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A Day in the Life of a National Park Ranger

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CHILLICOTHE— Protecting beautiful state and national parks is no easy task, nor is it educating the public about the land’s rich history, but that’s exactly what rangers at the Cultural National Historic Park do every day. Hopewell.

The Hopewell Rangers cover several parks including the Mound City Group, Hopeton Earthworks, Hopewell Mound Group and Seip Earthworks. Although the home base is at the Mound City Group Visitor Center, the rangers still try to have a presence at each park during the week.

“We are here to interpret the site,” said Ranger Galen Dills. “You have questions and we have answers.”

With the park welcoming over 50,000 visitors each year, park rangers stay busy providing programs and keeping everyone safe. Park rangers are interpretive rangers, which means they are in the parks to help visitors better understand and connect with the history of the land and the people who once lived in the area. They are not law enforcement but will enforce rules to protect the historic site.

Weekends and the summer are often the busiest for the park as people aren’t working or going to school. Rangers run programs, like porch talks and guided tours, throughout the day to educate visitors about the site.

Every time a visitor comes to the park, they will have a unique experience as each ranger offers their own program. Some rangers focus more on the old Camp Sherman while others focus on plants native to the area that the Hopewell culture would have used. They all tap into the same well of knowledge to give visitors a basic understanding of the site, but each guard has a particular interest to focus on. During the visits, each guard has a bag with examples that he chooses to better highlight the site.

“An important part of acting is having images and things to show,” said Ranger Will Novotny.

Showing people examples and letting them touch the objects helps build a stronger connection between visitors and the site. It also helps visitors stay engaged with the program, as people can get bored quickly if a guard lectures them for too long.

Ranger Galen Dills shows examples of artifacts that have been found in the mounds as he leads visitors on a Hopewell Culture National Historical Park Mound City Group visitor tour.  Rangers say having physical examples to show helps better connect visitors with the park and its history.

Mound City rangers all come from different backgrounds. Some are full-time rangers while others are trainee rangers completing a trail program with the National Park Service. This program provides students with an internship where they can explore career opportunities working at the park.

No matter how they became a ranger, almost everyone agrees to be a successful ranger, you have to like to talk. Rangers speak to nearly 100 guests a day, sometimes having simple conversations like telling visitors where the bathroom is and other times having in-depth conversations about the park and its history.

“I like to talk,” Dills said. “Probably more than most people.”

Sue Rasche, a full-time ranger, thinks a good ranger has to be able to talk, but she also says they have to be believable. Being a ranger isn’t just about educating visitors, it’s about connecting them with the park.

“You have to know your stuff and know how to present it,” Rasche said.

As the faces of the park, rangers also need to be approachable so people don’t feel intimidated asking questions. The rangers encourage people to ask any questions they may have as they enjoy helping people learn about the park.

The park also works with many active Native American tribes to ensure that what rangers present is accurate and respectful. They consult with the tribes to find out more about the artifacts and discuss any archaeological work that might be done. This connection helps to better understand what the land was used for and how the artifacts found were used.

“It’s still their land,” said Ranger Novotny. “We listen to them on how we run and take care of this place.”

The park is currently under consideration for World Heritage designation. Be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. A decision is expected to be made in the summer of 2023, if added the park expects substantial growth in tourism. Being added to the list will also help further protect the historic mounds, which all park rangers believe is important.

About the series

A day in the life of is a series that follows those who have unique and interesting jobs. If you or someone you know has a job that fits this description, let us know by emailing [email protected]