Podcast Episodes

Rangers Make the Difference II

As we release this episode, the longest government shutdown in American history is still underway, and 800,000 government workers are on furlough, including rangers and other protectors of our wildlife and national treasures. Those that remain on the job, mainly law enforcement rangers, are working without paychecks, and are facing protecting federal lands that remain open to visitors with very little support.

We thought this was an appropriate time to again highlight those rangers and other federal employees in the interior department.


Listen

Listen in the player below, or on any podcast app. 


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode.

Give to the National Parks Foundation’s Restoration Fund or sign up for info about volunteer clean-up efforts at nationalparks.org.


Transcript

JASON
As we release this episode, the longest government shutdown in American history is still underway, and 800,000 government workers are on furlough, including rangers and other protectors of our wildlife and national treasures. Those that remain on the job, mainly law enforcement rangers, are working without paychecks, and are facing protecting federal lands that remain open to visitors with very little support.

We thought this was an appropriate time to again highlight those rangers and other federal employees in the interior department.

We begin with a cowhand turned wildlife champion. Here’s Abigail Trabue.

ABIGAIL
For many years, Mark Haroldson lived as an old-western cowboy, riding a horse across the rugged landscape of Wyoming and Montana. But instead of wrangling cattle, he tracked and captured grizzly bears.

What started as a work-study job when he was 20 years old developed into a lifelong career of studying grizzlies. “It’s been a dream of mine as far back as I can remember,” he said.

Since he first started working with grizzly bears in 1976, Mark has served as a field biologist for the US Geological Survey, responsible for the handling and capture of bears throughout Yellowstone National Park. He currently spearheads the Interagency Grizzly Bear Team, a group of scientists responsible for long-term monitoring of the species.

Each time Mark captures a bear, he tries to obtain all the scientific information possible to “do right by the bear.” He first drugs the animal, takes fur samples for DNA and isotopic analysis, and marks it with a GPS collar — all of which help to determine survival estimates and population projections.

He then opens the bear’s maw and reaches between its massive teeth to pull out a small premolar in the back, which typically falls out naturally over time. By analyzing this single tooth, scientists can determine the bear’s age.

The sight of a bear’s open jaws would terrify most, but Mark works with calm and steady hands. “I’m anxious until I know the bear is ok and up and out of there,” he said.

Only then does he feel a sense of accomplishment.

Mark’s work was integral in reviving the grizzly bear population and bringing them off the endangered species list, which he views as a team accomplishment. While the grizzly’s recovery has had a tremendous impact, he continues to work towards long-term conservation of the Yellowstone ecosystem.

Given the chance, he wouldn’t trade anything for the field time he had in the Yellowstone backcountry. “It was the sense of being in the wilderness on horseback,” said Mark. “My boss would point to an area on the map and say go find some bears.”

Like a cowboy rambling across the Wild West, Mark continues to explore America’s great wilderness, still chasing the wild and magnificent North American grizzly bear.

JASON
Mark Haroldson was honored with the Interior Department’s Distinguished Service Award for his impactful work and lifelong dedication to grizzly bear research.

Next, we look back at the devastating 2016 fires in the Smoky Mountains, and the rangers that didn’t hesitate to save thousands of lives.

ABIGAIL
As smoke and soot filled the air on November 28, 2016, winds ranging up to 90 miles an hour hurled branches and burning embers on park staff at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They were exposed to snapping trees and falling live power lines while responding to a historic wildfire. Despite these dangers, the rangers forged ahead.

“No one asked that night what needed to be done. They just did it,” said District Park Ranger Jared St. Claire. Over the course of four hours, they evacuated over 14,000 Gatlinburg residents through the park, one of only two escape routes for the neighboring town.

Rangers and staff had to avoid falling trees while pushing broken-down cars and burning trees from the evacuation route. To clear the roads, they used chainsaws and snow plows to remove boulders, trees and other debris. If they had it, they used it to get the job done.

Some were rendered temporarily senseless, blinded by smoke and deafened by explosive noises. One ranger was injured after a falling tree limb hit him on the head. Yet, that didn’t stop him from completing the mission. After he received aid from another ranger, he picked up where he left off and continued clearing the roadway of debris.

“It affected everyone’s home and family, but nobody asked to go. Everyone stayed and pulled together to get it done,” said St. Claire.

Despite the significant risk, they saved countless lives during what would go down as one of the largest natural disasters in Tennessee’s history.

JASON
For their courage and heroism, the team was awarded the Valor Award, one of the highest honors in the Department of the Interior.

Interior Department employees can protect lands and people outside of the United States, too. One incident that could have been a mass tragedy was avoided thanks to the work of U.S. Geological Survey scientists.

ABIGAIL
On June 10, 1991, Mount Pinatubo, a volcano that had been dormant for nearly six centuries, erupted in the Zambales Mountains of the Philippines. While halfway around the world from the U.S., this eruption took place 10 miles west of Clark Air Base — one of our country’s largest overseas air bases. The eruption turned the morning sky into a firmament of thick ash and steam, threatening the safety of nearly 15,000 men, women and children.

U.S. Geological Survey scientist John Ewert played a critical role in saving these lives. He was one of the scientists on a team who forewarned of this cataclysmic event, allowing for the evacuation of everyone stationed at Clark Air Base and the locals in the surrounding area. The predictions made by the USGS team also saved $250 million in property damages.

Since that day, John has devoted himself to improving volcanic activity warning systems and minimizing destruction from volcanoes. “It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when,” said John. “We need to be ready to respond.”

He is a founding member of the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program, which designed a successful approach to reduce the loss of life and property during eruptions. He also established an accurate methodology for ranking volcanoes based on their societal threat. And — while serving as the Scientist-in-Charge at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory — John created a bi-national exchange for state and local officials to meet with their foreign counterparts in South America.

“The binational exchange is about having them meet with people and talk about their experiences,” he said “Firefighters meet firefighters. Teachers meet teachers. It’s about meeting people who lived through the firsthand experience.”

JASON
John’s lifelong dedication to the research of volcanic activity and protection of human life has earned him international recognition and Interior’s Distinguished Service Award.

One of the biggest concerns of the government shutdown is the inability of rangers to take proactive measures to prevent the loss of life, such as closing trails, issuing warnings, and evacuating areas facing severe weather. One such event a few years ago involved an entire Boy Scout troop completely unaware of the possibility of a coming tornado.

ABIGAIL
On May 16th, 2015, a tornado blew through the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, where Boy Scout Troop 955 from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, were camping. Federal Wildlife Officer Matt Belew anticipated the storm and evacuated all 65 Scouts and their leaders to the refuge headquarters basement about 30 minutes before the tornado hit.

The tornado traveled 10 to 12 miles across refuge land, causing major damage to the Fawn Creek Youth Campground and destroying nearly all the tents.

“One of those blue tents that was totally smashed by a large tree was the one my son was in,” one of the fathers told rangers. “We had no idea a severe storm was approaching when your officer came and had us evacuate for shelter at the headquarters basement. I fear my son and others would have died had we not left. So, thank you.”

Refuge manager Tony Booth said Belew “got in there when the tornado was forming. He took prompt action to go in there and evacuate them.”

“It looks like many boys and their parents are in your debt this morning,” wrote U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe to Belew. “As a parent myself I know I would be calling you a hero. Thanks so much for your foresight and action.”

The tornado touched down about a quarter mile from the campground. One refuge residence and a camper trailer were damaged but there were no injuries.

Belew was honored with the interior department’s Valor Award for his incredible courage and bravery. And it’s not the first time his emergency response capabilities have been highlighted. In 2013, he volunteered as an emergency medical responder following massive destruction from a huge EF-5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. In a night and day of almost nonstop work with his team, Belew searched almost 50 houses for survivors.

JASON

As the shutdown marches on, public lands face damage from the lack of services that employees of the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior provide.

Once the government reopens and rangers assess the full extent of damages, both financial resources and volunteers will be needed to help restore these great places. But, you can do something today to help your national parks recover.

The first is to give to the newly created Parks Restoration Fund with the National Park Foundation. The foundation will work with the National Park Service to assess needs and provide clean up efforts once the parks are back open.

The second way you can help is to sign up for information about volunteer efforts at nationalparks.org. We’ll provide a link in the show notes.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, music credits, and more in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com.

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

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Podcast Episodes

A Rocky Mountain Tragedy

There are a million conspiracy theories about people missing or turning up dead in National Parks and other public lands. But really, when you break down the numbers, the number of disappearances, murders, and accidental deaths are on par with the rest of the country.

Still, a lot of those unfortunate events do happen. And many aren’t what they seem. On today’s episode of America’s National Parks the tragic death of a hiker at Rocky Mountain National Park that shocked the nation, and the investigator that unraveled a mystery in service to her country. 

Listen

Listen in the player below, or on any podcast app. 


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode.

The F.B.I. of the National Park Service – Outside Online

Harold Henthorn’s full 911 Call – Daily Mail

Rocky Mountain National Park – NPS Website


Transcript

There are a million conspiracy theories about people missing or turning up dead in National Parks and other public lands. But the National Park Service manages a LOT of land. 17 of them are bigger than Rhode Island. Three are bigger than New Jersey. If you combined them all, they’d make up the 14th largest state. So really, when you break down the numbers, the amount of disappearances, murders, and accidental deaths are on par with the rest of the country.

Still, a lot of those unfortunate events do happen. And many aren’t what they seem. On today’s episode of America’s National Parks the tragic death of a hiker at Rocky Mountain National Park that shocked the nation.

This episode may not be suitable for younger audiences.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.


5:55 p.m. September 29, 2012. Harold Henthorn places a 911 call.

(911 Call Audio part 1)

Harold’s wife Toni had fallen 30 feet and sustained a severe head injury. She was alive but unconscious. The Henthorns had been celebrating their 12th anniversary with a weekend trip to the park. Harold was an entrepreneur and Toni, an ophthalmologist. They met on a Christian dating site in their 30s when such websites were in their infancy. They married after a short courtship and had a daughter, who was now seven.

The couple was staying in the Stanley Hotel, an elegant establishment that was the inspiration behind Stephen King’s THE SHINING. They had planned to hike to Bear Lake, a popular half-mile loop, but Bear Lake was pretty crowded that day, so they decided to hike the significantly more challenging Deer Mountain instead — a 6-mile out-and-back with more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The couple had hiked about two and a half miles in when the incident occurred.

After the 911 call was transferred to National Park Service rangers, help was sent, and the 911 dispatcher coached Harold through CPR. He hung up the phone to keep his dwindling battery from dying out, but updated family with text messages.

“Urgent…Toni is injured…in estes park…Fall from rock. Critical…requested flight for life. Emt rangers on way.”

Then “Pulse 60, Resp 5.”

By 7:30 p.m. the dark had set in, and Harold had built a small fire. Then another text: “Can’t find pulse.”

Ranger Mark Faherty was struggling over boulders and through pines to reach the couple. When he arrived to see Harold desperately attempting chest compressions on his wife. Her pupils were fixed and dilated. It was over.

More rangers began to arrive at the body, which couldn’t safely be removed at night. Faherty persuaded Harold to hike out, and the rangers would stay with Toni overnight until she could be evacuated. The two men hiked for two hours back to the trailhead after the unimaginable experience.

Incidents like this, unfortunately, happen from time to time in wild places. And Toni’s case, for a moment, was just another unimaginable tragic accident.

Then the letters and phone calls came.

Toni was Harold’s second wife. His first, they said, also died in a tragic accident in a remote location. The couples car fell off the jack onto Harold’s first wife as the couple tried to change a flat tire. Her death was ruled an accident, but one nagging piece of evidence bothered investigators: a footprint on the fender well near the wheel that was jacked up. As if someone had kicked the car. Harold received a half a million dollars from her life insurance policy.

Faherty noticed some strange things about Toni’s death, too. For one, her lipstick wasn’t smudged from the CPR, and a camera that she was carrying had somehow survived the 30-foot fall with no damage.

And then, Rangers found a map of the Deer Mountain trail in Harold’s car, with an X marking the spot where Toni fell. This death was no longer going to be investigated as accidental.

Ranger Faherty called in the Investigative Services Branch of the National Park Service, or the “ISB.” The ISB is a group of 33 elite Rangers whose job is to investigate complex crimes in the parks – our as Outside Magazine called them “the FBI of the National Parks.”

ISB agents are scrappy. They don’t have the massive infrastructure of the FBI. Usually, they work cases alone, and are almost invisible to other law enforcement. But they’ve solved all kinds of cases from homicides to poaching rings.

ISB agent Beth Shott, a 20-year Park Service veteran, was assigned to the case. Schott didn’t get a degree in criminal justice. She was an art major, who wound up in advertising. Eventually, as is so common with park rangers, she ditched the corporate life for the wild. After working 6-month stints at several parks, she decided to go into law enforcement. She went through Federal Law Enforcement training and became one of the thousand or so officers in the National Park Service. She discovered she had a knack for investigating, and applied to join the ISB.

Immediately, Beth Schott began to see Harold Henthorn’s story leak like a sieve. First, there was the strange decision to ditch the half-mile nature walk for a 6-mile climb. Shott learned that Toni had bad knees, and wasn’t known to be much of a hiker.

The Coroner’s report raised more questions. The injuries Toni’s body sustained were clearly fatal. Her head wound was extensive, among other things, and her body had bled out. The coroner had a hard time getting a blood sample because there was little left in her system. He estimated that Toni had died 20 minutes to an hour after the fall.

Then there was the spot that Toni fell from. It was well of the trail. Harold had told Faherty that the couple had ventured off for “romantic time.” Schott went out to retrace the couple’s footsteps, and when she left the trail where the couple did, she had to scrape her way back over stumps and rocks and through trees. She realized that Toni was in her 50s, the couple had been married for 12 years, and it just didn’t seem an ideal location for such activity.

Then, Harold said the couple climbed up to a cliff edge and stopped for lunch when Toni spotted a flock of wild turkeys she wanted to photograph, so she trekked gingerly down a rocky slope to a flat stone ledge over a large drop-off with only enough room for one person. Harold said he followed her down, and she asked him to take a photo of her. As she stepped backward, she fell.

Schott noted that the drop was not the 30 feet that Harold noted in the 911 call. It was more like 150 feet. When Schott looked down, Toni’s blood was still visible on the ground below.

This is the point in any investigation where it’s clear to law enforcement that a crime has been committed, but the evidence is, almost entirely circumstantial. Far from producing a slam dunk conviction.

The first snow of the fall soon came, blanketing the scene of the incident for the next several months.

Schott teamed up with other investigators, including the FBI, and they began to interview the Henthorn’s friends and relatives. They were often told that Harold was a good, church-going man. He raised money for his church and for several charities. In fact, that was said to be his job.

But Shott soon discovered that Harold’s business had no website or known clients. He claimed no income on his tax returns. In fact, there was no evidence that he held a job or received much income at all over the course of the Henthorn’s marriage.

Yet, Harold went to work every day. His cell phone records led Schott and the FBI to a Panera restaurant, where employees recognized his photograph instantly. Harold treated Panara as his office, often staying until close, and the employees feared him. The manager always took his order as a bugger for her staff.

Those she interviewed also told Schott that Harold frequently traveled on business trips. To where?

And then there were the life insurance policies. Harold had received over half a million dollars when his first wife died. Now, he and Toni were insured for a million each, in their daughter’s name. But then more policies were found – two more covering Toni for another $3 million, with Harold as the beneficiary.

Harold was controlling. He didn’t allow Toni to talk to her parents on the phone without him listening in.

And there was Toni’s near-death experience just months before. Relatives told Schott of the cabin the couple had been working on together. Toni had walked out the front door, and bent over when Harold dropped a massive beam on her back. Toni had told her mother that it would have killed her had she not bent over.

When the snow thawed, Schott brought FBI agents to the scene of the crime, with llamas, overnight gear, and investigation equipment. Some had never camped before. They used a high-tech laser to build a computer model of the scene for an impending courtroom drama. Schott took video of the trail and the fall site during the trip and several subsequent hikes with and without the FBI. She brought out a drone pilot to film overhead. She had been searching and searching for evidence that Toni was pushed – but it proved elusive.

Scott and the FBI felt they had all the evidence they were going to find, and finally, in the fall of 2014, the arrest was made.

The trial came a year later, but was swift, and Harold Henthorn was convicted of first-degree murder, largely due to Ranger Beth Schott’s detailed investigation and courtroom testimony.


Beth Schot and other investigators were presented with the Distinguished Service Award by the US Attorney General. It was a landmark investigation for both the National Park Service and the FBI.

We share this episode in the middle of a government shutdown, which has taken a drastic toll on many of our National Parks, particularly in California, where it’s one of the most popular times of the year at places like Yosemite and Joshua Tree national park. Yosemite is one of those parks that is about the size of Rhode Island, and just 12 law enforcement rangers are the only barrier between near record level crowds and our national treasures.

No matter what your feelings are about the shutdown, the few rangers who aren’t furloughed are doing the work of dozens each, and deserve our undying gratitude.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Podcast Episodes

Rangers Make the Difference

July 31st of each year is set aside by the International Ranger Foundation as World Ranger Day to honor park rangers around the globe who are on the front line in the fight to protect our natural heritage. It’s also an opportunity to pay tribute to rangers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

To honor this past Tuesday’s World Ranger Day, on this episode of America’s National Parks, we highlight three stories of National Park Service rangers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

The Dutch Creek Incident — National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Notable Women in Yosemite’s History — National Park Service Article

Ozark National Scenic Riverways Rangers Honored with Valor Award — National Park Service Article


Transcript

The America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean.

L.L.Bean believes the more time you spend outside together, the better. That’s why they design products that make it easier to take longer walks, have deeper talks, and never worry about the weather. Discover clothing, outerwear, footwear and gear made for every type of adventure, with the outside built right in. Because on the inside, we’re all outsiders. Be an outsider with L.L.Bean.

—–
July 31st of each year is set aside by the International Ranger Foundation as World Ranger Day to honor park rangers around the globe who are on the front line in the fight to protect our natural heritage. It’s also an opportunity to pay tribute to rangers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

To honor this past Tuesday’s World Ranger Day, on this episode of America’s National Parks we’re going to highlight three stories of National Park Service rangers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Fighting forest fires is one of the most dangerous occupations there are. With the wildfires raging across the country, we begin with the story of a Wildland Firefighter whose tragedy led to massive changes in wildfire fighting protocol.

Here’s Abigail Trabue
——
Andrew Palmer was 6-foot-5 and 240-pounds, with a winning smile. He was hired to be a firefighter by Olympic National Park just four days after he graduated high school at age 18, ten years ago this June.

Twelve days later he had completed his basic training, and was assigned to an engine crew. On July 22, less than a month after he joined the National Park Service, Andy’s eager four-person team was dispatched to assist in fighting the Eagle Fire that was raging in northern California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

The team headed out at 9pm, and after four hours of driving, they stopped at a motel to catch some sleep. Six hours later, they were back on the road. On the way, the tailpipe of their new truck fell off. They reported the problem but kept going. The check engine light came on, but they still carried on.

They arrived at the fire’s Command Post near Junction City, California at 6 p.m. The team’s captain left to get the truck repaired for two days while Andy and the rest of the group were sent to the fire line to begin cutting trees, with the specific instructions not to cut trees over 24 inches thick, because they were not certified to do so.

The captain was on his way back to the crew, having procured a loner truck, and just as he was stopping for lunch, a heartwrenching call came over his radio.

“Man Down Man Down. We need help. Medical emergency. Dozer pad. Broken leg. Bleeding. Drop Point 72 and dozer line. Call 911, we need help.”

The team had cut a Ponderosa pine 37” in diameter. Downslope from that tree was a 54” diameter sugar pine that had an uphill lean and a large fire scar on the uphill side. The Ponderosa pine fell toward the sugar pine, and its impact caused a 120-foot span of the sugar pine to split off. When it hit the ground, another portion of the trunk, about 8 feet long, broke off, crashing right into Andy.

A request for a helicopter evacuation went out quickly, but the smoky conditions were too risky for an air rescue. A team of ground paramedics reached Andy 55 minutes later, with a vacuum splint and a trauma bag, but they found that his injuries were much worse than were described in the original radio call for help. Along with the broken leg, he had a fractured shoulder, and was bleeding heavily.

Air evacuation was essential. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was called in but was told to stand down because a Forest Service helicopter was closer. But the Forest Service unit did not have a hoist and would need a clear landing zone, something the tree-packed mountain slope didn’t offer. The Coast Guard unit was recalled, losing valuable time. Paramedics debated whether it was even wise to even move Andy without further on-site treatment when they decided to clear a zone for the helicopter to hoist him out. The process took twenty minutes while the helicopter waited. Two hours and 47 minutes after being struck by a massive log, Andy was hoisted into the aircraft. He was pronounced dead Thirty-nine minutes later, before he even reached a hospital.

Andrew Palmer’s death, which became known as the Dutch Creek Incident, was a wake up call for the wildland firefighting community. Contingencies for medical emergencies were clearly lacking. An inquiry followed from the interagency Serious Accident Investigation Team. The crew captain was the only member of the team who would agree to an interview.

The investigators pointed to a host of problems that contributed to Andy’s death, including: inadequate supervision with the captain away; failure of the second in command to exercise proper supervisory control by allowing the team to cut down trees above their level of certification and an eagerness by the young crew to obtain a line assignment, among other factors.

The Dutch Creek Protocols were issued by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group in Andy’s honor. His story is part of the “6 Minutes for Safety” program used by thousands of firefighters around the world each day. Every year, on the anniversary of Andy’s death, firefighters train in medical emergency response.

The year after Andy died 100,000 pink stickers were sent to firefighters to insert into their Incident Response Pocket Guide, outlining the communication protocol in the event of a medical emergency.

Today, firefighters on the line ask three questions: What are we going to do if someone gets hurt? How will we get them out of here? and How long will it take to get them to a hospital?

The capability of NPS helicopters to extract an injured firefighter by short-haul is now an important consideration in any fire management plan.

On July 25, 2018, 2 tones sounded over firefighter radios “Stand by for a net message,” the voice said, followed by: “Today, July 25, marks the ten-year anniversary of the tragic events on the Eagle Fire. A fellow firefighter has left us…and we continue on…as friends, co-workers and comrades. We are bound by a common thread as we share in this great loss. Today, let unity bring us together in a special way. Reflect on the moments in life when hope and appreciation serve as guides and change us for tomorrow. Now, please join together to respectfully observe a moment of silence in honor of Andrew Palmer, wildland firefighter from the Olympic National Park.”

“Thank you for joining us in this special moment. Resume normal communication.”

—–

We now turn back the clock almost exactly 100 years. It was the summer of 1918, toward the end of World War I. Able-bodied men were fighting overseas, and women were tapped to work all sorts of jobs traditionally held by men at the time, including police officers and factory workers. In California, Yosemite National Park, which had just been transferred to the new National Park Service, needed rangers.

____

Clare Marie Hodges first came to Yosemite when she was 14 years old on a four-day horseback ride. She fell in love with the valley and came back in 1916 to work at the nearby Yosemite Valley School. She learned the park by heart, and dreamed of being a ranger. Towards the end of the Great War, Hodges learned the park service was short of workers and thought she may have a chance. So she went to see Washington B. Lewis, superintendent of Yosemite National Park, to apply for a job.

“Probably you’ll laugh at me,” she said. “But I want to be a ranger.”

Lewis, either ahead of his time, or just so desperate for workers replied: “I beat you to it, young lady. It’s been on my mind for some time to put a woman on one of these patrols.” He hired her as a seasonal ranger, and just like that, Hodges became the first woman to be a fully-commissioned ranger in the National Park Service.

Hodges spent that first summer on mounted patrol, riding through the night to take entrance receipts to the park headquarters, along with patrolling both the valley and some of the more remote areas of the park.

She had the same duties as her male counterparts, the one difference being that she didn’t carry a gun. It’s not that she wasn’t allowed to, in fact, the other rangers told her she should, in order to ward off animals and attackers, but she decided against it. She wore the uniform Stetson hat but rode in a split skirt. Occasionally the people she encountered were confused. They didn’t understand why a woman had a ranger’s badge.

After the war ended, so did Hodges’ temporary service as a ranger. She married and stayed in the Yosemite area, ranching and guiding church groups through the park. Though her time with the NPS was short, she helped open doors for women whose role in the parks had been limited. National Park Service Director William Penn Mott, Jr., later praised Hodges for refusing to accept conventions and possessing the determination to take on a male-dominated profession.

Women began to be more involved in the park service after the war, but most were relegated to jobs like secretarial work and waitressing, wearing pillbox hats and dresses modeled after flight attendant’s uniforms until the 1970s. It would be thirty years after Hodges before another woman would be appointed a fully-commissioned park ranger. Today, only about a third of National Park employees are women.

—-

On July 4, four National Park Service Rangers from Ozark National Scenic Riverways were honored at the Department of the Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C. with Valor Awards for their heroic efforts during a historic flood that impacted much of southern Missouri in April 2017. The Valor Award is the highest honor the department awards and is presented to employees for demonstrating unusual courage involving a high degree of personal risk in the face of danger while attempting to save the life of another.

_____

Over a period of just two days — April 29 and 30, 2017 — the areas in and around Ozark National Scenic Riverways in southeastern Missouri received more than 15 inches of rainfall. Massive flooding set in on the park’s Jacks Fork and Current rivers. The Current River crested at 39 feet near the park headquarters in Van Buren, a full 10 feet higher than the previous recorded high water mark that was set in 1904.

At 5:30 P.M. on April 29, the Carter County Sheriff requested assistance from National Park Service Rangers to perform swift-water rescues of area residents, trapped in their homes with rising and fast-moving flood waters quickly approaching or already upon them. Park Rangers Joshua Gibbs, Lindel Gregory, Patrick Jackson, and Daniel Newberry jumped into action.

The Rangers were all specially trained in swift-water rescue techniques, and regularly performed one a week during the summer months. On this night, they would successfully conduct 30, exposing themselves to extremely high-risk conditions. They ferried from house to house checking for stranded residents using Park Service boats as the floodwaters rapidly rose. They maneuvered under low-hanging powerlines only a few feet above the rushing water, and through fumes from leaking underwater propane tanks.

They then left the boats to wade in waist-deep waters, among the live electricity and propane and raging river, to retrieve people from their flooded homes, secure them on the rescue boats, and guide them to safety.

The conditions were enough to scare even those who had grown up on the rivers, and the Rangers could see it in the eyes of the residents. Three of the rangers grew up in the area, having graduated from nearby Van Buren High School nearby. They were cut off from their own families during the flood.

“Lives were saved because these four rangers risked their own lives to help Missourians in need,” Senator Claire McCaskill said. “No one hopes for disasters like the historic floods we saw last year, but I’m grateful that we have such brave and selfless first responders in our communities—and I proudly join all Missourians in commending them for their bravery.”

After reviewing rainfall data, the National Weather Service says parts of the area experienced a 1,000-year flood event. The heroic actions of these four rangers saved the lives of 30 stranded men, women, and children as entire houses were swept away.

—–

The toll of devastation from the Carr Fire, one of the most brutal fires in California history rose earlier this week to more than 1,000 homes destroyed and almost 200 damaged. More than 4,000 firefighters are battling the blaze, not far from where Andrew Palmer lost his life. Two have died.

Rangers work so many different types of jobs in the National Park Service, but they’re all there to protect our country’s history and treasured natural preserves. The next time you encounter a National Park Service Ranger, make sure to thank them for their service.

And from Abigail and I to any rangers listening, our deepest gratitude goes out to you for your commitment to protect our lands and history.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, music credits, and more in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com.

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

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