The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 11: Wilderness Ranger Experiences

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

A romantic job with the responsibility of caring for a wilderness. Listen next, to candid talk from three backcountry rangers, on the WildeBeat.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number eleven.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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SENDI KALCIC: It is wonderful having the wilderness as your office. When people see us, they're out there backpacking, and one of the first things they say a lot is just that they can't believe that we're out there backpacking, and like, "what a wonderful job, and that must be great! You camp out here? I can't believe that." Which is all fun and good, but behind the scenes there's a lot more to being a wilderness ranger than just backpacking.

STEVE: In the mountains west of the resort region of South Lake Tahoe, the Desolation Wilderness is the most visited national forest wilderness in California. These sixty four thousand acres get almost twelve thousand visitors over the summer months, and almost six hundred per night on busy holiday weekends.

Sendi Kalcic and Brent Carpenter are two of the four backcountry wilderness rangers on the seasonal staff of the Eldorado National Forest.

BRENT CARPENTER: Our normal schedule is to work four tens. We start at seven in the morning and work 'till five thirty at night. First thing we do is we get on the radio and we call into dispatch. And so they know exactly where we're going, and where we're going to be done at the end of the day. After that we start hiking down the trail; we have a full pack. We don't have any cabins or anything in the wilderness; we're just like a normal backpacker.

SENDI KALCIC: Out there we're kind of a jack-of-all-trades, I guess. We come from various backgrounds. We have medical backgrounds: I'm an EMT and a wilderness first responder. We can also respond to search and rescue, although usually the Sheriff's Department does that. Once in a while we have to be more law enforcement oriented, which none of us really enjoys, but it comes with the job. And so a lot of times you run into folks that for example don't have a permit, and so being a ranger takes a lot of finesse, and sometimes you run into very unhappy people. And it's a matter of absorbing what people are saying, but just being able to understand that, and say like, "Hey, you know I understand where you're coming from. But if you want to come into this area this is one of the requirements. And this is why we're doing it." It's actually to maintain a certain level of solitude.

BRENT CARPENTER: I think that one of the nicest things that we do out there is to go over some of the leave no trace ethics. You want to be at least a hundred feet from water. You want to be at least a hundred feet from the trail. And so other people, when they're walking by, aren't looking right into your camp, and they get that solitude and that wilderness experience. We share that with people, and then also just general directions. Some people just want to go climb a peak. And when they want to go climb that peak, you know they don't know they way up, and we've got a lot of that knowledge becuase after you've been in a wilderness a long time you've climbed just about every peak and you've hit it from just about every direction.

SENDI KALCIC: The most positive encounters are the ones where you get to talk to people who have maybe been coming there for several years, and they have lots of stories from when they were a young kid. And they can relate to how the wilderness has changed — a lot of times for the better over the years. So that is very positive for us as rangers because people are telling us that the work that we're doing out there is making a difference in their experiences out in the wilderness. And so just being able to talk to people and educate them that wilderness belongs to everyone and that what they do does make a difference. We wouldn't be out there if it wasn't for people's actions on the land that, I guess we as rangers say like negative impacts.

BRENT CARPENTER: You do not have to have a degree to become a wilderness ranger. What you need is the physical capabilities to do the job, and the experience not to kill yourself out there.

SENDI KALCIC: For me I got really lucky becuase I actauly applied to different positions and a position happened to come up. So the first two seasons that I worked it was actually an internship. I think Brent touched on it really. It's just like the personal experience…

BRENT CARPENTER: The other thing that helps too is to volunteer. And actually I still am in the Eldorado nordic ski patrol. And so they knew that I was physically capable, and that I was mountain wise.

STEVE: The Desolation Wilderness has a recreation fee program, which helps support a relatively large wilderness staff. Other forests have to make do with less. The Sierra National Forest's High Sierra Ranger District uses volunteer rangers to help patrol their popular trails. Amy McElvany is a volunteer wilderness ranger there.

AMY MCELVANY: I've been teaching middle school for the last eight years. And I had started doing a lot of backpacking, and started to just meet people who were working on trail crews, or doing volunteer work. So I had started doing volunteer work like on weekends, and finding that it was just a wonderful experience, and the people were so remarkable, and that it was so rejuvenating. So I kind of began to get more and more involved. And then when this opportunity arose I really jumped on it, I said, "Oh! That's me! I'll spend the summer doing the same wonderful work that I've enjoyed so much, that's got to be me."

They had thirty applicants I think it was, to choose one person to come up here and work with the Forest Service as a volunteer for the summer. I can tell you now I had no real idea what I was getting into. And I'm glad in a way, because I think it would have been intimidating if I'd really known how increadibly hard I was going to work, and how much stamina and physical endurance it was really going to take to be out here. A typical day in a packed tour would be getting up early and packing the animals. And then riding to our destination and setting up a base camp. If we've taken tools in I'll spend a few days cutting trees and clearing trail in a certain area, and then we'll pack the tools out.

If we're backpacking, I might spend a day hiking in and talking to the public in some of the popular areas. I once spent a morning eradicating a huge campsite; a massive fire ring, all kinds f furniture that had been built, a lot of ash, and it was just about twenty feet from water. And so I just spent the morning just moving the rocks, and digging out the ash, replacing the duff, and basically trying to make it look like it had never been there.

It's difficult to walk up to a campsite that is in a location that is damaging to the wilderness. I tend to use very conciliatory language and be educational about it, rather than authoritarian or try to sound like law enforcement or anything like that. I'm a volunteer so I try to make that clear right away, but it's still difficult to walk up to someone and basically say you're doing something wrong. Seriously as a volunteer I haven't had anyone act that poorly.

Nearly every interaction with the public has been positive. I met two women who were teachers, and they knew this wilderness so well, they had been to so many areas. Far more knowledgeable than I was about the area, and just wonderful, wonderful people. And we chatted for probably forty five minutes, and at the end of it I said, "You know you would be perfect volunteers up here." And they both said, "You know that's a great idea and we should do that."

And that's when it really struck me that what I want the public to know is: I'm the public. I'm no different than they are. Anybody can come up here, and volunteer, you know, cut some trail, or work at a visitor's center, or be involved in some kind of outreach program, or anything. You know, we all are volunteers, waiting to happen. So I see them as potentially the same as I am up here.

STEVE: And now, some business unrelated to this week's show:

In last week's program number ten, about the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew, I called the saw that they were using a "bow saw." Ken Murray, who appeared in the story, wrote to correct me. He said that the saw they were using is known as a "crosscut saw", or a "buck saw." Thank you Ken.

And to the rest of you, I enjoy reading your comments and story ideas. You can let me know what you think of the show, or make suggestions for future topics; Send your E-mail to webmaster at wildebeat dot net.

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Next time — The candid voices of some wilderness users.

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Future editions of The Wildebeat depend on your news contributions, and on your financial support. Please see our website for details.

This has been The Wildebeat, program number eleven. Thank you for listening.

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