Kristen Lodge: RMNP Ranger, a day in the life with Mark Daniel |

Kristen Lodge: RMNP Ranger, a day in the life with Mark Daniel

Kristen Lodge/Outdoor AdventuresGrand County, Colorado CO

It was the opening day of Winter Park Resort and our first big snow. Instead of skiing I got a chance to ride along with Rocky Mountain National Park Ranger, Mark Daniel. It was a good choice because as I walked up to his car, he asked, “Do you have a mug?” “No.””I brought one for you just in case.”He handed me homemade cranberrry scones and a mug of steaming, hot coffee to enjoy as I rode along his morning patrol route on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.Mark is one of four permanent law enforcement rangers in winter; in summer there are more field rangers. He has been a ranger in RMNP for nearly twelve years, and started with the NPS in 1986 equipped with one degree in fire science while pursuing another in recreation and parks from Texas A&M University.As we entered the park, a very friendly Mathew Payton at the gate told us there was a logging crew out and the roads were in good condition after several inches of snow overnight. There are three aspects to his job: patrol, education and law enforcement, which includes resource protection.Since the park never closes, there are visitors who come in overnight. At the beginning of morning patrol, Mark looks for people who might need help or stranded motorists. At the same time, one of aspects of the job he really likes is ensuring visitors have a good experience while they are here. In summer, he educates visitors on bears and how to properly store food, and in winter, he talks to cross country skiers and snowshoers, helping them find the perfect trail for their ability. We rode along the 3-mile snowmobile section that connects the town of Grand Lake to the trail system and found Cam Stone from the Grand Lake Trail Groomers grooming the trails. This section is not in the wilderness, and due to a great relationship between the town of Grand Lake town and RMNP, snowmobilers enjoy easy access to trails.A few weeks ago I wrote about why wilderness matters. Mark reminds me of an aspect I forgot in that story: The healing power of the wilderness: “When I go on patrol in the backcountry, I might be carrying something that weighs heavily on my mind. Ten minutes out on the trail and that burden melts away. If you haven’t experienced this, you need to. It is something you need to do for yourself.”He tells me the importance of understanding wilderness designation: “There is a misconception that wilderness designation shuts down trail use, or access. It’s just not true. When an area is designated wilderness by Congress, it is protected from development. Had Point Reyes National Seashore not been designated as wilderness back in the 1960s, this ocean side land just north of San Francisco might be covered with trophy homes and condos. Legal designation also protects the area from certain types of use, those that conflict with wilderness ideals, such as mechanized or motorized modes of travel. Wilderness needs to be experienced on its own terms, the way it was before modern humans began to have an impact.”Mark is living his dream to live and work in Colorado while raising two sons to be outdoor lovers: “There is no other place I’d rather be than to raise my kids in Grand County, and it’s home.”The biggest perk of his job: “finding the secret nooks and crannies of the park that many people have never seen such as the headwaters of the Colorado; that little trickle becomes the mighty force that carves the Grand Canyon begins here. This feature is in my district and we are the keepers of the headwaters of the Colorado.”Just as I was getting ready to leave, I asked him, “Can you take me to a few of the hidden gems?” He responded, “Maybe.”

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