My summer work at Yosemite was my first real exposure to national parks. I worked at a small camp in the high sierra that fed and housed about 30 people. Tent cabins and a common dining room made up the camp. I washed dishes, mopped floors and chopped wood. I loved every minute of it and came back for five summers.
After marrying, Richard moved to San Diego and got his first job as a park ranger at Cabrillo National Monument.
That was when I knew I found my life’s work. The job mattered. I got to work outside. And I loved the uniform, including the flat Stetson hat. Cabrillo didn’t offer a large wilderness area but it had some important tide pools, an historic light house and a monument to the Spanish conquistador Juan Cabrillo. In a way, it was like a microcosm of the park service itself. Nature, history and culture all met at the end of Pt. Loma in this one little national monument. It opened up a whole system and an entire future to me.
Following his stint in San Diego, Richard moved to Fort Vancouver in the Pacific Northwest, and next to St. Louis at the Gateway Arch. A year and a half later, a museum curator job opened up at Grand Teton and he jumped at the opportunity. After nearly five years, he moved to a post at Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California, followed by stints at the Grand Canyon, Dinosaur and Guadalupe Mountain parks.
It was at Grand Canyon and his last position at Guadalupe Mountains when he became intimately aware of development pressures that could threaten a park’s natural, cultural and wilderness values.
I was concerned by the growing vulnerability of so many of our national parks and natural landscapes—where I had worked—but also in many of the important lands that lie next to and near our great national parks.
Richard became involved with Park Rangers for Our Lands as a way to raise awareness and preserve the national parks, where he spent more than three decades working as a park ranger.
I wanted to embrace advocacy in a positive way and this organization allows me to do just that. I’m not a radical environmentalist. I believe there’s a place for oil and gas development. We’ll continue to need those resources for some time. But we’ve given up so much of our pristine landscape, both in the west and in the east already. We desperately need to restore a balance not only in oil and gas development but in all of the development we consider in and near our great public land trust.
For Ellis Richard, it boils down to ensuring that we connect our past to our future.
These places, our national parks and wilderness areas, the remnants of our western landscapes, embody the American character and imagination—that unique American frontier shaped our national character. These landscapes are magical, but also fragile. They have an impact on how we feel and dream and they aren’t things we should give up lightly.