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.


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.

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.