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Smooth Sailing for the Newbie

Fair winds and sunny skies for my first official day as a String Lake Brigade member! Dave and I are assigned the early shift on Sunday. The water is a mirror, a few paddle boarders are already out on the lake. The birds are singing. It is 47 degrees, and the air is so clear that the snow capped mountains look as if they have been sliced out of pristine white art paper with a razor blade and glued to a blue glass window. It is a magical start to a work day.

the commute is not bad

You may remember Dave worked at String Lake last year, and he will do a shift this year too, so he can show me the ropes this morning. We begin by making a tour of the bear boxes along the waterfront trail and picnic areas to make sure no one left trash in them yet. We also walk through the nearly empty parking lot to check on things, looking for anything odd, food storage violations, and parking violations mainly.

We did find a cooler or two stored on a truck where a bear could get to it. The funniest mischief we discovered was when we saw a cooler on top of a car that was idling (2 strikes) — but we could not see anyone in the car. It had heavily tinted windows. While we were trying to decide how to handle the situation, a young woman in the back of the car rolls down the window and proceeds to tell us that she and her boyfriend got there very early that morning and were waiting before heading out on a hike. The story would have been more believable if the boyfriend lying next to her had clothes on! [camping out of bounds really was strike three] We let them know that a grizzly had been through the parking lot yesterday, and when they left on their hike they would need to take the cooler off the roof and put it inside. Have a nice day!

The Grand Teton National Park Foundation provides a small cargo trailer for the Lakers that gets parked at the crucial intersection of trailhead and restroom. It makes a great storage locker for maps and supplies. A lot of the visitors though think it is an ice cream stand!

Dave and I at the end of our shift at String Lake

So I load up my pack with things I will probably need during the day: a clipboard, food and parking violation ticket books, an assortment of trail maps, a couple junior ranger books and spare JR Ranger badge, a baggie and gloves for picking up trash, and a few cards that show the differences between black and brown bear body shapes. My other essential equipment is a wide brimmed hat, water, bear spray, park radio, and a clicker to count how many people I talk to.

some of the gear we use on our jobs this summer

My supervisor stopped by and we got an impromptu demonstration of using bear spray with cans of inert spray. It was great to be able to practice taking off the safety and also feeling the little kick that the released pressure gives your arm. Now we can show visitors the proper way to use it. Cool!

We had some fun questions:

  • Can I get a pizza at Leek Marina? [not until June 15th]
  • What is there to hike here? [let’s look at this map…]
  • What animal besides a bear growls? [they turned around on the trail and left]
  • Where are the glaciers? [maps are handy for this]
  • How far to the lake? [300 feet, I measured it!]
  • Why do you leave dead trees on the ground?
  • Are there bathrooms on the trails? [No. Go before you go!]
  • I want to be a volunteer, do they give you housing?
  • I’m going to hike to Lake Solitude! [probably not, starting at 1 pm, and the trail is snow covered miles before the lake. Maybe next month?]

My favorite interaction of the day had to be the young man who let me know that he had completed his junior ranger book and could he please be sworn in by a ranger. I was delighted to oblige! I wish I had asked for a picture.

What a great day! I counted 85 visitor interactions, and Dave had over 100. And it will only get busier from here on out! I might need better boots though — ouch!

Dave’s photo of the bridge on the south end of String Lake where it joins Jenny Lake
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