Deal with Rangers on Public Lands

Deal with Rangers on Public Lands
Whether you're heading to the White Mountain National Forest for a day hike or you're on the final leg of an Appalachian Trail thru-hike, chances are you'll encounter a park ranger along the way. Park rangers have an undeserved reputation for being difficult to deal with. The truth is that they're hard-working folks striving to protect outdoor enthusiasts and natural resources, and they aren't that tough to get along with.


Difficulty: Easy

Step 1
Understand that there are three types of park rangers: Law enforcement park rangers enforce the rules and regulations within the boundaries of the park. Conservation park rangers focus on resource management. Interpretive park rangers deliver visitor services, educational programs and other high-touch experiences to the public.
Step 2
Realize that while a park ranger's primary responsibilities will fall into one of these categories, there is frequently overlap in duties due to an ever-shrinking national park system federal budget. Park rangers attempt to meet an expanding list of needs with fewer staff and on smaller budgets all in an effort to keep national parks as inviting and accessible to as many people as possible.
Step 3
Know the rules of the national park you plan to visit. Whether you are on a day hike or plan to camp overnight, knowing the rules is your responsibility. Clearly posted at the base of most trails, at the entrances to camp grounds and on the respective park's website, there are usually only a handful of common-sense things you need to keep in mind to ensure you avoid problems with park rangers.
Step 4
Avail yourself of the services park rangers are there to provide. Before setting off to hike or rock climb, check in at a ranger station to let the ranger on duty know your route, who is in your group, when you plan to return and any other relevant information. Should you fail to return on schedule the rangers will follow safety procedures, including, in extreme cases, triggering a rescue operation that may save your life or that of a companion.
Step 5
Treat park rangers with the same respect you expect to receive. You have more in common with the ranger than what you might think. You both are outdoor enthusiasts, otherwise neither of you would be in the park. Use that common ground to diffuse conflicts, communicate effectively and resolve issues.
Step 6
Take responsibility. Maybe you have too many tents set up on your site. Perhaps you failed to get a day-use permit before you hit the trail. Regardless, if you broke the rules own up to it and accept the consequences like an adult. The goal is to ensure the safety of all visitors and preserve the environmental integrity of the parks for future generations to enjoy.

Tips & Warnings

While the vast majority of park rangers are good, hard-working people, there are bad apples in every barrel. If you have had an encounter with a park ranger who you feel behaved inappropriately, you should notify the park superintendent. A listing of superintendent contact information by park is available on the National Park Service's website. The rules may vary from park to park, but even if they're not clearly posted there are some universal common sense rules that you should follow: Pack it in, pack it out. Stay on the trail. Practice fire safety. Respect the wildlife. Don't use alcohol or drugs on National Park Service grounds. And when camping, respect quiet hours out of courtesy to other campers.
Hiking, camping and rock climbing in places like the White or Green Mountain National Forests is an experience of a lifetime, but it can also be extremely dangerous given rapidly changing weather conditions. Be sure to plan your trip carefully, dress appropriately to the conditions you may encounter on the trail and let a park ranger know where you will be and when you plan to return.

Article Written By Nancy Hendryx

Nancy Hendryx is a New England-based freelance writer who has spent a lifetime exploring the region's many rivers, lakes, mountains and forests. She's a regular visitor to both the White Mountain and Green Mountain National Forests, where she can be found

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