Peek Inside Park Doors:
A Conversation with Yellowstone’s Chief Ranger, Tim Reid
YPF: How does one become chief ranger of Yellowstone National Park?
TR: I’m the 16th chief ranger in Yellowstone. My background is in wildlife management/environmental education, and I think typically rangers who end up in leadership positions first become seasonal rangers and garner increasingly complex duty assignments. Yellowstone is one of the larger, more complex national parks so a broad experiential base is critical. You also need experience leading people and large staffs.I got my start in the park service as a resource management/backcountry ranger in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in 1986, then went on to work search and rescue at a variety of parks once I figured out they would pay me to pursue my passion for rock climbing and mountaineering.
YPF: How long have you worked in Yellowstone?
TR: I arrived in 1994 and held five positions inside the Park, starting as the field supervisor at Old Faithful, then becoming a district ranger and finally progressing to chief ranger.
YPF: Do you and your family live inside Yellowstone? How has your family liked this unique lifestyle?
TR: I have a wife, Charissa, and three daughters; Anna, Olivia and Kate. The girls have grown up in Yellowstone; that’s all they’ve known. They went to elementary school in the Park until 7th grade, and after that school in Gardiner. Although it was tough for our girls sometimes as adolescents, I think they understand just how rare their experience is. My wife actually grew up in Yellowstone as well, although we didn’t meet there. Her dad was the Park minister. We currently live just outside the Park.
YPF: Can you take us through an average winter day for you?
TR: I trade one kind of busy for another in winter. Even though visitor numbers are lower, the amount of attention needed for individual visitors in the winter is higher. There’s a big administrative component in my position year round – we’re constantly moving on issues and planning. So for me it’s a little different than for a ranger in the field.
YPF: What does a tough day look like vs. a good day?
TR: I think every day that you get to work in Yellowstone is a good day. But a tough day is when you feel like administrative burdens and politics begin to obscure fundamental priorities. In this situation it can be tough ensuring that employees out in the field are getting necessary positive feedback for the work that they do.
YPF: How has YPF’s support helped you do your job better?
TR: YPF has been key for the Ranger Division in maintaining a margin of excellence. The effort to build the Stephen’s Creek Barn was huge for us. But it’s more about the little things. It’s easy to get down over continually eroding budgets, and YPF has helped us maintain our forward-leaning posture in less visible ways including purchase of new equipment, allowing us to rotate new stock into our herds, gate cameras, remote sensing, CodeSpear, high-performance sleds for boundary patrol, etc.
YPF: How many rangers and staff do you oversee?
TR: About 250 to 300 people. That number includes subordinate supervisors and a large crew of volunteers and seasonal workers.
YPF: What is the most common misconception you encounter about what your department does in Yellowstone?
TR: I think the diversity, size and scope of the Ranger Division surprises people. Besides law enforcement we operate a structural fire department that protects nearly 2,000 buildings; our EMS runs 10 ambulances and keeps three clinics open every summer; we perform over 200 life flights and 300 ground transports every year; we oversee backcountry and wilderness management including wildland fire and aviation; we offer visitor services and oversee revenue management of fees collected at five entrance stations; we run the Park trails program encompassing 1,000 miles of trail; manage corral operations with over 100 head of stock supporting all backcountry wilderness operations, and the list goes on…
YPF: What is your favorite time of year in the Park?
TR: Despite the fact that I’m a southern boy -- originally from southern Alabama with formative years in Oklahoma -- I really like winter.
YPF: Describe the toughest winter weather you’ve ever encountered in YNP…
TR: The winter of ’96 – ‘97. I was at Canyon, and it was brutal. There was incredible snowfall combined with incredible snow drifting and winds…At Canyon we’d place snow stakes whenever snow coaches and snowmobiles broke down so that they’d be visible to the snow plow the next morning. In my house, snow slid off the roof and piled so high that we could walk right on top of the roof. It was like living in a cave. Of course when all of that snow melted, the Yellowstone flooded terribly that year.