“We’re mostly dealing with people with smiles on their faces and looking to have a good time in the outdoors.”
That’s one of the best reasons to be a park ranger, according to Curt Gowdy State Park Park Ranger Ara Maljian. “Mostly, when people make mistakes in our parks its because they didn’t know better, not because they are looking to commit a crime. It is our job as park rangers to help educate our visitors”
During a recent ride-along with Maljian, we got a small exposure to a park ranger’s day and learned that one day to the next is never the same.
Wyoming State Parks employs five full-time park law enforcement officers plus a chief ranger. Up to 25 more are hired each summer as seasonal park rangers. All are accredited law enforcement officers and have gone through the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy. Most have had prior law enforcement experience either with a city police department or county sheriff’s office. Newer seasonal park rangers have completed a law enforcement academy are starting their careers as park rangers. They all have their own unique background and reason for working as a park ranger. Wyoming State Parks also has several dual role employees, that may serve a park as a superintendent or some other position, that are also law enforcement certified.
Wyoming’s park rangers follow a Ranger First philosophy, meaning the primary function of a ranger is promoting voluntary compliance through education, natural resource management and public safety. Our park rangers are natural resource professionals with diverse skills according to Chief Ranger Mark Caughlan.
“Our main goal is to provide safe, secure and orderly parks, trails and recreation areas,” he added.
To accomplish this, a park ranger provides public safety, education and community outreach and may find him or herself involved in search and rescue duties, assisting in natural disasters and rendering medical aid.
A park ranger’s job has a lot of tradeoffs; you get to work outdoors in some of the most beautiful place on the planet, however working weekends, holidays, and at times, in inclement weather, can be a drawback. “Being a park ranger can be the best job in the world but not for everyone,” Caughlan said. “Being a park ranger can be hard because they have to wear so many hats. However, it can also be the dream job for many people who want to live the park ranger life”.
“For many of us it’s not a job but a lifestyle,” Caughlan said.
For Maljian, a former member of the Cheyenne Police Department, he lives in a development near Curt Gowdy State Park and enjoys the solitude and privacy living in a rural community offers. As local law enforcement for the development, Maljian is occasionally asked by his neighbors to help with a VIN inspection and even deliver UPS packages when roads are not easily accessible.
Working in a rural setting has its own challenges, however.
“We have to be independent and carry with us everything I might need ranging from plenty of ammo to water that I can provide to first responders,” Maljian said.
On any given day, Maljian may help with a car accident on WYO 210, Happy Jack Road, outside the park, a suicide or homicide in the Medicine Bow National Forest, helping treat an injured bicyclist or find a lost child.
Normal day-to-day responsibilities sometimes aren’t quite as exciting. The day usually starts by making the rounds, checking to see if visitors have a permit and obeying the designated campsite rules of one camping unit per designated campsite.
Maljian also makes note of open first-come, first-serve sites and passes that information on to the fee booths and visitor center to notify in-coming customers.
Day-use parking areas are also checked to make sure fees have been paid. If not, a warning ticket and fee envelope is placed under the windshield wiper.
An almost daily occurrence, at just about every state park, is dealing with customers with reservations who arrive before the 3 p.m. check in time to find that the previous campers haven’t left the campsite at the 11 a.m. check-out time.
On this particular day, what had been a rather non-eventful shift ended with a toddler accidentally locked in a car. With a locksmith miles away in Cheyenne or Laramie, the incident was resolved by breaking the small vent window and reaching in to unlock the vehicle.
To learn more about Wyoming State Parks’ ranger program, please visit https://wyoparks.wyo.gov/index.php/home-park-rangers.