Despite recent tragedy, students prepare to become park rangers

Despite recent tragedy, students prepare to become park rangers
LANGLEY ISLAND, Wash. -- The New Year's Day death of park ranger Margaret Anderson shook the community as a whole, but it was especially tough for a much smaller community.

Just two days after Anderson was killed, a group of students started their training to become National Park Rangers, and Anderson's death was the first part of their curriculum.

Thirty-five students from around the county just kicked off their training to become gun-carrying park rangers who could work in city, state or national parks.

While the draw for many might be spending time in the outdoors, the dangers of the job are now in the front of their minds.

"I'm fully aware of the dangers and I think the most important aspect of that is being trained, being prepared," said student Wayne Mitchell. "Certainly, the danger is present in my mind but I think I focus on the training."

Thursday's class topic was "use of force," and it included talk about firearms, tasers and pepper spray.

Given the recent tragedy, the course opened with a moment of silence for Anderson.

"They tell us that those kind of things can happen," said Bryce Watkins. "And they're going to do a really good job preparing us for something like that."

Many of the future law-enforcement rangers have already worked in parks, doing everything from cleaning to helping out in interpretive centers.

"You're basically getting paid to go hike and interact with the visitors as well as getting paid to learn all the great things about the park that you're serving in," said Wendy Allison.

If they take this next step in their job, that service will extend deeper. They'll show their love for the park by putting their lives on the line to protect it.

Nationwide, there are nine accredited academies for entry level law enforcement park rangers. Several students said the chose the course at Skagit Valley College because it has a reputation for being one of the best.