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Park Rangers


History of Park Rangers

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"Parks" may be broadly defined by some systems in this context, and include protected culturally or historically important built environments and not limited to the natural environment. “Park Ranger” has world-wide recognition as a positive symbol that dates back to medieval times with universally understood expectations. 

Different countries use different names for the Park Ranger position. Within the United States natural resource agencies refers to the position as a park ranger. The US Forest Service refers to the position as a forest ranger. Other countries use the term park warden or game warden to describe similar occupations. The park ranger profession includes a number of disciplines and specializations, and park rangers are often required to be proficient in more than one. 

In medieval times, rangers, originally called under-foresters, were the most junior officials employed to "range" through the countryside enforcing the forest law imposed by William the Conqueror to protect the "vert and venison". Their duties were originally confined to seeing that the Forest Law was enforced in the borders of the royal forests.  Their duties corresponded in some respects with that of a mounted forester.

In North America, rangers served in the 17th through 18th-century wars between colonists and Native American Indian tribes. Rangers were full-time soldiers employed by colonial governments to patrol between fixed frontier fortifications in reconnaissance providing early warning of raids. During offensive operations, they acted as scouts and guides, locating villages and other targets for task forces drawn from the militia or other colonial troops. During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington ordered an elite group of men for reconnaissance missions. This unit was known as Rangers, and was the first official Ranger unit for the United States, considered the historical parent of the modern day Army Rangers.

There is much debate among scholars about which area was the world's first national park (Yosemite or Yellowstone), so not surprisingly there is little agreement about who was the first national park ranger. Some argue that Galen Clark was first when, on May 21, 1866, he became the first person formally appointed and paid to protect and administer Yosemite, thus become California's and the nation's first park ranger. Clark served as the Guardian of Yosemite for 24 years.

Others point to Harry Yount who worked as a gamekeeper in Yellowstone National Park in 1880–1881. Prophetically, Yount recommended "the appointment of a small, active, reliable police force to assist the superintendent of the park in enforcing laws, rules, and regulations." The first permanent appointment of rangers in a national park occurred on September 23, 1898, when Charles A. Leidig and Archie O. Leonard became forest rangers at Yosemite National Park.

One of the earliest uses of the term ranger was on badges with the title "Forest Reserve Ranger" which were used from 1898 to 1906 by the U.S. Department of the Interior. These badges were presumably issued to rangers working in the national parks, as well as those in the national forests, since both were known as Forest Rangers at that time.

Today’s Park Rangers are the keepers of our nation’s natural resources and protected public lands. Their mission is to preserve and protect our nation’s local, state and national parks for public use and enjoyment today, and for many years to come. Park rangers are there to educate the public, enforce the law, as well as to implement and support conservation efforts so future generations can enjoy these ecologically and historically significant sites.


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