A View From The Overlook: A Home For Endangered Rangers
Editor's note: To bring you an additional perspective to life in the National Park System, we're happy to offer occasional musings and insights from PJ Ryan to the Traveler. Though he's retired from a 30-year Park Service career that landed him assignments at places such as Jewel Cave National Monument, Joshua Tree National Park, and even the Washington, D.C., headquarters, PJ hasn't lost interest in observing the world of the national parks. For a more regular dose of his observations, be sure to read Thunderbear.
Pardon me for dampening your day with morbid thoughts, but it occurred to me that after you have done all that vigorous post retirement bucket list stuff like climbing all the 14,000 footers in Colorado or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and the moment The Chief Ranger calls you to the Big Visitor Center in the Sky, you are going to need a place to hang your hat.
To be blunt, an Old Folks Home. (Except with today’s compulsory euphemism policy, they are called “Convalescent Homes”)
“No,” you say, “None of that for me. I’ll just move in with one of my kids, they’ve got plenty of room and they could use my advice in running their lives.” (Compadre, this is a plan that may need further discussion with the principals.)
It is true that before Social Security and those other mollycoddle programs the family stepped up to the plate and took care of Gramps. No family? Well, there was the Parish Indigent Fund, which was a good reason for being an ardent churchgoer and not asking too many questions
Fortunately, in the Good Old Days, life was short and thus so were your worries.
There were some exceptions to the bleakness of old age. In 1801, a Captain Randall established “Sailors Snug Harbor” a home for “Aged, decrepit or worn out sailors” on Staten Island, a borough of New York City.
This was between the first, if not the first retirement home in the U.S. It was also one of the most progressive. No one was turned away due to race, color, creed or lack of money. The Sailors Snug Harbor Trust built a series of very handsome early 19th century buildings to house and care for their charges. These buildings are now on the National Historic Register and are a New York City Cultural Park.
What happened to the decrepit sailors? Well, they’ve been moved to North Carolina where real estate and other costs are cheaper.
So then, does the National Park Service and other Federal Land Management Agencies need a “Snug Ranger Station” for at least some of its retirees?
Well, I don’t rightly know, neighbors; which is the reason for the discussion.
Now if you’re rich and vote the straight Republican ticket, the answer is probably “No” (Such pampering just encourages the elderly to grow older!).
On the other hand, long-term seasonal rangers and fire fighters may not have a great deal to show for their years of service (Other than sunsets, which are difficult to bank.)
Even Permanent employees may not have equity in a house due to many moves, or ownership has been complicated by divorce, so it is indeed possible that even a chief ranger or superintendent might find it advantageous to locate in our “Snug Ranger Station.”
So has this idea ever been proposed? “If in doubt, ask a ranger.” So I asked the dean of retired rangers, Bill Wade, if Mather or Hartzog or anyone had ever proposed a ranger retirement home.
Bill responded: “I’ve never heard of anything like this. About 20 years ago, some of us talked (joked) about buying 40 acres in Tucson and building a bunch of Mission 66-type houses so that retirees could move in and their furniture and drapes would fit. Glad that idea never got off the ground!”
Well now, neighbors! Mission 66 housing was not QUITE what I had in mind. Architectural historians will fondly recall that unlike WPA-CCC structures that were designed to blend in, Mission 66 houses were jarringly, but triumphantly, out of place in every park they inhabited, except for Southern California Tract Homes National Historic Site (which Congress has sadly yet to authorize.)
I was thinking more on the lines of log or straw bale construction for reasons we will discuss later.
Now who is going to pay for this “Snug Ranger Station”?
Well, now maybe we can ask the Rocky Mountain congressional delegations for some kind of subsidy, very much like that provided the oil or timber industry? Nope! Six feet under would be the preferred housing for retired Feds, so forget that.
Private donation will and should be the only source of funding. Raising money for aged, decrepit and worn out rangers should be a lot easier than raising money for a Home for Retired Internal Revenue Agents. Folks have warm and fuzzy memories about Smoky and his friends.
Where should it be built? That should spark a lively debate. Bill Wade would suggest Tucson, I would agree Arizona, but might hold out for around Payson.
Who would build it?
We would. Unlike a Retirement Home for Crooked Bankers and Wall Street Brokers, our clientele is manually talented, backed up by retired Maintenance. The ambulatory retired could spend a week or two each year camping out at the building site, meeting old friends and, well, building. To simplify construction, one might consider log structure kits (possibly donated) and or straw bale (Check with Don Chase for expertise)
So there is no particular problem in financing or building the “Snug Ranger Station.”
A more important question is whether it is a good idea.
That is for you to comment upon.