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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.


As one who has wished that I could do something when I'm in a public situation and there is tense parent child situation, just to relieve the stress for both parent and child, I have to think we should err on the side of the child. Think of the recent comments on the tragedy of the child at many expected the rangers to be responsible. I am also thinking of the situation in California were the campus police acted on their intuition and checked on the man with 2 young girls leading to their and their mothers resque from a pedophile.
No one agrees with basic parenting issues and we certainly don't have all the facts in this incident, nor do we have an unbiased report but if this was a typical "I don't want to " teenager so what ? If this was a fearful young woman being bullied by a parent then I believe this ranger had a responsibility to his charge. Parental rights do not extend to abuse in any form.

Rick B is right. We do not know the whole story, and even if we did, every situation is unique and should be judged accordingly. Additionally, none of us know the protocols and regulations of the NPS well enough to make definitive statements about ranger's actions. My advice: Skip the topic, and go watch Ken Burns film on PBS.


I have been to the caves and did not go up there.
The Ranger was in is right, to let the gal know that she did not have to go there.
As a mother I feel that a Child will know what is comfortable and what is not.

I think we need to get the whole story before choosing who was in the right. I am sure there is a lot more to the story then we were given. I believe if the ranger was in the right he could have found an appropriate way to have the mother leave the child with him then to undermind her authority the way he did in front of the child. But then again we do not have the whole story.

If teenagers are are old enough to fight in Iraq - they are old enough to be able to judge their comfort factor.

Fear is often a good thing. Especially when it occurs in the National Parks. It is often foolish bravado that causes accidents and death.

And if I listened to my parents I would never have experienced the National Parks or backcountry. Thank god I broke out and away of the mold they cast for me.

KUDOS to the ranger!!!

I think the ranger was right in this situation. I have never been to this cave, but it seems that having someone on the steps that does not want to be there, or does not have their mind on what they are doing, could cause a problem for someone else on the steps. This sounds like a situation where everyone involved needs to be somewhat careful, so if you don't think you can be in control of yourself, it is best to realize your limitations so you do not cause problems or delays for the rest of the group.

you mean instead of just turning a walking away? Hmmm wonder if the Mom knew she was wrong to potentially endanger the child and others around her.

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