Ranger Rick: Tales From a Former YNP Ranger

Rick Gale  |   Thursday Aug. 1st, 2013

Good Evening Campers

In 1975, it was estimated there were only 136 grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone.

Today, Yellowstone is home to some 600 grizzlies.

My ranger days in Yellowstone included a lot of late evenings trying to prevent grizzly bear-inflicted human injuries in Lake Area Campgrounds by driving up and down campground loops looking for ice chests and coolers that hadn’t been stored properly.
I can’t begin to count how many times I gave a scripted bear warning to campers as I drove through Fishing Bridge and Bridge Bay Campground.

“Good evening campers. This is the park ranger. Due to the increased frequency of bears in the area, it is necessary that all campers maintain a clean campsite. Failure to do so is a violation of park regulations. Be sure to secure those ice chests, cooking utensils, and any food item in your campsite.”

Late one August night, during the Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Days, I was driving through Bridge Bay Campground and came across some outlaw bikers sleeping on the ground with one of the messiest campsites I’d ever seen.
Earlier in the day, we had gotten word that the Chief Ranger would be out and about driving through campgrounds to make sure his rangers were getting the job done to keep visitors safe.
So there I was. A seasonal park ranger with a dilemma. How in the world am I going to get the job done with these bikers?
Time for some creative rangering.

So, I got on the radio and gave my location to the dispatcher at the Communication Center in Mammoth and asked her to start talking.

“About what?” she asked.
“It doesn’t matter! Just talk.”
“The weather forecast for Yellowstone National Park is calling for…”

Here goes. I turned the outside radio on as loud as it would go, activated my overhead red and blue lights, high beams, take-down lights and pointed both spotlights on the sleeping bikers and their motorcycles.
As I stepped out of my patrol car, I grabbed the shotgun and racked a round into the chamber.
Before I could even say, “Good evening. Park Ranger,” three enormous scary looking bikers crawled out of their sleeping bags and put their hands in the air.
“You can put your hands down. There’s grizzly bear in this campground and he’s heading this way. Your campsite is in pretty bad shape. You need to get picked it up.”

I’ve never seen outlaw bikers move so quickly. Whiskey bottles, beer cans, uneaten hot dogs and potato chips vanished from sight.

One of the bikers kept asking, “Ranger, what do you think? Is this good enough?”

“Looks good to me. I’m out of here. I’ll be in the area for the rest of the night to make sure you guys don’t eaten by a grizzly bear. Good night.”

As I got back into my patrol car and drove off into the darkness, I had to wonder what the three bikers were saying to each other about climbing back into their sleeping bags or getting their motor running and heading on the highway.

Please look for more entertaining tales from Ranger Rick Gale in the upcoming issues of Bozeman magazine.

About the Author(s)

Rick Gale

Rick Gale is Assistant National Director for the Elks Drug Awareness Program, a Bozeman Public Schools Guest Teacher, and member of Veterans Alliance of Southwest Montana.

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