Down East 2013 ©
I was wearing my uniform on my way home from work recently when a gentleman approached me at a gas station. “Hey, I've got a story for you,” he said, and then he paused, reading the badge on my shirt: “Ranger - Baxter State Park.” He looked at me and said, “Oh, I thought you were a warden.” And then, as if he didn't care whether I was a warden or not, he embarked on a long yarn about his brother's fishing exploits in a Winterport river.
This phenomenon – or a variation of it – happens to me over and over. People have this notion that game wardens and park rangers and forest rangers are all interchangeable. We all work in the big woods, do the same things, and must know each other. National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Maine Warden Service, Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Warren Island State Park – doesn't matter, all the same.
“How long have you been working for the Park Service?” campers will ask me.
“Um, I've never worked for the Park Service,” I'll politely reply.
“Have you worked in a lot of other national parks? Must be cool to be able to transfer all around.”
“My uncle Joe is a game warden. At Rangeley Lake State Park. Know him?”
“You fight that forest fire in X last year?”
“Andy here is a game warden.” That's how one of my neighbors introduces me to people. I've disabused him of that notion more times than I can count.
“Actually I'm a Baxter Park Ranger,” I'll say. And he'll give a smile that says, “Duh, same thing.”
Imagine if you worked for the The First National Bank of Damariscotta in Damariscotta and everyone kept saying, “How long you been working for Camden National?” Or, “Too bad all your jobs are being shipped to Maryland.” And you'd say,
“Ah, no, that was MBNA.” (This probably happens, too, but I doubt as frequently.)
I work for Baxter State Park. I was hired by Baxter State Park, I'm managed by the Baxter Park Authority, I consider Percival Baxter my boss. I can transfer to other positions within Baxter State Park if I'm interested and the Authority thinks I'm worthy, but that's about it.
Baxter State Park is a unique entity in Maine – and even in the country. The second word in the name of this great reserve is your first clue that BSP is not part of the national park system. Nor is it considered one of the facilities in the state park system. I'll admit that's confusing because of its moniker, but when the Governor gave Maine the land he'd resolutely purchased, he specifically mandated that the park be its own separate thing. Yes, my checks come to me from the State of Maine. But if Percival Baxter happened to donate Katahdin to Piscataquis County rather than the State of Maine, my pay stubs would come from Dover-Foxcroft.
Game Wardens are police officers whose beat is the woods. They work for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Augusta and enforce hunting and fishing laws in huge districts across the state. Maine's Forest Rangers are law enforcement officers whose primary responsibilities are forest-fire readiness and enforcing timber-regulations. They also patrol massive regions. National Park Rangers work in the country's national parks, which in Maine means Acadia. They might be law enforcement, maintenance, or interpretive specialists.
I am a ranger in Baxter State Park responsible for maintenance, safety, and rule enforcement in a particular corner of this particular park. I don't patrol a large district in Maine to fight forest fires or arrest people for taking too many fish. I'm occasionally asked to help on projects, rescues, fires, or other emergencies in other parts of the park, but I generally can be found at Daicey Pond or nearby. I can't transfer to Yellowstone or even Acadia or be reassigned to Roque Bluffs State Park. I'm not sent to fight forest fires in Montana.
I think that would cool, though. I'd love to have a red card and spend a few weeks battling blazes in Billings. I've often thought it would be interesting to work as a game warden or as a forest ranger. We all do work in the woods, which is where I want to be.
But I'm a Baxter Park Ranger. And I'm proud to work in these forests around Katahdin. I believe in Percival Baxter's vision and am honored to serve as a steward of it even in my small way. There are only a couple other Maine parks I'd even consider working in. (Most of them just aren't wild enough.) I wouldn't transfer to them, though, if such a transfer were possible.
Which it isn't.
Andy Vietze is a Down East contributing editor and a volunteer with the Appleton Volunteer Fire Department.