rangers do more than fight crime
July 22, 1999
Photo by Jim Craven
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
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
"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
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.