A View From The Overlook: A Home For Endangered Rangers

Should the old visitor, Mission 66-style visitor center at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park have been turned into a Snug Ranger Station instead of being demolished? NPS photo.

Editor's note: To bring you an additional perspective to life in the National Park System, we're happy to offer occasional musings and insights from PJ Ryan to the Traveler. Though he's retired from a 30-year Park Service career that landed him assignments at places such as Jewel Cave National Monument, Joshua Tree National Park, and even the Washington, D.C., headquarters, PJ hasn't lost interest in observing the world of the national parks. For a more regular dose of his observations, be sure to read Thunderbear.

Pardon me for dampening your day with morbid thoughts, but it occurred to me that after you have done all that vigorous post retirement bucket list stuff like climbing all the 14,000 footers in Colorado or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and the moment The Chief Ranger calls you to the Big Visitor Center in the Sky, you are going to need a place to hang your hat.

To be blunt, an Old Folks Home. (Except with today’s compulsory euphemism policy, they are called “Convalescent Homes”)

“No,” you say, “None of that for me. I’ll just move in with one of my kids, they’ve got plenty of room and they could use my advice in running their lives.” (Compadre, this is a plan that may need further discussion with the principals.)


It is true that before Social Security and those other mollycoddle programs the family stepped up to the plate and took care of Gramps. No family? Well, there was the Parish Indigent Fund, which was a good reason for being an ardent churchgoer and not asking too many questions

Fortunately, in the Good Old Days, life was short and thus so were your worries.

There were some exceptions to the bleakness of old age. In 1801, a Captain Randall established “Sailors Snug Harbor” a home for “Aged, decrepit or worn out sailors” on Staten Island, a borough of New York City.

This was between the first, if not the first retirement home in the U.S. It was also one of the most progressive. No one was turned away due to race, color, creed or lack of money. The Sailors Snug Harbor Trust built a series of very handsome early 19th century buildings to house and care for their charges. These buildings are now on the National Historic Register and are a New York City Cultural Park.

What happened to the decrepit sailors? Well, they’ve been moved to North Carolina where real estate and other costs are cheaper.

So then, does the National Park Service and other Federal Land Management Agencies need a “Snug Ranger Station” for at least some of its retirees?

Well, I don’t rightly know, neighbors; which is the reason for the discussion.

Now if you’re rich and vote the straight Republican ticket, the answer is probably “No” (Such pampering just encourages the elderly to grow older!).

On the other hand, long-term seasonal rangers and fire fighters may not have a great deal to show for their years of service (Other than sunsets, which are difficult to bank.)

Even Permanent employees may not have equity in a house due to many moves, or ownership has been complicated by divorce, so it is indeed possible that even a chief ranger or superintendent might find it advantageous to locate in our “Snug Ranger Station.”

So has this idea ever been proposed? “If in doubt, ask a ranger.” So I asked the dean of retired rangers, Bill Wade, if Mather or Hartzog or anyone had ever proposed a ranger retirement home.


Bill responded: “I’ve never heard of anything like this. About 20 years ago, some of us talked (joked) about buying 40 acres in Tucson and building a bunch of Mission 66-type houses so that retirees could move in and their furniture and drapes would fit. Glad that idea never got off the ground!”

Well now, neighbors! Mission 66 housing was not QUITE what I had in mind. Architectural historians will fondly recall that unlike WPA-CCC structures that were designed to blend in, Mission 66 houses were jarringly, but triumphantly, out of place in every park they inhabited, except for Southern California Tract Homes National Historic Site (which Congress has sadly yet to authorize.)

I was thinking more on the lines of log or straw bale construction for reasons we will discuss later.

Now who is going to pay for this “Snug Ranger Station”?

Well, now maybe we can ask the Rocky Mountain congressional delegations for some kind of subsidy, very much like that provided the oil or timber industry? Nope! Six feet under would be the preferred housing for retired Feds, so forget that.

Private donation will and should be the only source of funding. Raising money for aged, decrepit and worn out rangers should be a lot easier than raising money for a Home for Retired Internal Revenue Agents. Folks have warm and fuzzy memories about Smoky and his friends.

Where should it be built? That should spark a lively debate. Bill Wade would suggest Tucson, I would agree Arizona, but might hold out for around Payson.

Who would build it?

We would. Unlike a Retirement Home for Crooked Bankers and Wall Street Brokers, our clientele is manually talented, backed up by retired Maintenance. The ambulatory retired could spend a week or two each year camping out at the building site, meeting old friends and, well, building. To simplify construction, one might consider log structure kits (possibly donated) and or straw bale (Check with Don Chase for expertise)

So there is no particular problem in financing or building the “Snug Ranger Station.”

A more important question is whether it is a good idea.

That is for you to comment upon.

Comments

You know, this has been talked about for years by many of us. My wife and I, back when we were both seasonals and had nothing other than a Datsun pickup that would hold everything we owned, thought we should buy up land and build yurts or other nice, seasonal type housing (we decided against the 30 year-old, all-ready condemned, travel trailers). Everyone could bring their dog, sit in the front yard, and celebrate Christmas in July. .... Ah, the good old days.......:>)

P.J

I think there is already one, it is called Tucson.

I think that's an excellent idea. It's one that my bicycle-oriented friends and I have bandied about, particularly those of us who don't have kids who might (in theory, and probably in our wishful thinking only) look after us, i.e., those of us who run a higher risk of being alone in old age. We have talked, seriously enough though not earnestly or in detail, about devising a cohousing arrangement of some sort.

I'm reading Stephen Cave's book Immortality, which was favorably reviewed in a recent issue of The Economist. He talks bluntly and depressingly about one of the bad and largely unforeseen consequences of people's living longer: lots of dementia and frailness. Another book to read in this area, i.e., about what life could be like if you live long but don't die, is Death With Interruptions, by the Nobel Prize–winning novelist José Saramago.

I've signed up for long-term care insurance; in fact, as an avid mountain biker, I did so in my 30s, which is virtually unheard of, but I'm glad I did it. Everyone should do the same, particularly if you're in or have retired from a public agency that offers a good plan at a reasonable price. The alternative may be whatever facility Medicare decides to shoehorn you into.

PJ!

As always, a great idea. Have to say, the idea of living with a bunch of toothless retired rangers gumming their oatmeal in the morning is not high on my list. Still, as a seasonal with no retirement, it might be the way to go.

I've thought of this before and we should model it on Verdi's Casa di Riposo per Musicisti in Milan. A retirement home for opera singers founded in 1896. Maybe we could merge -- toothless rangers and croaky oepra singers. Perfecto!


Of all my works, that which pleases me the most is the Casa that I had built in Milan to shelter elderly singers who have not been favoured by fortune, or who when they were young did not have the virtue of saving their money. Poor and dear companions of my life!"

--Giuseppe Verdi


We need a similar patron! Surely, PJ, you've invested wisely all those years and can float this puppy.

Ciao!

George

Nothing to worry about. Certain segments of our politicians are telling us that once the Affordable Health Care Act kicks in and Sarah's death panels go to work, there won't be any old rangers or old anyones to inhabit a place like this.

As a daughter of a retired Park Ranger, "park brat", I thoroughly enjoyed your article. There is an unfortunate ring of truth to the coment about lack of equity from continuous moving. I agree wih the Mission 66 houses, although the first one at Saguaro was much better than the mobile home.

I had to laugh at the picture of a dining room full of senior citizen rangergs gumming their oatmeal (thank you, gdurkee)

I am fortunate to still have my father at the age of 88 and he keeps current with the Retired web page. The southwest was his starting point and his favorite, how about Taos? There should be a summer trip to the northern parks, too.