BY BRIAN KEVIN
When the Interior Department decided a few months ago to allow loaded, concealed weapons into national parks, heat-packin' groups like the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms hailed the decision as a victory for public safety. They cited, among other things, "the inability of park officials to provide adequate law enforcement services" due to slim budgets and staff.Â But our trigger-happy pals might not be giving the Boys in Green enough credit. Where law enforcement is concerned, national park rangers have historically displayed a consistent knack for doing more with less. Check out these four examples.
1. Poachers Do the Walk of Shame
Back in the 1880s, poachers roamed Yellowstone like it was their own personal shooting gallery. Because the National Park Service wasn't formed until 1916, a ragtag company of U.S. Cavalrymen served as the park's first rangers. Unfortunately, they lacked the legal authority to punish poachers in any real way other than booting them from the park and temporarily seizing their gear. So in order to give their rule some teeth, soldiers got creative with logistics. After marching ornery hide hunters to Yellowstone's south entrance, rangers let the poachers know they could retrieve their sleep roll, gun, and supplies from the desk at park headquarters . . . seventy-five wilderness miles away at the park's north entrance!
Of course, that wasn't the only time early rangers relied on the technique. They resorted to similar measures when Basque shepherds were caught illegally grazing on park lands. While the hapless sheepherders got kicked out via the park's north gate, their sheep were graciously escorted east.
2. Smoking Out the Squatters
When Congress formally chartered Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934, the crown jewel of the Eastern parks wasn't exactly a pristine wilderness — in fact, there were still a few hundred people living in it. While many Appalachian residents had accepted buyouts in the years leading up to the park's formation, others were too poor or too stubborn to relocate. What's more, the hundreds of empty cabins tucked away inside the park lured hordes of Depression-era squatters. Park rangers made a mission of evicting the unwelcome guests, but when the wily mountaineers wouldn't stay ejected, they simply began burning down any abandoned or temporarily vacated cabins. Not entirely without empathy, the park's first superintendent J. Ross Eakin noted that preventing squatters by torching ancestral homesteads tended to raise "considerable ire among residents."
3. Strong-arming the Kolorado Klan
In the mid-1920s, Colorado was a bastion of influence for the Ku Klux Klan-- a state where the governor, the mayor of Denver, and U.S. Senator Rice Means all openly accepted Klan support. After Senator Means made a publicity tour through southwestern Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park in 1926, local Klansmen sought to convince park superintendent Jesse Nusbaum to grab a white sheet and join the club. When he declined, the Klan showed up with plans to hold a torchlight parade in front of one of the park's most recognized Anasazi ruins. The upright Nusbaum told the Klan they weren't wanted in Mesa Verde, and to show that he meant business, visibly armed the small park staff with pick-ax handles and other improvised weapons. The Klansmen got the message and left the park without incident.
4. Taking Out Snowmobiles, Execution-style
Glacier National Park ranger Art Sedlack was getting pretty fed-up with snowmobilers cutting through the park along a snow-smothered stretch of Montana's Highway 2. He was pretty clear about this point when he apprehended four sledders one night in December of 1974, warning them not to return by the same route unless they wanted a ticket. When he heard the whine of approaching snowmobiles an hour later, Sedlack hopped on his 4x4 and chased down the repeat offenders. Fearing they'd try to bolt, he reached in to yank out the one of the lead vehicle's spark plugs, but when it proved tricky to remove, he opted to improvise. Drawing his park-issued .38 caliber pistol, Sedlack fired point-blank into the snowmobiles' still-cooling engine.Â Man 1, machine 0.
The trespassers paid $25 fines, and Sedlack got a stern reprimand, along with the secret admiration of every ranger who's ever wanted to go Scarface on an exhaust-spewing snowmobile. For years, the Montana Wilderness Association even issued a "Sedlack Award" for creativity in defense of public lands.