Jul 1, 2007 | Marmot, Summer 2007

Park Rangers on Patrol

Every summer, thousands of people enjoy the splendour of Strathcona Provincial Park, bordering Mount Washington.

And each year, a corps of olive green-clad Park Rangers makes sure all those people are safe, happy and respecting the ecological footprint of the Park. In years past, Park Rangers would trek the back country all summer, staying in places like the old Ranger Cabin – now used by the park facility operators. But times have changed, and so has a ranger’s job.

Sara Robichaud sits in her office on the Rangers’ Compound, in front of the entrance to Miracle Beach Provincial Park in Black Creek. The office is stocked with hiking gear, backpacks, tents, maps.

One cinder block wall is covered in 8 1/2-by-11 colour photos of stunning scenery that her colleague, back country ranger Max McDonald has snapped on his journeys.

Robichaud is decked out in a nearly-new Arcteryx shell – olive green, of course – weatherproof pants and hiking boots, in preparation for her day’s fieldwork. She’ll head up to Mount Washington to check on the snowmelt at the new trailhead granting access to the Park right beside Raven Lodge.

It’s one of a growing number of tasks that BC Parks rangers are called upon to do in a given season. Robichaud and her colleagues are responsible for patrolling most of Strathcona Park.

Three areas – Bedwell, Plateau and Elk River – are maintained by a park facility operator. “We used to stay out in the field and work out of there, but now that’s actually contracted out,” she says. “The rest of Strathcona Park is just us.”

Robichaud is the acting Senior Ranger this year; she has worked at Strathcona Park for four full seasons and is entering her fifth. She has earned a diploma of recreation, fish and wildlife, served as a park facility operator at Manning Provincial Park for a couple of seasons and taken job-specific training.

“Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been outdoors with my family, hiking, camping, backpacking – ever since I can remember, it was a big part of my life,” she says.

Max McDonald is entering his fifth summer season as a Park Ranger, his third in Strathcona Park. McDonald is enrolled in the Bachelor of Natural Resource Protection degree program at Malaspina University-College in Nanaimo.

His schooling is in environmental protection and enforcement, and he wants to pursue a second major in geography.

Unlike Robichaud, who was raised in the West Kootenays and is a relative newcomer to Strathcona Park, McDonald grew up in the Comox Valley with Miracle Beach as his front yard and Strathcona Park as his playground.

“I fished with my grandfather since I was four years old and I’ve been a resource user ever since,” he said. Where Robichaud always wanted to be a Park Ranger – indeed, researched the job and found out what schooling was necessary for employment – McDonald only knew he wanted to work within the resource. He could just as easily have become a conservation officer, Department of Fisheries and Oceans officer or a ranger.

“I haven’t been too keen to leave B.C.,” he says, so a job with BC Parks allows him to stay here. A ranger’s job is typically between three and five months long – shorter in Strathcona Park, where it snows early and melts late.

Rangers are responsible for patrolling the Park, keeping track of the park facility operators and assisting them with projects when necessary, and handle everything from small repairs to flying replacement toilets by helicopter to remote areas, large capital projects to revegetation studies.

“One of the things we do is we hike all the trails and we do oversee the back country contract to make sure the facilities are safe and clean and being maintained as agreed,” Robichaud says.

Rangers will typically hike seven kilometres a day, and up to 25 kms for some of their longer overnight journeys. “It’s a really busy place to work,” she says.

Forbidden Plateau and Paradise Meadows are “the most used, most popular, most known, most accessible place in the park,” she adds. This year the Rangers have had a big job clearing up damage from last winter’s storms.

They also deal with human-wildlife conflicts, although Paradise Meadows doesn’t have too many of those, according to Robichaud.

Enforcement of the rules at the Park is also within a ranger’s mandate.

McDonald likes the seasonal aspect of the job. He says it coincides “really well” with school: it pays well enough in the summer to help pay off school expenses in the winter. His supervisors also ensure there is no conflict between McDonald’s work and the beginning of classes.

Last season Robichaud’s job continued into the off-season with different responsibilities. However, she admits it can be difficult for rangers to find other jobs in the off-season. Many will look to Mount Washington Alpine Resort for outdoor jobs, or else temporary construction jobs. “It can be very tricky. That’s one of the downfalls,” she said.

One glance at the photos on the wall and the upside is not difficult to figure out. “I like to work outside, and Strathcona is a really big park – it’s very beautiful,” says Robichaud. “You can see from alpine to ocean. It’s a wilderness area. It’s beautiful. I feel really lucky to work in Strathcona Park,” she says.

“It’s the back country that really attracts me. And it’s something I believe in – parks are something I believe in.” McDonald says it’s different for him, having grown up on the edge of Strathcona Park. But on one point he will agree: “The Park itself is amazing,” he says. “It’s beautiful, especially when you get to the top.”

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