Park’s rangers do more than fight crime
July 22, 1999
Park ranger Pete Reinhardt talks to visitors at Discovery Point in Crater Lake National Park. Rangers are responsible for police work, but spend much of their time educating visitors about the lake and the park’s rules.
Crater Lake cops teach, guide and sometimes rescue
It’s a different kind of police job, working as a ranger at Crater Lake National Park.
The rangers not only handle crimes, but also protect resources in the park, where rocks aren’t to be taken home and pets and mountain bikes are forbidden on trails. One day rangers can be reminding visitors not to feed chipmunks, and the next they may deal with tourists who disobey rules and hike down the caldera, which has proven deadly.
They don’t handle many crime reports. Only 22 of last year’s 157 reported crimes were serious.
But the five permanent and six seasonal law enforcement officers may answer medical calls, fight a fire or search for a missing hiker. Some of the rangers are trained divers, called on in case of a drowning or when a dock needs work.
They work in a park where nearly 472,000 people visited last year. Roughly every other year, one of those tourists dies trying to hike down the loose volcanic rock of the caldera. Last year, a tourist trying to swim out to Wizard Island made it about 20 feet in the 40-degree water before going under. In 1995, a helicopter crashed in the lake, killing two sightseers whose bodies remain 1,500 feet below the surface.
While tragedies such as those occasionally happen, rangers most often help visitors who lock their keys in a car or have car trouble or fender-benders. Rangers also conduct searches for lost hikers, such as one earlier this week for a 60-year-old man lost on the Pacific Crest Trail. The man was found safe.
“A lot of what we do is education,” seven-year park ranger Pete Reinhardt said. As he heads for a drive around the park, it’s easy to see why.
He’s asked questions about what it’s like to hike Cleetwood Cove trail, and where the bathroom is. At Discovery Point, where he reminds people that it’s illegal to feed wildlife, a Canadian tourist asks about the snowpack (about 600 inches this year).
A German tourist asks about fish in the lake. Reinhardt says fish were put in the lake in the ’20s to attract people to come to the lake and fish. Another asks him why so many pine trees are down along Highway 97 coming into the park. He explains that some trees were killed by fire, some by insects.
Reinhardt often educates people about the park’s rules instead of issuing a citation, and he says there are few arrests at Crater Lake. Judging by 1998’s statistics, there aren’t many crime reports, either.
Among last year’s 157 crime reports were 11 drug violations, six larcenies, two assaults, one arson, one burglary and one attempted burglary.
There were 144 minor offenses such as a dog off a leash.
Because crime reports are minimal, the rangers sometimes consult with police from other agencies who get more experience in handling crimes.
“Most of the time, it’s really mellow,” said chief ranger George Buckingham. He said the park is safe, and speeding is probably the most common offense.
Asked why the crime is low, Buckingham said people tend to commit crime where they live. Reinhardt attributes the low crime rate to the park’s remote location and the lack of a nearby big city. The average visitor’s stay is a half day, shorter than at other parks. And, he said, Crater Lake isn’t a big-name park like the Grand Canyon, which attracted 4.2 million visitors last year.
When the summer season ends and most of the tourists leave, the rangers shift their law enforcement efforts. There are mushroom poachers to crack down on, and they must protect the park’s elk, bear and deer from illegal hunters. Hunting and mushroom gathering are illegal in the park.
But for now, Reinhardt gets a call to the lodge, where a tourist has a broken finger.
“We never know what’s going to happen each day,” he said.