How I Became a Park Ranger by Lynda Boose
From the Editor: Not long ago I came upon a Talking Book titled A Superior Death. The author was Nevada Barr. The mystery was fun, and the author's ability to evoke the scene and the various characters was certainly above average. But the most memorable thing about the plot was the casual appearance of Sandra, a blind secretary in the Park Service office. She was efficient, funny, and knowledgeable about people and the workings of the programs she carried out. The techniques she used were accurately described, but no particular fuss was made about her competence or her blindness. It struck me at the time that this author had observed a good blind secretary at some time and brought her to life in these pages. Then one day Lorraine Rovig, Director of the Job Opportunities for the Blind Program, sent me a copy of a letter she had received from Lynda Boose. Miss Rovig had learned of Mrs. Boose's work as a park ranger and had asked her to write describing her duties and the ways she had found to carry them out.
As I read the letter, I realized that here must be the inspiration for the character in Nevada Barr's book. I called Mrs. Boose and asked her if she had ever met Ms. Barr. She confirmed my guess. For two years Nevada Barr had worked on Isle Royale, where Mrs. Boose worked. They lived at opposite ends of the island, but they talked often on the radio and telephone. Mrs. Boose assured me that, although Barr had drawn on her observations of Mrs. Boose for the character, there was very little resemblance between herself and Sandra. Here then is a matter-of-fact description of how one blind park ranger does her job:
Before I started working as a park ranger, I was a teacher of severely handicapped children in California. Then I met my future husband, and my life changed drastically. When I met my husband, he was working for Isle Royale National Park, which is located in the middle of Lake Superior, seventy miles from Houghton, Michigan. The Town of Houghton is headquarters for the park. Some park employees live in Houghton year-round, and others live in Houghton six months and are on the island for six months. For the past ten years my husband and I were in the latter category.
So how did I go from teacher to park ranger? I was in the right place at the right time. I did not work my first summer on the island, but the next summer I heard that the park was looking for a part-time dispatcher. I felt I could do the job and went and talked to the chief ranger. We discussed dispatcher duties and talked about how I could do them. The rest is history. I was hired part-time, which was two days a week. The next year the permanent dispatcher left, and I got his job.
My duties were to monitor and respond to park radio traffic, monitor the marine radio and respond to any calls to the park service from boaters, put up the flag, take mail out to the mail boat, which came about three times a week. This boat carried passengers around the island. I also answered the phones and took messages. If there was a medical emergency, I assisted the park EMT's by relaying messages and calling doctors. This was the most stressful part of the job. I kept track of lost-and-found items. I also kept track of case incident numbers and issued them to the rangers when they needed them.
To do my job I had the following equipment: a computer with voice output; a light sensor, which I used for the phones; a tape recorder; and a Braille writer. I also had an Optacon, which I used quite a bit to fill in forms before I had computerized templates.
One of the biggest challenges was organizing the lost- and-found. Each item had to be numbered, so I made a database on the computer, which included everything that appeared on the actual lost form. People would call me on park radio, I would give them a lost/found number, and they would give me most of the information I needed for the computer. Then I would send them an envelope with both Braille and print case numbers on it. I had them put the completed form into the envelope and attach it to the item. This way I could handle the lost-and-found items without much assistance from a sighted person. I made up a phone- message form on the computer and filled it in whenever I took a phone message for someone. I labeled all the mailboxes in Braille so that I could put the messages in the right mail boxes.
My husband and I now live in Houghton year round, and I work in the Houghton Visitors' Center. Last summer was my first summer in Houghton, and there were lots of new things to learn: operating a cash register, taking Ranger III reservations, and answering visitor questions and requests. The Ranger III is the park service boat, which takes passengers to the island. The reservation program is computerized, so it didn't take too long to learn how to use it.
I now have a scanner and a Braille printer and find them both very useful. I am working on getting a talking cash register, which will make me more independent. Right now visitors have to help a lot when I am operating the cash register. They don't seem to mind doing this. I just tell them what I need for them to do, and they do it.
I have been working for the park for ten years now and really enjoy it. I like new challenges and learning new things. I like figuring out how to do things as independently and simply as possible. I'm glad I was in the right place at the right time and that I took advantage of the opportunity.