On Being a Visitor on a Soapbox

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking, stemming from starting a class about conservation and public land history plus having the chance to be on the other side of the Visitor Center desk–in other words, the one with all the questions.

I don’t like the term ‘visitor,’ as in, “You are a visitor to Yosemite National Park,” or “Yosemite National Park has 4 million visitors a year.”

On the one side, using the word ‘visitor’ conveys the brevity that most people experience inside their national parks. At most, a day, maybe a week are spent inside the boundaries. In Yosemite’s case, ‘visitor’ could imply that entering the valley is traversing on land that someone else occupied, a little paradise occupied by a tribe whose home was converted into parkland through an act of force.

While ‘visitor’ might serve the purpose of reminding us that our natural cathedrals were once places many people before us called home, the conditions of present-day conservation ethics might warrant a different term for those that visit THEIR public lands. That’s right, YOU own Yosemite National Park [as much as a monolithic chunk of granite and a valley carved by glaciers can be “owned”]. YOU, with the rest of the nation’s citizens, are responsible for the upkeep, preservation, and integrity of all 401 units of the National Park Service, whether or not you’ve been to them [if that seems like a lot, just think about all the land that’s designated by the BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, etc. That’s all YOUR land, as well]. This ownership we have, you see, isn’t conveyed well in the term ‘visitor’. ‘Visitor’ does not say “I’m responsible for keeping this park free of trash,” or “I am tasked with letting others know that feeding the wildlife is detrimental to their health,” or “It’s my responsibility to preserve everything in this park for the people that arrive tomorrow as well as future generations.” All of these tasks can happen in tangible or intangible ways, but they are the duty of every citizen of the United States.

So with that daunting responsibility staring you in the face, what term would YOU use in place of ‘visitor’?
Half Dome


Sidetracked by Disney.

No animals here again….sorry.

Disney is very good at duplication…or at least attempting to replicate a feeling. Say you are in Florida and are really wanting to make it out to Yellowstone. But you find your funds aren’t going to make it past Branson, MO let alone allow you to stay in the famed Old Faithful Inn. So, what is your next best option????


Of course! Where else can you ride coasters, take safaries, and ‘experience’ other cultures [translated through Disney’s eyes, of course]? You will find THE one and ONLY Wilderness Lodge at Disney World, whose interior is modeled quite closely after the Inn at Yellowstone. But not only do you get the feeling that you are in Yellowstone [well, the Inn, at least], but you also get a ranger! That’s right, a ranger! Not a United States National Park Service Ranger, but the next best thing–a Disney World ranger!

To me, this seems a little odd.  But that is Disney for you….or at least, for me.  But if there is one thing Disney is good at, aside from duplication, marketing, and the like, it is customer service.  I find it frustrating sometimes that such good people are missed or can’t get into the Park Service.  Even if they aren’t working for the ‘best part of the government’ at least they serve as wonderful examples. 

Take Disney World Ranger Stan.  You can read all about him here.  He displays all of the qualities that a ranger in the Park Service should, even though his Lodge isn’t in the middle of the grand wilderness.  For one, he knows his resource–something very important for park rangers, considering the fact that they talk A LOT and if they are talking that much, but don’t know what they are talking about, then why would they be talking [It happens, believe me…]??  Stan, by the sounds of it, knows his resource AND the one off which it is based!  That’s pretty good.

Another good quality that Stan possesses is he “loves people, and it shows.”  There is an odd phenomenon in the Park Service, and it’s usually covered up pretty well, but sometimes…well, it rears it’s ugly head.  If you’ve ever had to work with people day in and out, you sometimes get fatigued, and sometimes….that fatigue never goes away.  Stan is a wonderful refresher on the way it should be!  For 20 years he has been at it!  That makes the end-of-season burn-out seem like a hiccup!

Another positive that Ranger Stan manages is his ability to ‘make you feel like you are part of his family.’  How often do you go to a National Park and get that feeling??  Often, rangers are pitted between the resource and the visitor.  It makes for some uncomfortable situations sometimes.  For instance, when you find a child crawling through a prairie dog town that might have the plague and the parents have obviously ignored the warning posted at the roadside, but they are finding such enjoyment from watching their child, how do you tactifully disrupt that potential vacation-making memory?  Ranger Stan probably has the answer!

It appears that Ranger Stan is very willing to do his job, roaming around the lobby and grounds of the Lodge.  Would you believe that it can sometimes be difficult to get Park Rangers out on trails????  Roving, or walking around looking for visitors to talk to, is one of the best ways to spread resource information, but is often negelected for the air conditioned comfort of the ’employees only’ area or government vehicle. 

Even though it could be argued that Ranger Stan isn’t really a true ranger, just a duplicate, he definately has the heart of one!  So if nothing else, I can racket Disney up for showing me how to do my job better.  Thanks Disney, and thanks Ranger Stan!