Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. John 15:13 (NKJV)
If you have ever been to a National Park, chances are you encountered a Park Service Ranger. Whether they took your admission fee, offered advice about hiking trails, warned you from getting too near the cliffs or assigned your camping space, you interacted with a man or woman dressed in green and gray wearing a “Smokey the Bear” hat. That uniform and those kinds of public service jobs are the ones we think of when we imagine a Park Ranger. We romanticize the life of the Park Ranger, too. A nature lover who spends their summers hiking the trails or winters holed up in front of a fire surrounded by snow-covered landscapes. What we don’t think of are the less than desirable tasks of a Park Ranger. Emptying the trash cans before the bears do. Running the park gift shop. Filling out incident reports when tourists leave their brains at home and do stupid things. Cleaning the campground showers or worse identifying the perverts in the restrooms. Rescuing capsized kayakers or fallen climbers. Fighting fires. Painting buildings. Repairing porch railings. Fixing park service vehicles. Arguing with teenagers who think they know it all. Planning and implementing educational programs. Issuing speeding tickets. Answering many dumb questions. Over and over again. Confiscating liquor. Interrupting drug deals. Navigating government red tape. Working for peanuts. Renting shoddy government housing because there is nothing else within driving distance. Paying homage to the government bureaucrat assigned to run your park not because of their knowledge but because someone wanted them out of theirs. Moving from park to park season to season. Learning the ropes of a new regime. Making new friends and saying goodbye to old ones. The list of things that Park Rangers do is endless and unexpected. Most of their work goes unnoticed. There is so much more that they do besides being stewards of Mother Nature. Take Margaret Anderson for example. You have heard much about the man who murdered her on New Year’s Day. But, what do you know about her besides the smiling face above a green uniform shirt portrayed in the media? Margaret’s father, Pastor Paul Kritsch, said that she was interested in wildlife and the outdoors, but even more telling, she wanted to help people. She and her husband, Eric, had only lived in Eatonville, a small community outside of Mount Rainier National Park for a year, but Margaret had already observed that there was a need for improved medical care within the community and was working with the local fire department to improve emergency treatment. Eric and Margaret met at Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah, but transferred to Mount Rainier so that they could work together. They had been married for six years and had two girls, Anna, age 3 and Katie, nineteen months. The family attended Bethany Lutheran Church, and it is said that their faith is sustaining them. Margaret was so much more than a Park Ranger. She was a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. The next time you visit a National Park, look beyond the Ranger’s hat and say thank you for their service. They put their lives on line for you daily. Even when you don’t notice.