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Should A National Park Ranger Countermand a Parent?


The climb up to Paradise Lost at Oregon Caves National Monument can be intimidating. NPS photo of the Paradise Lost flowstone formation.

I was touring Oregon Caves National Monument recently when I witnessed an interesting scene between a ranger and a guest – one which makes me wonder about the parameters of ranger authority.

Near the end of the tour is an optional side trip from the Ghost Room, up a swaying set of 92 steps, to the small but famous Paradise Lost formation of flowstones, which rise tier on tier toward the cave dome. A teen-age girl, apparently worried by the stairs, said she did not want to make the climb.

“You have to,” her mother said.

“No she does not,” the ranger said.

“I’m her mother, and I say she does,” the woman said.

“No she does not,” the ranger said, standing between the girl and her mother.

The ranger and the mother eyed each other for a moment, and then the mother headed up the steps without her daughter, who stayed below in the company of the ranger.

The incident raises interesting questions. Should a ranger countermand the authority of a parent? I think most of us would say “yes” if the parent were asking her child to do something illegal or patently dangerous. But the stair was not an out-and-out danger, just a fear that the parent may have wanted her child to face and master.

On the other hand, I think many of us can also sympathize with the ranger. The trip to Paradise Lost is clearly called optional, and the stairs can be intimidating. Certainly the ranger did not want to have to rescue the child, frozen by fear halfway up the steps.

I’d like to read what the readers think – if not about this incident specifically, then about the position of rangers in general when it comes to parents and children. Maybe some others of you have witnessed similar incidents where the commands of one authority have come into conflict with the other.


I have been able to visit 27 of our national parks, and only one ranger has ever been anything but professional. Only one out of hundreds of rangers who do a super job in our NP systems.

This comment was edited to remove a subjective attack. -- Ed.

Reading all of the above comments, I have noticed that the majority of the posters do not seem to be Federal Agency Employees, have no idea what it is that a ranger sees/does over the course of a day, nor understand what it is like to look into the eyes of a terrified child when they are forced to climb a ladder (to the point of shaking, white knuckles and tears). Nor do we have the entire story--both sides, nor do we have the entire course of events.

Being a park service employee who has led tours, been posted in "self-guided" areas, and stood at an information desk you witness all sorts of family interactions as well as interactions with students and teachers, boy scouts and leaders, etc. You would think adults should be the leaders in these situations, but that is not always the case--adults are sometimes more interested in socializing than parenting/chaperoning--forcing the ranger to play babysitter. When scouts start breaking branches or putting items in their pockets is the ranger allowed to step in? When 4 year olds are jumping off of pre-historic walls or throwing rocks, and Mom is too busy taking pictures of another part of the site or reading the brochure, should the ranger step in?

Let me put this in an entirely different perspective...A family goes on vacation, and buys $3.00 tickets to go on a ranger guided tour. One member of the group decides they really don't want to go--they don't like ladders, the ranger said it is strenous, and the person is not feeling well. The rest of the group tells them they have to go. The person still doesn't want to go--"an interstesting scene" develops, including the family saying "We paid $3.00, we can't get our money back, you have to go." So the reluctant member of the party goes. During the course of the tour they feel worse and worse until they collapse. The person died of a heart attack, because their family instisted they had to go. Is a ranger allowed to step in then? Before it is too late? According to a number of posters above, the answer would be no.

If it is an optional part of the tour, the operative word is OPTIONAL, meaning a person does not have to go. According to the story, taking it as factual, yes more tact should have been used. Again we don't have the whole story. Sometimes Mother does know best, and SOMETIMES Rangers know best.

Took this article and all the comments into my public lands class today to see what type of discussion would take place. We discussed it for a good hour and I heard some good opinions and theories about it. As a hopeful future NPS employee I wanted to see how my fellow students felt. Most agreed with the Ranger, as well as I. Interestingly enough those that agreed were only students. The few that disagreed were students as well as parents. My instructor compared it to one of our other courses where we are learning how to manage a high ropes course and a huge part of the class is challenge by choice. The concept refers to the participant choosing how far they want to challenge themselves. So if there was a student up on the ropes course and didn't want to complete an element and a parent on the ground wanted them to what would the facilitator do? This situation would not be much different than the one discussed in this article. There were inherent risks involved regardless of whether we understand them or not. Kudos to the Ranger.

Interesting situation, but being fearful of heights myself, I'm glad the ranger spoke up for the child. There are parents that just push too much. Firefly was right, the stairs are the ranger's responsibility. Was there conversation about the child's safety or why she did not want to go up? We don't know the cooperation levels between mom and child. If the child was rebelling, let her miss out on something so beautiful, she will think about it later in life. Too many unknowns, so just on the possibility of a fear of heights and the dangers/problems that can produce, I side with the ranger.

When it comes to sweet talking to momma or papa about public safety in the national parks, regarding the rules, regulations or guidelines...give me a break! When you have hundreds of tourist running all over place and peppering you with all kinds of questions and in the mean while, your watching over the public safety with definitely have your hands full. It's crowd control vigilance for public safety while conducting your tour of duty as ranger. Your not a babysitter or a verbal mouth piece to handle all domestic disputes, but your hired as a ranger to teach, educate and enhance the wilderness experience. That's your job to be a professional ranger and not a family counselor. Agreed manners, tact and diplomacy is a good virtue but to a point.

There is far too little information presented to make even the most general assumptions about the appropriateness of the ranger's behavior. The whole argument is an exercise in fantasy, pending more facts. It should be classified as "observation of an awkward moment" and left at that.

At one time my husband and I had five teenagers at the same time and we routinely had to "drag" them on family vacations. Now that they are all grown they all look back on those family vacations fondly and since my husband and I remember quite a few "fights" we are amazed that they seem to have conveniently forgotten them. There were many times when we informed the kids that they would do certain things whether they liked it or not. If I had been asking my kids to do anything that would have endangered them then I would certainly have welcomed it if a Ranger felt the need to step in and point out any potential dangers, BUT, if a Ranger thought that he had the right to step in between me and my teenager because they decided that they didn't want to do something then the Ranger would have needed some serious medical help by the time that I was through with him. As a mom I was very aware of any "fears" that my kids had and I also knew when they were just pushing my buttons. Since the Ranger had no clue as to what was going on between the mother and the teenager it would have been much more appropriate for him to have spoken to the mother privately rather than doing it in front of the teenager. It is hard enough for a parent to assert their authority to a teenager in the best of circumstances, but with the way that the Ranger interfered he made this mother's position intolerable and I can guarantee it that he made the situation between this mother and daughter very tense for quite some time.

I am not sure that you can assume the child was lazy if you cannot assume the child was frightened.....sort of a double standard. I believe you are correct when you say we are assuming too much about the situation based on the information but unfortunately, you do the same thing by assuming simply because she is a teenager, she is lazy.

I believe we have too little information to be forming any opinions one way or another. We weren't there.....we don't know the relationship of the parent and child.......we don't know any of the physical nuiances that could give us a lot of information......simply, not enough information to make any kind of judgement.

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