Through a Ranger’s Eyes: Questions

July 29, 2015 Posted by: Lacey Thomas

This is part of a series of posts about the work and life of park rangers at Katmai.

We are taught as children to ask questions to understand the world around us. When people leave their comfort zones and go on vacation they tend to ask more questions. The rangers at Katmai, and at Brooks Camp in particular, spend a lot of time answering questions. People are often curious about life at Brooks Camp. Since not everyone gets to visit and ask us personally, I figured this would be a great opportunity to answer some of the most frequently asked questions of the Brooks Camp staff.

What do you do all day?
It depends. Almost everyone will spend part of the day doing what’s called informal interpretation. Some parks call this “roving.” That’s when a ranger is out and about with people but not presenting a program. It’s a bit like a big question and answer session, but there is more to it than meets the eye.

Anyone can say, “Hey! There’s a bear over there!” As a ranger, it’s my job to not only point out the bear but to connect it to the big picture. It may be a dominant male bear on the hunt for a mate. Maybe it’s a sow with two cubs, and one of them is walking with a pronounced limp. Informal interpretation helps fill in the blanks and makes what’s happening relevant to you. In addition to informal interpretation we also give formal programs including the day-long Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes Natural History Tour, evening programs, and a daily cultural walk. We staff wildlife viewing platforms, the visitor center, and provide mandatory bear orientations.

ranger on wildlife viewing platform with visitorRangers contact people most often on the wildlife viewing platforms at Brooks Camp. NPS/M. Fitz.

What’s it like to live at Brooks Camp?
It’s wonderful and difficult at the same time. There is no landline telephone, no cell phones, no radio, and no TV. Internet access is limited. Some people find it very claustrophobic to be so closed off from the world. Most of us greatly enjoy the time unplugged from “the real world” and revel in our apartness. We do have to order months of food and supplies for our time at camp. We can’t just get in a car and run to the grocery store if we run out of something. We depend on each other in many ways. I think it’s one of the closest things to being a pioneer as you can get in 21st century America.

Do you like your job?
This one is pretty self-evident. If we didn’t love our jobs, we wouldn’t be out here. Every day is an adventure. You never know what’s going to happen. You might witness the spectacle of a separated sow and cub become reunited. You might see someone drop to his or her knees in thanksgiving when exiting a float plane for the first time. Whatever happens, you know that just by being there in some capacity, you’ve probably made someone’s vacation that much better and more meaningful.

Do you worry about the bears?
I certainly have a healthy respect for them. If I worried about the bears, I couldn’t effectively do my job. I rely on my training and experience to help in the situations that crop up every day.

bear with cub near vehicles and buildings

Living among high numbers of bears comes with the territory. There isn’t a bear free spot at Brooks Camp except inside buildings or on wildlife viewing platforms. NPS/L. Thomas.

How do you talk to your family and friends?
I write lots of letters. Due to bandwidth limitations, personal Internet access is often limited to email and grocery orders. Streaming video and audio are not options. Even uploading photos to share with family and friends eats up precious bandwidth. Most of us post a status update every week or two to let the world know we’re still alive and to tell everyone awesome our summer home is.

Is it hard to live at Brooks Camp?
It’s certainly not for everyone. I consider logistics the hard part. Buying and shipping five months of groceries and toiletries is much harder for me than living without a phone and TV. (Mostly because I don’t like to spend that much money at one time!) Everyone has different opinions about the hardest part of living in camp. Some don’t like that you’re never truly alone in camp. Others don’t like they can’t leave on a whim.

well stocked pantry in cabinA well stocked panty is a necessity of ranger life at Brooks Camp. NPS/L. Thomas.

There you have it: six of the most common questions asked in Brooks Camp as answered by one ranger. We all have our own answers to the above questions and any more you might think to ask, so please feel free to keep asking. We’ll keep answering as long as you have questions to ask.

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Last updated: July 29, 2015

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