I’ve heard it said that park rangers have the best job in the world.
Maybe it’s true. After all, how many people get to work in such beautiful and remote areas, the kind of places the rest of us go to on our weekends?
With that in mind, I decided to give my hiking some purpose this summer and signed up for the Yukon Parks Volunteering Program in Tombstone Territorial Park to assist rangers on backcountry duty.
The Parks Volunteering Program runs annually and “gives you the opportunity to enhance your knowledge and develop workplace skills—all the while enjoying the awesome beauty of Yukon’s parks and campgrounds,” according to the website.
My first day began with a visit to ranger headquarters to complete paperwork and receive a Parks hat and badge. Then it was in the truck and out to Grizzly Trail with rangers Lolita and Leigh to do some track clearing work.
A number of fallen trees were blocking the trail and needed to be removed. A chainsaw was carried in to cut the fallen logs into manageable pieces, and we got to work lifting them off the trail. Care was taken to minimize our impact to ensure the area retained its natural feel rather than taking on the look of a work site.
Pausing for lunch at a high point overlooking the surrounding mountains, I was struck with the scenery rangers get to call their office. The long valley trailed off below us, while mountains, still capped with snow, stood in the distance.
After the day’s work was completed we went to the Tombstone Interpretive Centre for a coffee. Sitting with the rangers and interpreters, picking up interesting pieces of information and gaining an insight into how the park is managed was one of the highlights of my day.
I learned about animal monitoring programs, the best places to see sheep, and how the park’s radio communication system worked.
There’s a sense of enthusiasm for the environment they work in amongst the park staff. They keenly discussed the scenery they’d discovered while exploring more remote parts of the park, and wildlife they’d spotted when hiking. I took mental notes of scenic spots not mentioned in the brochures that the rangers like to visit.
The next time out I packed for an overnight stay in the park to do trail monitoring, this time with rangers Merran and Alice. On Grizzly Trail again, we began hiking, our packs laden with camping gear and equipment to measure the wear and tear on the trail.
This is done annually to give park staff a record of how much impact the trail is receiving with increasing numbers of hikers visiting the park.
Included in our gear was a four-foot-long pole with a box on one end. Raising interest with other hikers, the pole is a metal detector used to find the buried steel pegs that mark the locations where we would take our measurements.
Hiking to the highest point of Grizzly Trail, we set up camp with a stunning view overlooking the valley and a clear line of sight all the way to Grizzly Lake.
From here we began taking trail depth, width and general wear measurements at 200-metre intervals along the track towards Grizzly Lake and campground.
Equipped with a GPS and location photos we zoned in on the area for the next measurement, and the sound of the metal detector brought us to the right point.
Arriving into Grizzly Lake campsite in the late afternoon we cooked the dinner of quinoa, noodles and chocolate we’d carried in, chatted with other campers, and hiked the two hours back to our camp.
This set us up for a fast start in the morning so we could continue measurements back down the trail towards the Interpretive Centre parking lot.
We awoke in the morning to our lofty campsite shrouded by mist, which broke in the breeze as we ate a hot breakfast and drank coffee. Through windows in the clouds we caught glimpses of the valley we were perched above.
Arriving back at the parking lot that afternoon with the trail monitoring completed, I felt I’d had an experience I wouldn’t have if I’d hiked in purely for leisure.
Partly, it’s a sense of being able to give something back to that inspiring landscape. As the area’s growing popularity brings in more hikers each year, management and monitoring are all the more important.
Furthermore, having a task to accomplish as I hiked brought a deeper appreciation of the landscape I was passing through. Rather than being primarily focused on the destination, I took note of the smaller details on the way.
The subtle changing vegetation and rocks, the early colors of the approaching fall and less obvious signs of wildlife were details I’d passed over on previous hikes.
This connection to the landscape, I feel, is one of the things that makes a rangers’ job such a great one.