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Backpacker Magazine – September 2010

Ranger Confidential: Secrets of the National Park Rangers

True tales from the front lines--and behind the scenes--of America's national parks.

by: Andrea Lankford

Ranger Confidential: Secrets of the Park Rangers (Frank Stockton)
Ranger Confidential: Secrets of the Park Rangers (Frank Stockton)
Ranger Confidential: Secrets of the Park Rangers (Frank Stockton)
Ranger Confidential: Secrets of the Park Rangers (Frank Stockton)

Less than one percent of all sea turtle eggs end up producing an adult. The turtle I held in my hand came from a nest of 81 eggs.

I was a few weeks into my first job as a seasonal park ranger at North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and it was impossible not to contemplate the depressing odds this single turtle would have to overcome. Impossible not to think of the 80 that wouldn’t make it.

Still, I loved driving the beaches of the barrier islands, searching for sea turtle nests, and documenting their locations. It felt like Christmas morning the day I discovered several turtles fighting their way up the sandy banks of their nest. The baby loggerheads were dark violet, like little bruises.

The one I was holding now flapped its flippers on my skin. It tickled, like a child’s butterfly kiss. I marveled at its delicate touch--and the war zone it would have to survive to reach adulthood. Even if a turtle nest eludes the noses of raccoons and dodges the destruction of a hurricane, some eggs fail to hatch. Of the ones that do hatch, not all the turtles make it to the water. Ghost crabs snatch the hatchlings in their claws and drag them down into their holes. Gulls swoop in and pluck them off the beach.

Of the lucky ones that reach the ocean, not all will escape the sharks. There are gill nets to avoid, red tides and polluted water, poachers looking for shells for jewelry and meat for soup, and plastic bags and party balloons that float in the water like jellyfish, but, once eaten by a deceived turtle, lead to an agonizing death.

Holding this single turtle in my hands brought my decision about being a ranger into sharp focus. How could I not fight to keep this endangered species from becoming extinct? How could I not risk my life jumping from helicopters or fording rivers so that this baby turtle could someday return and lay its own eggs?

Retirement benefits? Health insurance? Decent housing? On my knees in the sand, with a baby turtle struggling for its life in the palm of my hand, I thought I had found the best--and most important--job in the world.

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Reader Rating: -


Jul 07, 2011

lessened my enthusiasm for being a park ranger, but still interested.

Oct 28, 2010

What a great read. It's wonderful to remind people just how much these hard working rangers do, and how little they get in return. They have my utmost respect and admiration.

Hornet 22
Oct 20, 2010

Great story!'s Smokey Bear - no "the" in there.

the love
Oct 17, 2010

I like the you will (maybe) fall in love section...awesome and real

Thomas B.
Sep 28, 2010

Makes me want it more.

tall tree
Sep 28, 2010

love it and now i dont want to be a park ranger (thank lot)

the hiker
Sep 28, 2010

chad w
Sep 24, 2010

love the read. keep em coming

Sep 24, 2010

great read!!! I could not put it down, I could not wait to read the next chapter, and the next, and the next!

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