven.

Have you been the victim of any rodent damage? Leave a comment.


August 31, 2012

A geologic symphony

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:39 am
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Christopher Layer playing the great highland pipes at Grand View Point.

There I was at the Farmers’ Market in Moab, representing the National Park Service at a booth. Along came a musician, an artist-in-residence type, and BAM before you knew it a plan had arisen for him to provide live music for my geology talk the next week.

Music is a wondrous metaphor. It serves well when words fall short. It connects both halves of the brain, helps build relationships in our minds, strengthens our understanding. Crossing language barriers, it stirs emotion and is a powerful tool in the work of interpretation.

Ranger Kathryn, all ears, listening to bagpipe interpretation of geologic processes.

But… musical geology??? YES. Great composers have written about magnificent formations (Grofe’, Grand Canyon Suite) or mountains (Mussorgsky, Night on Bald Mountain) or an entire solar system (Holst, The Planets). Surely Canyonlands National Park could provide the inspiration for improvised interludes of flute and bagpipe and Uilleann pipe music between the movements of my own geologic symphony.

Improv keeps you on your toes and opens you to new ideas. The playlist that I use in my regular geology talk is comprised of classical music excerpts; this day it was whatever the musician was moved to play. I’ll let you try to imagine what lithification (process of turning sediment to rock) might sound like on the pipes.

Thanks, Christopher Layer, for moving me out of my comfort zone and bringing your creativity to my Sunday ranger talk!

February 28, 2012

Fresh faces, fresh ideas

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:06 pm
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From my front door: Sun bursts through at day's end after snowstorm. Unretouched colors. Four vehicles in ranger housing means people are coming back!

It’s that magical time of year when new seasonal staff arrive at parks around here. After the halcyon days of winter, where the few remaining rangers begin to be able to finish one another’s sentences or (heaven forbid) think one another’s thoughts, the influx of new blood is welcomed. They bring with them new ideas, new perspectives, new ways of seeing the too-familiar. Even if it’s only directions to find our bathrooms outside, it’s refreshing.

This winter I was delegated the responsibility to interview and hire our three student interns supplied by the Student Conservation Association. My boss did the same for the seasonal park rangers. Together we tried to select people we thought would not only do a good job, but would adapt well to an isolated living/working situation and who would complement the mix of staff already here. With a clan as small as ours, it takes only one bad apple to make things miserable for us all; we ask candidates lots of questions to try to get a whole picture of who they are and how they’ll fit.

And now they’re here. It looks to be a particularly engaging, intelligent, passionate, well-fitting group with lots of energy. My next use of the word “halcyon” to describe our days here may be nine months hence…

January 3, 2012

Ranger down

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:19 am
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“When a police officer is killed, it’s not an agency that loses an officer; it’s an entire nation.”   — Chris Cosgriff, Founder, Officer Down Memorial Page

I raised our flag this morning, and then somberly lowered it to half-staff. Our badges have had a black band placed over them to signify mourning. You’ve heard the tragic news that a national park ranger has been shot dead in the line of duty; it affects every one of us in the NPS family.

I have nothing but admiration for law enforcement rangers. Those with whom I’ve had the privilege of working for these three seasons have been not only courageous, but professional, prepared, and personable. They handle everything that comes their way. They are cognizant that a routine traffic stop could turn violent, even fatal; they are trained to act as if it will. The park ranger who was killed never even had a chance to exit her vehicle.

According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, National Park Service Law Enforcement Rangers suffer the most number of felonious assaults, and the highest number of homicides of all federal law enforcement officers. Could you go to work each day knowing statistics like that?

Hug a park ranger today. Tell them how much you value their contributions. Pray for their safety.


P.S. to family/friends who may worry about me: we interpretive rangers, the kind who don’t carry a gun, who specialize in education rather than enforcement, do not encounter volatile situations nearly as often as protection rangers do. Confrontations in my line of work generally revolve around entrance fees, dogs on the trails, parking issues, and other low-stakes situations.

December 18, 2011

The winter NPS uniform

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 2:12 am
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I pulled the gray felt hat out of its protective Stratton box, admiring the familiar dimpled shape and outrageously flat brim. Pushing it onto my head, breathing “please please fit, please,” I was relieved to find that it almost did. Tight, but workable if one doesn’t mind a sunken red impression striped across one’s forehead. Perhaps I’ll locate a colleague with a hat stretcher.

Sliding the embossed ‘USNPS’ hat band from my summer straw hat onto the winter hat, the ensemble was complete and I could walk to work for my first day ever in the winter park ranger uniform. Dripping with professionalism, it’s a much smarter look than the breezy summer uniform. The heavier pants drape beautifully. The tapered winter-weight shirt is finished off with mandatory green tie and arrowhead tie tack — a novelty for this woman whose off-duty wardrobe choices favor femininity over androgyny.

Mt Tukuhnikivatz, bedecked in a fresh garment of shimmering white, greeted me above the morning fog as I approached the Visitor Center and took a deep breath of chilly mesa air. The day brimmed with promise.

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