Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bogus National Park Conservation Association Survey

Robert recently got a mailing from the NPCA with one of those surveys in which they try to make you admit how much you care about the issue and then hit you up for money. I thought this question was particularly bad, not in terms of how it's biased and misleading and completely ethnically bankrupt, but just in terms of basic competence in influencing the respondent:

"Serious budget shortfalls have resulted in reductions in park staff, including national park rangers. (During the busiest times of the year, some park visitors may never see a park ranger at all!) How important do you think park rangers are to the experience that visitors have in national parks? Not important / Somewhat important / Extremely important"

Presumably they want us to think, Yeah, park rangers are vital to a good experience in a national park (and money problems are causing there to be fewer rangers, so I will be happy to send $100 to the NPCA and get that ugly bucket hat!). But the idea that "seeing a park ranger" is in itself such a central part of the national park experience is pretty sad. My fantasy is that I'll go to a NP and not see many people at all. I certainly am not driven to visit by the desire to see a park ranger hanging out next to her truck sneaking a cigarette or whatnot. Wouldn't it have made 1000 times more sense to connect park rangers to the services they provide (e.g. enforcing laws, fighting fires, maintaining trails, cleaning restrooms and picking up trash, giving interpretive programs, manning visitor centers so you don't want 30 minutes to buy a goddamn postcard, rescuing people who think they can hike down the canyon and back all in one day wearing flip-flops and carrying a single bottle of water) rather than act as though we all just tingly inside when we see a park ranger. I mean, I'm as susceptible to the "man in uniform" phenomenon as anybody else, but somehow, I have to admit that it doesn't quite extend to the NPS. Sure, the typical UPS man is capable of rocking those brown shorts, but the NPS uniform (that hat!) tends to goofify even the best of them.

Of course, my view of national park rangers is influenced by my much-deeper-than-average familiarity with the stereotype that they tend to totally screwy. It's my impression that in most state park systems, when you come across an employee who just seems odder than the norm and you can't put your finger on why, a co-worker is happy to tell you "he was 10 years with NPS" as though that explains it. The general sense is that the NPS attracts people who are kind of nuts and the work environment just makes them more so. I have known many state park people who love the Nevada Barr novels, in which national park ranger Anna Pigeon moves from park to park, dealing with fellow rangers who are 57 different kinds of mentally fucked up and solving murders, because of the centrality of alcoholic, law-abusing, sexist, racist, paranoid, asocial, misanthropic, mentally foggy, and/or completely out-of-touch-with-reality NPS employees to the stories.


Debbie said...

My first response to that question was "not important" because I misread it as "How important do you think seeing park rangers is to the experience that visitors have in national parks?"

Like they're some kind of monuement I have to have my picture taken with my arm around.

Yes, mentioning their actual services would have been much, much more helpful.

Debbie said...

P.S. A uniform that has shorts? Mmm.