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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.


The ranger was doing his job, the girl felt the steps were dangerous and the ranger operated within his authority by not letting the girl climb the steps. It’s a fine line between what a ranger can and cannot do with regards to the child/parent relationship, however in this case the ranger was correct.

I think the ranger was right! why put that child in a situation that was scary and unpredictable feeling to the child! I would have done the same if I was there.

Hooray for the ranger! I'm sure the teen felt like she had already been rescued at the bottom of the steps.

I think the ranger was right only from the perspective that those stairs are his responsibility and jurisdiction. The child could, due to her fear, endanger herself, the ranger or others on the tour.

I disagree most likely the teen was just rebelling against the parent, if there was no danger then the ranger should of stayed out of it. After working with teens for the last ten years, I got to say that the majority of parents know their teens and should be obeyed.

The Ranger was correct.

Let me clarify my remark made before this remark. If the mother had struck the girl across the face because she did not want to go up the stairs, what should the Ranger have done? In this case, it sounds like the girl must have been terrified of going up the stairs. If so, the mother was being just as mean and hateful by wanting to make her child go up the stairs. Most people have a phobia that never goes away. If the mother thought this was a way of making her daughter overcome her fear, she herself needs to go get some counseling. A teen-ager has enough to face without a mother pushing her greatest fear in her face. Thank you, Ranger.

The ranger was wrong. The ranger has no idea the whole story behind the parental command. Neither do any of us. Without knowing the whole story, the authority has to go to the parent. By countermanding the parent, the ranger also assumed full responsibility for this minor until the parent returned. That is not right. The ranger should be reprimanded.

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