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#155512 - 10/07/11 02:52 PM Call the local ranger's office before you hike!
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3898
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
I called the Sylamore Ranger District offices today to ask about the Sylamore Creek trail in the Ozark NF. It's just a short trail, around 13-20 miles depending if you hike a link to the OHT, but it runs through some great places to bushwhack around and has a ton of scenic spots within the creek's watershed.

So, I first tell the woman who answers that I'm not familiar with the trail and I have a few questions. She says "Okay", so I first ask if there have been any problems with bears that I should be aware of, and she replies, "Hmmm, I have no idea", with a "Well, there are bears in the forest, ya know" appended to it.

So, I respond, "Sure, but has anyone reported any problems with encountering a bear? You know, any problems bears I should be aware of? She replies, "Hmmm, not that I know of". So then, and I don't even know why, I asked, "Do you recommend bear bagging your food when backpacking there?" and she says, and I swear this is true, ""Hmmm, I have no idea what that means". So I explain, and she says, "Well, you oughta protect your food."

The thing is, no one I know here bear bags their food, or uses a canister, so I guess I was just curious to hear what they said about this. Now I know.

Then I ask, "How are the ticks and chiggers this time of year?" and she says, "Hmmm, I have no idea". Fair enough, I guess you have to be out there to know.

Okay... So, I ask my final question, which I though was pretty good one... "Should I expect any trouble finding water along the trail?", and the answer was, "Well, we have had a drought this summer".

Yep, we sure have, but we had a deluge this past Spring, and that creek is spring fed, and the trail runs alongside the creek, so I say "That's what I was a little worried about, but I've read that Sylamore Creek runs even in the driest of years, so I just wanted to double check to see if there would be a problem finding water there now, before I head out."

She says, ""Hmmm, I have no idea" and then I hear her ask someone else, and they ponder it a few seconds and say, "I don't think so", and the woman on the phone repeats that to me.

That is all SOOO Ozarky, but now I know exactly what to expect:

Might or might not run into ticks and chiggers.

Might or might not run into problem bears so you oughta to protect your food.

Might or might not have trouble finding water.

And the really funny thing is, I know all of those are the right answers laugh
_________________________
--

"You want to go where?"



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#155513 - 10/07/11 03:12 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: billstephenson]
Rick_D Offline
member

Registered: 01/06/02
Posts: 2802
Loc: NorCal
I was awaiting the part when she asked you, "Now, just how would anybody get a bear into a bag?"

Instead I go away, disappointed. grin

Have fun with the bears and chiggers and creeks, or no creeks!

Cheers,
_________________________
--Rick

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#155514 - 10/07/11 03:24 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: billstephenson]
Glenn Offline
member

Registered: 03/08/06
Posts: 2617
Loc: Ohio
You should have asked, "is the trail hilly or level?" Then you'd have had one more piece of information: "Yes."

Maybe I can get a job with your DNR after I retire someday; I've never been to Arkansas, and I knew that much. smile

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#155516 - 10/07/11 03:54 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: billstephenson]
ringtail Offline
member

Registered: 08/22/02
Posts: 2296
Loc: Colorado Rockies
Maybe they have outsourced the ranger public information. India?
_________________________
"In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not."
Yogi Berra

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#155518 - 10/07/11 04:23 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: ringtail]
OregonMouse Online   content
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6415
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
We get a lot of similar stuff when calling the USFS ranger stations out here. Either the info is 3 months old or they have a standard spiel--at least the person you talked to admitted they didn't know! Even road info is hard to come by!

Here in the Portland, OR area, we are blessed with an excellent local hiking forum. Some of the USFS rangers in the area actually tell people to go to portlandhikers.org for the latest info!
_________________________
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

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#155519 - 10/07/11 04:40 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: OregonMouse]
hikerduane Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/03
Posts: 2123
Loc: Meadow Valley, CA
I called all day Wednesday, trying to get info on how much snow to expect and was on the ground. Called Yosemite, all I got was the press _ for ___ and at the FS office, a busy signal all day long. The only thing for sure was the road was closed per CA road conditions.
Duane

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#155531 - 10/07/11 08:18 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: billstephenson]
MissouriWalker Offline
member

Registered: 07/01/09
Posts: 26
Loc: USA
I've called the Potosi office on occasion. Half the time the phone is answered by a lady who identifies herself as "the archeologist". She does an admirable job of trying to answer questions, but she's not a ranger. Sounds like something similar is happening with Sylamore. Only, whoever is answering in Sylamore isn't bothering to say they aren't a ranger.

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#155533 - 10/07/11 08:37 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: billstephenson]
ohiohiker Offline
member

Registered: 07/20/07
Posts: 127
Loc: Ohio
Good thing you called to clarify things before heading out! grin

With answers that ambiguous, I'd wonder what they were trying to cover up! shocked wink

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#155536 - 10/07/11 09:05 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: ohiohiker]
balzaccom Online   content
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1737
Loc: Napa, CA
OK--That;s funny story. But I have to say that in most cases in the SIerra, the rangers are reasonably well-informed and helpful about conditions. THey are careful not to promise you perfection, but they do give good advice.

Sorry that isn't the case in other areas.
_________________________
balzaccom

check out our website and blog: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/home

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#155537 - 10/07/11 09:22 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: billstephenson]
ndsol Offline
member

Registered: 04/16/02
Posts: 674
Loc: Houston, Texas
When we were trying to get updated trail info for the Winds, I talked to the Pinedale Ranger Station several times, but they then recommended contacting the Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale as they would have better updated info, which they did.

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#155541 - 10/07/11 10:04 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: ndsol]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
I have to jump in here, because this thread hits close to home. I have worked in a lot of offices in a lot of places during my career, and let's just say, as you are discovering, that the state of knowledge about the back country can be quite variable. Then consider that the person answering the phone can be anyone from the typist to the big boss, and you open the door to a wide variety of answers.

In the typical organization there are going to be a fairly small number of individuals, relative to the total organization, who will be conversant with current conditions and practices, and that is in a situation where there is significant wilderness/back country interest.

One of my more embarrassing experiences came when a group of cavers and I were securing permits for exploration of a fairly large cave on the north rim, Grand Canyon. This was a cooperative endeavor with the park resource management staff, and we were producing a map of the cave, along with exploration of some promising leads, for the park. Anyway, when we got to the N rim, we needed a permit. In the course of acquiring the permit, it became abundantly clear that most of our party were far more informed about the conditions surrounding this cave and its access than the issuing ranger, who had obviously never been anywhere near the cave (most of our party had at least one excursion to the cave; I was the newbie). I felt rather embarrassed for the NPS.

There are good signs. I noticed that on the web page for Olympic, they post a digest of the report of the latest trip over a trail; it looks like a fairly good way to get up to date information out there.

All rangers and employees wear the same or similar uniforms; that doesn't mean they possess the same information.

One more thing. Most of the time I was in the service, I was employed for my archeological talents (?). I found out that I was getting outdoors at least as much as the typical ranger, but again, all arkies aren't programmed the same way. The lady referred to may have been a office wallflower (I hope not!).

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#155546 - 10/07/11 11:50 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: oldranger]
balzaccom Online   content
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1737
Loc: Napa, CA
I'll add one more comment as well. After our trips, we make it a point to check with the ranger and share any trail and trip info with them. THere are far too many trails and destinations for them to keep up with everything. And by sharing out reports, we give them info they can share with you when you ask.

I hope you all do the same?
_________________________
balzaccom

check out our website and blog: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/home

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#155557 - 10/08/11 02:05 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: balzaccom]
OregonMouse Online   content
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6415
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
That's what the USFS relies on, is user reports!

However, the Wallowa Mountains Visitor Center, the USFS information center for the Wallowa Mountains and Hells Canyon, refuses to take user reports. If the snow level was 5,000 feet when the ranger checked in late June, that's what they will tell you for the rest of the summer!
_________________________
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

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#155559 - 10/08/11 03:15 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: oldranger]
Glenn Offline
member

Registered: 03/08/06
Posts: 2617
Loc: Ohio
I suspect the caliber of information varies by agency and even location within a given agency. For example, when I call the USFS office at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, I get invariably good information. However, I've also encountered other USFS areas where all I get is the official line: "All I can tell you is that the water is not safe to drink." "What if I filter it?" "All I can tell you is that water is not safe to drink." Another time, I called the NPS office at Isle Royale to ask about the parasite that is in the water, and I was put through to a ranger who actually did the monitoring; he even was able to intelligently discuss the various filters available and indicate where some might fall short.

I suspect it depends partly on attitude - get someone who keeps their head down and takes the approach "Not in my job description" and you get bad results. Get the knowledgable person and you've struck gold. Usually, what I hope for is the one in between: the one who is alert and interested in what the knowledgeable folks say, smart enough to realize when they aren't able to give an intelligent answer, and brave enough to say, "I'm not well-informed about that, but I know who is. Let me see if he/she has a minute to talk to you." I've even had some of those folks say, "He's not available now, but if I can have your number, one of us will get back to you with an answer." Or even, "Here's her email - send her your question and we'll get you an answer."

As with most other contacts in the course of your day, it all depends on the caliber of the person on the other end of the phone.


Edited by Glenn (10/09/11 09:49 AM)
Edit Reason: refining a thought

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#155592 - 10/09/11 09:32 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: billstephenson]
Slowfoot Offline
member

Registered: 04/22/05
Posts: 158
Loc: Missouri
Bill, you might try to call Blanchard Springs Caverns. The trail goes right by there. I would be very surprised if the creek ever dried up downstream from Blanchard Spring. Actually I would be surprised if it dried up anywhere along the trail, but someone there might have actually seen the creek recently.

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#155869 - 10/15/11 12:38 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: billstephenson]
ppine Offline
member

Registered: 01/10/10
Posts: 184
Loc: Minden, Nevada
billstephenson,

Now you know why names like the forest circus, and the florist service were invented. After dealing with agencies for a living, I have learned that you need to get past the receptionist. Start with the Public Information Officer or resource specialists like outdoor recreation, forester, or wildlife specialist. For political stuff try to find the District Ranger or the Forest Supervisor. Hope this helps.

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#155872 - 10/15/11 01:10 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: ppine]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
I think it is only fair to point out that you can encounter this same situation in almost any organization, public or private. If the person dealing with your query is conscientious, they will attempt to get the info or refer you to someone who can give you meaningful help.

Believe me, there are times when I have been the dummy, not the expert, holding the phone.

But then, we all pay taxes, so why shouldn't we beat up our local gov't offices? We pay good money for the privilege. Do remember that in some countries such behavior can get you "disappeared" pronto.

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#156498 - 10/31/11 08:07 AM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: ndsol]
nighttime Offline
newbie

Registered: 10/31/11
Posts: 10
Your tax money at work.

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#156598 - 11/01/11 10:32 PM Re: Call the local ranger's office before you hike! [Re: oldranger]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3898
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Originally Posted By oldranger
I think it is only fair to point out that you can encounter this same situation in almost any organization, public or private.


That's absolutely true, and as I said, the answers I got to my questions were really all the right answers. I'm serious too. I'm not sure why I even called because if asked, I would have answered the same myself. I would have had to unless I'd been there recently.

I bring it up more to point out the contrast between the common recommendations we read and realities of what to expect. The reality is, there is no way the local Forest Service could possibly know, other than if there was a problem bear, which is so uncommon here that I've never heard of one bothering backpackers here. If there had been one I'm sure she would have told me about it. The rest of my questions were really too location and time specific to answer, but still what we're told to ask.

_________________________
--

"You want to go where?"



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