This special installment of the Arkansas State Park Blog serves as a reminder of what Memorial Day is all about. Although originally designated as a remembrance of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country, it is also a time that we may want to reflect on other uniformed men and women who have sacrificed themselves and put themselves in harms way to protect us. Please do what you can to make their jobs easier this weekend. Be careful and say a little thank you to those military and other uniformed people who do so much for us every day. Thank you.
It is with a heavy heart that I submit this installment of the State Parks blog. As a Commissioned Officer with Arkansas State Parks, and as a citizen of this great state, I share the burden of losing two West Memphis police officers to a senseless act of violence while carrying out a routine traffic stop on Interstate 40 last week. Many across the nation share in our grief and question why these types of things happen. Officers traveled from New York, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, and all over the state of Arkansas to come and pay tribute to men who were just doing their jobs, trying to uphold the law and keep the peace. The funeral was packed with literally hundreds of officers who make the same “routine” traffic stops every day, and who will continue to do it over and over again after they left the memorial service. I was lucky enough to attend with other representatives of the Arkansas State Parks Rangers, and the fellowship and brotherhood experienced there in West Memphis will be something I will never forget.
Many people I meet have no idea that Arkansas State Parks have law enforcement officers. They wonder out loud what could we possibly have to deal with at the State Park? I have other law enforcement friends that ask me “Doesn’t it make you angry that people think you guys never do anything?” No- in fact, I believe the exact opposite.
I think the fact that the public wonder “Why in a place as safe as a State Park we would need officers?” is a testament to all of my brother and sister rangers throughout the system. The Rangers you happen to see on your camping trip, and more often than not the Rangers you do not see, are on a continual mission to keep our parks safe, educational, and enjoyable. It is not because “we have nothing to do.” It is because of all the work required of Rangers every day that State Parks are so safe.
The day to day lives of Park Rangers involve all kinds of various tasks- from cleaning up ice storm damage, to checking on the welfare of local citizens. Rangers help children learn how to fish and tell Grandpas the location of the best secret fishing hole on the lake. Other Ranger tasks include performing search and rescue operations in impenetrable forested and mountainous areas, and helping register campers for their ultimate vacation spot. On occasion, Rangers are called upon to aid people who are in the midst of a medical emergency or to help locate the parents of a child who has wandered a little too far away from their campsite. We also get a lot of directions requests (particularly to the best restaurants in the area), and program time and location questions.
Law Enforcement Officers are a thankless bunch, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Because of our “fade into the background” status, I won’t call any officers by name when mentioning a few heroes of our Department. We have Rangers who respond to plane crashes. We have Rangers who have searched for days on end in freezing conditions to help find a missing senior citizen who had wandered away from her car two counties away from their park. We have Rangers who have administered life saving medical care to boating accident victims and Rangers who have stepped up to protect an endangered child. I am happy to call these officers brothers and proud to line up next to them every day.
I am a relatively new officer with the Department, and have already received 16 weeks of law enforcement training. All of our officers are required to train in first aid, CPR, and first responder courses. We are also trained in search and rescue, DWI enforcement, and firearms proficiency. It is our goal to be well trained ambassadors of Arkansas State Parks who will make each and every visitor’s experience pleasant and safe. I am proud to serve my park, my community and my state as a State Park Law Enforcement Officer, and am equally proud to line up beside my fellow Rangers to protect and serve. We will do our best to never forget the legacies of the fallen West Memphis Officers, and in their spirit of service will continue to make your local Arkansas State Parks safe.
Mary Anne Parker has been with Arkansas State Parks since 2005, and as Interpreter at Parkin Archeological State Park since 2006. She recently graduated the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy and is now an Arkansas State Parks’ Commissioned Law Enforcement Officer. Mary Anne’s other interests and activities include running the Parker Homestead, which she owns and operates with her husband and his parents, and writing grants to further educational opportunities for students attending Arkansas Delta public schools.