Monday, August 15, 2011

What I have Learned from Park Patrons (Reflections on being a Ranger).

I began working for my local city's park system the summer after my freshman year of college (this would be in 2004). My brother was the one to tell me about the job. He had worked for the city as an engineering intern for a couple summers, and suggested that working at the park might be a fun time. I applied and was surprised to get an interview, then hired in.

The first park I worked at was one of the busier parks. It had a 40 acre lake, playground, soccer field, boat rentals, concession stand, etc. On hot days in the summer, the beach would be PACKED. I really liked working there, but as a lowly park attendant, I didn't get paid the big bucks. After four years, I interviewed for a position as a Summer Assistant aka Seasonal Park Ranger, and landed the position at the park I currently work at (only a few miles north of the other).

The park I currently work at is a more traditional park-picnicking, hiking, mountain biking trails, etc. It was originally a Michigan State Park, but was bought by the city in the late 1980s. The park was constructed all the way back in 1924 and has a building built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) from the Depression era.

Needless to say, the parks system I work for is great, and I love being able to work outside in the summer. Since I am ending my eighth summer season with the parks department (I have also worked MANY fall, winter, and spring seasons), I thought it would be fun to fill you in on some of the fun and random things I have learned about people while being a park employee. Enjoy! :)
  • People Litter...A LOT: One of the things that constantly annoys me is the amount of litter. I don't understand it and never will. We have MANY trash cans in the park and sometimes when a group leaves, there is trash everywhere but IN the can. We have one sports group who will leave their water bottles on the ground just inches from the trash can. I don't get it. I am anal about picking up trash and I have been known to scoop up garbage when I'm not at the park. Seriously, find a trash can.
  • Women are messier than men: Probably one of the most surprising things about cleaning up our shelters and bathrooms is the difference between men and women. You would think men would be messy. No, it is definitely the women. I cannot begin to tell you the amount of disgusting trash I have picked up in our women's bathrooms.
  • People continually surprise me with their...quirks: After 8 years, 4 being a Ranger, I think I have seen it all. But I really haven't. People have some of the most ridiculous requests when it comes time to be in the park. I have another post in the works about this, but to give you a teaser, I once had to lecture a large group of men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s on how to share. Seriously.
  • People think nature = garbage: Nothing is more irritating to me or my staff than going to change a trash can to find NATURE in the garbage. Please explain to me why you are throwing sticks and branches into trash cans? hello? You are in a PARK. You are OUTSIDE. Nature is not trash! Leave the sticks on the ground!
  • People do not know how to flush toilets: Every night that I close the park, there are 27 toilets I have to clean (some nights only 20 as we don't always open one of the shelters). Every night we have to make sure the toilets are clean and pretty and every night I go in to find that someone has not flushed the toilet. I don't understand why this is so difficult. I understand you might not want to touch the handle. You can kick it with your foot (I do!). Just flush it, please.
  • People have misconceptions about their tax money: The biggest complaint we have at our booth is why people must pay to come in to the park. Since we are a city park, how we operate might be different than larger park systems. Yes, we do get SOME tax money. But keeping a parks system operating is expensive. We have to pay for supplies, employees, maintenance fees, etc. We charge because otherwise, we would be a very big and expensive drain on the system. I don't think our daily fee is absurd, and it gets everyone all upset when a patron comes in and says, "well I pay taxes so I should get in for free." Sorry, doesn't work that way.
  • People freak out when they see females driving big trucks and vehicles: We have a number of vehicles that we drive around the park, including two large white pick up trucks (and I mean LARGE. I have to hop to get in them), a gas powered cart (think golf cart on steroids-super powerful), and a tractor. I drive all of these things. It always makes me laugh when people look shocked to see a female driving huge vehicles. Yes, sometimes it offends me. There are instances where it makes me super uncomfortable (the other day an older man asked one of my male employees why "the woman" was driving him around), but I try and ignore that.
  • People are wasteful: We have very busy weekends, with our shelters rented for reunions, parties, and celebrations of all kinds. And it never ceases to amaze me how much food is thrown away. It makes me sad that it isn't taken home. Instead, it inevitably finds its way into our dumpster.
  • Wild animals are wild, not cute furry things for your child to pet: We have a lot of wildlife in the park, including deer, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, feral cats, birds, frogs, turtles, snakes, hawks, coyotes, woodchucks, gophers, etc. And our public seems to think that these animals are to be petted and fed. Sadly, we have way too many raccoons (people catch them by their homes then release them in the park, which has ruined our ecosystem), so our raccoons are pretty friendly. That doesn't mean that it is okay to allow your child to try and feed it. Never feed a wild animal.
  • Smiles are better used when talking to someone who is upset: I have had my fair share of altercations with angry patrons in the park. And while I do get upset in return, I have learned that it is better to keep smiling and upbeat when dealing with someone who has lost their cool. Something about seeing a smile calms down even the angriest patrons and they do eventually apologize for calling me all sorts of nasty names. :) So smile. It helps.
  • People are friendly and grateful for small kindnesses: We have a lot of regulars that come into the park. I know most of them by name and while the staff has nicknames for many of them, I do try and take the time to say hello to those I see on a regular basis. They are our support system and help keep the park open. On this past Easter Sunday, I was working and we had a rental. The woman who rented the shelter was sad I had to work, so she left the park to go buy me a present. Her small Easter basket filled with candy was her way of saying thank you. It truly touched me! People are grateful for kindness, so I try and smile even when I don't really want to. :)
  • The park is a great place for family events: I have witnessed a lot of things in my eight years at the park. I have seen weddings for young and old, graduation parties, first birthdays, family reunions, and memorial services. What I try to remember each day is that it is significant for someone. I am glad that our park has served as a backdrop to these significant moments. And while I don't know about the parks in your area, we appreciate and love the fact that we are chosen to host these events.
Anyway, I know there are more things I have learned, but these are probably the most important. I work with different people every day, and each day at a park brings a new challenge. I have seen things and done things I never would have had I never gotten that job 8 summers ago. I keep joking that I want to be done working at the park, but secretly, I still kind of love it. It gives me great stories to tell, and I continue to be shocked by the constant insanity of the people around me. :)


  1. HAHAHA. THis is too funny. I seriously do not understand why people don't flush toilets. It's nasty. And wouldn't it be embarassing if the restroom was crowded and you just ... walked out without flushing? Everyone would know!
    I always flush with my foot too.

  2. I can't wait to hear other "quirk" stories. :D

  3. So people will throw out sticks but not their garbage? Gotta love the logic. I think the biggest problem with people who litter is that they feel that someone will eventually pick it up. Every time I see a jerk throw something out of their car, I get so angry. Really? Does the trash so offend you so that you can't keep a little trash bag in your car to throw out later. I have nothing but expletives for those people.

  4. Thanks for sharing! I have many lovely park memories from when I was a kid. I try to use my local parks pretty regularly now, as well.

    And as far as the men's bathroom - maybe it's cleaner because they don't feel compelled to always find the shelter...

  5. What a great post! I love parks (of all kinds) and I certainly do try to be on my best behavior. ;)

  6. I promise I always flush and I don't throw away sticks!!

  7. Yeah, there are some things about people that don't cease to amaze me, and I don't even work with the public! I actually have this thing about trying not to use public restrooms if at all possible just because of other people's inability to, um, keep them somewhat decent. Can't wait to hear about quirks!

  8. Hi Allie! It's Stephanie D, from TGSP! (I love your blog by the way - I get lots of book recs :) I really enjoyed this post - I miss working at the parks SO MUCH. I'm SOOOO looking forward to your next post... I wonder if I will remember some of the stories you will tell? :) Miss you!! Tell the parks and rangers that I say hi!!

  9. This is an amazing post!!! Thanks Allie for sharing your thoughts on this. I agree with you about the thrash cans. Having grown up in the country side (the real, wild countryside), I've never understood people who throw thrash in nature, it is so incredibly disrespectful. Can't wait for your next post!

  10. Love this!!!! I also agree about the trash cans, and that women are messier in the bathroom than men. I've heard that from friends who have had to do "bathroom duty" at various jobs.

    I linked this in my "Friday Five" at Kate's Library. Have a great weekend!