Through a Ranger’s Eyes: Migration

June 15, 2015 Posted by: Lacey Thomas

This is part of a series of posts about the work and life of park rangers at Katmai.

Anyone who has ever moved from one home to another knows how stressful the process can be. Moving to Brooks Camp in Katmai is no exception. Rangers begin to prepare for the move well over a month in advance. Most rangers make a big shopping trip and then ship their summer’s worth of food, gear, and supplies to park headquarters in King Salmon. Some rangers go a different route. They order everything online and have their supplies directly shipped. No matter how it’s purchased, the warehouse is full of our supplies by the day we move to camp.

Warehouse full of summer supplies
In early May, a warehouse full of food, supplies, and equipment awaits the trip to Brooks Camp. NPS/L. Thomas.

The Migration (as moving day here is affectionately known) is one of the most enjoyable stressful days of the year. This year, three wheeled flights to flew to Brooks Camp in the park’s Cessna 185. These flights contained a load of freight and one ranger. While the second and third wheeled flights were going at the airport, Ranger Bob and I loaded the park’s DeHavilland Beaver for subsequent trips to camp. It’s much larger than the Cessna 185. Therefore, it holds more gear. It’s also equipped with floats in the summer which allows the plane to land on ponds and lakes. 

As Bob and I loaded the Beaver for its first run on moving day, I remarked that anyone watching the Naknek River webcam would be very excited. He laughed because he knew it was true. As the day progressed, more rangers appeared on the webcam hauling our gear down the floating dock to the slip where the Beaver lives in the summer. One webcam viewer was especially amused to see a music stand get loaded on the plane.

Park staff wait on dock for arriving float plane
Staff greet Katmai’s DeHavilland Beaver as it returns to King Salmon from Brooks Camp. NPS/L. Thomas.

With each flight more gear and rangers made their way to Brooks Camp. Some flights took more people and less freight. The weather was perfect, and we were able to add three extra flights. That allowed us to not only haul all our supplies but also some for our maintenance and resource divisions.

I was exceptionally lucky and was placed on a freight haul. That means I was the only passenger on my flight. I was able to sit up front and be “co-pilot.” (Rest assured I touched no controls in the airplane.) The twenty-minute flight to Brooks Camp from King Salmon was spent chatting with the park pilot, Allen Gilliland, and watching for wildlife. Long ago, Allen lost count of the moose and bears he’s spotted while flying over Katmai. 

Person standing with emergency survival vest
Ranger Sara Wolman models the survival vest worn on flights in the park’s airplanes. NPS/L. Thomas.

The landing was so smooth that I couldn’t tell precisely when we left the air and began gliding across the flat waters of Naknek Lake. Once on the beach I joined the fireman chain unloading the plane. The freight was loaded into small UTVs and driven to the rangers’ cabins. Each box, bag, and package had to be labeled with the ranger’s name or risk being delivered to the wrong place and never seen again. No one wanted to lose an entire summer’s worth of Oreos because of bad labeling! About the time the vehicles were unloaded, we headed back to the beach to greet the last flight of the day. It had almost no freight but did have three rangers. Bear orientations followed each flight at camp. (Yes, we are rangers and we give bear orientations all summer long, but we are required to attend one when we arrive at camp just like everyone else.)

After the last flight was unloaded and last bear orientation presented, we gathered as a group in one place for the first time all day. We had a short meeting recapping the day and discussing how the next day would unfold. The group then broke up and walked to the cabins that are to be our homes until the end of September. My roommate, Ranger Sara, and I looked around our tent-frame. Boxes and totes were strewn everywhere. We knew we had a long night of unpacking and organizing ahead. We were tired, hungry, and sore from loading and unloading all day. We also knew we didn’t care. The biggest hurdle had been conquered. We were at camp, and so was our equipment. We marked it down as a win of a moving day and prepared for the rest of the season.

Through a Ranger's Eyes, Migration

Last updated: June 16, 2015

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