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

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.