Steve Dodd has been a ranger for the better part of his life. Dodd, 67, recently retired as a ranger and law enforcement specialist at Glacier National Park. He’s been a ranger at either the state or federal level for 50 years.
Dodd grew up in southeast Ohio working on farms and began his career in rangering with the Ohio State Parks system in 1968 at Strouds Run, “right out of high school.”
He worked in the Ohio State Park system for several years and also went to college, graduating from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation. He wanted to work for the National Park Service, but in the ‘70s it was a hard to get a permanent job, so he went back to school, got an associate’s degree in law enforcement and then a couple of master’s degrees — one in technical education and criminal justice and another in parks administration.
He kept on as a ranger with the state of Ohio, in the Cleveland Metro Park system — a system that saw more than 20 million visitors a year. He also taught law enforcement and other classes at Cuyahoga Community College, which allowed him his summers off so he could be a Park Service ranger.
His first Park Service job was at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. From there he worked seasonally at several other national parks, including Badlands, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain and Cape Cod. But in 1988 while at Teton he got a chance to see Glacier while on vacation. Like so many before him, he was hooked.
“I came here because I wanted to,” he said in a recent interview. “I stayed here because I wanted to.”
He was hired on seasonally in 1990 and worked on the Lake McDonald road patrol. Dodd looked to put his background in education and training — he started a Park Service training program for season rangers while in Ohio — to good use in Glacier.
With the blessing of then chief ranger Steve Frye, he started a field training program for seasonals in Glacier in the summer of 1992 as well as his regular rangering duties.
He was a seasonal until 2007, when he came on board as a permanent law enforcement specialist in Glacier.
Years of patrol have brought many interesting stories. From a wildlife perspective, two stories involving mountain lion attacks came to mind.
In one case, three boys were walking back to camp from a swim in Lake McDonald when a lion bolted out of the brush and grabbed the smallest and youngest boy from the group. The boy’s uncle kicked the cat off the boy and Dodd and other rangers called in hounds to track the cat.
The hounds cold tracked it all the way up into the Apgar Hills and back down to the lake again. But the lion had hardly moved — it was 50 yards away from where the attack happened, sitting in the brush, Dodd recalled.
In another incident, a man and his son had pulled off the Sun Road — the man had to relieve himself and the lion attacked his son, grabbing the boy by the head. A host of emergency personnel and park staff responded the scene. The boy survived but rangers had to take out the lion.
Dogs found it sitting in the brush not far from where the attack had occurred.
The ruckus hadn’t bothered it much.
There have also been plenty of mishaps. One time a family drove a van off the Sun Road and went hundreds of feet down the slope. Two kids and passenger were able to walk back up to the road relatively unscathed, but others had serious injuries and to complicate matters, spoke only German. Dodd was the second ranger on that incident, which involved more than 75 staffers and two rescue helicopters.
In another incident, the “flying Finnies” as they would be referred to, drove a Toyota pickup off the road. One boy who was in the bed of the pickup jumped out and the two in the cab were thrown out as the truck tumbled down the road. Miraculously, they all survived.
It’s been a great career, he said.
“It’s one of the best jobs out there,” he said. “No two days are the same and it’s mentally and physically challenging.”
Dodd and his wife, Kathy, live in Columbia Falls. Kathy is also a seasonal ranger.
He said he plans on continuing to teach college in retirement and enjoy his summers off.
“I haven’t had a summer off since I was 12,” he said.