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Summer may be over but the job isn’t for our park rangers

Published Jan. 15, 2019

Often thought of as the face of the Corps of Engineers, park rangers interact with the public quite a bit. Known for hosting summertime events and maintaining the parks, the ranger’s responsibilities don’t stop when winter arrives. 

The summer months are a high demand time for Corps’ rangers; they stay busy ensuring the safety of the park visitors, provide educational programs promoting water safety for schools and the local community and they manage wildlife areas stimulating growth of native species and removing invasive plant species.

Winter is considered the offseason for many recreational areas, but that in no way means the rangers take a break. 

“The main focus in the winter months are boundary inspections,” said Chase Wilson, Upper Wabash area office ranger. “While the vegetation is easier to walk through we try to get as much of the boundary inspected as we can.”

At some of the recreational areas, like Brookville Lake in southwest Indiana, this can be extremely treacherous. 

“Just imagine bulldozing in a straight line through unmanaged forests full of ravines, creeks and thick cover while trying to carry a bag of four-foot Carsonite posts and a 20 pound steel post pounder,” said Spencer Beard, Brookville Lake ranger. “The goal is to protect the fee-owned government land from any disturbances that directly impact the public recreation experience.”

Although boundary inspections can be very tough, some rangers say it’s what they look forward to most during their off season. 

“It is nice to get outside and walk our boundary to better understand the landscape surrounding our project,” Wilson said. “We talk with adjacent land owners and work out any issues that may arise. It is hard work, but I enjoy the challenge of it.”

Barren River Lake park ranger Dan Taylor agreed. 

“I love doing boundary line maintenance,” Taylor said. “There is nothing better than getting paid to go out and inspect our project boundaries and in doing so, see some of the hidden gems of the project.”

Boundary inspections aren’t the only job duties rangers are responsible for during the winter months. Corps rangers continue operations of the visitor centers; they provide information and safety tips for hunters; prep and schedule events for the upcoming recreational season; and maintain local prairie ecosystems through prescribed burns and invasive plant removal.

“I really look forward to the prescribed burns and hosting our annual Christmas Bird Count program, which is a national program sponsored by the National Audubon Society,” said Jessica Zimmer, Caesar Creek Lake ranger. 

Some of the Corps’ lakes work with other agencies in recycling Christmas trees.

“We work with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to make Christmas tree habitats and place them in the lake for our fish,” said Priscilla Southwood, Buckhorn Lake ranger. 

Corps rangers also attend boat shows and expo events during the winter, which includes setting up booths, handing out water safety materials and talking with guests about all the recreational opportunities available to them at Corps lakes. 

“My favorite thing we do in the winter are the boat shows,” Beard said. “Every time I go, I meet new people, network with other USACE staff and other federal or state entities, and being a fisherman myself, I love walking around a bit to look at the fish tanks and buy a few things from the booths,” Beard said. 

Just because summer is over doesn’t mean the public can’t enjoy Louisville District’s lakes. Come see eagles that migrate from the north up close, go for a short hike to see frozen waterfalls or fish for trout in the tailwaters. There is still so much to discover throughout the winter months.