4/27/2010 9:56:00 AM BLM ranger likes preserving land, connecting with people
BLM Ranger Cynthia Barrett surveys some of the 1.7 million acres of land under her watch.
By Vaughn Hillyard, Bureau of Land Management Special to the BBN
For Cynthia Barrett, U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger, a photo on a wall cannot begin to describe her day in Arizona's desert.
"There's never a dull moment," said Barrett, 31, clad in her brown jeans, long-sleeved khaki department shirt and heavy black vest that holds her law enforcement tools. "It's always entertaining."
On an early winter morning, Barrett, one of three female BLM rangers in Arizona, revs up her Dodge Ram Power Wagon at the BLM Phoenix District Office near Deer Valley Airport. Driving north on Interstate 17 toward Mayer, Barrett shares her self-composed itinerary. As the lone BLM ranger for the Hassayampa Field Office, which covers more than 1.7 million acres of land north of Interstate 10, she holds the responsibility of preserving the district's public land and maintaining a relationship with those who use it.
"I like doing law enforcement because, as silly as it sounds, I feel I am making a difference," Barrett said during the drive.
Her first stop this particular morning is near Mayer at the Donyelles archeological site, an Indian ruin atop a small mountain. She drives down a dirt road off Arizona Highway 69 into Spring Valley for 10 minutes and parks at the base of the mountain.
Barrett takes a trail that curves around to the sun-covered side of the mountain. At the top of this small mountain, she checks the old Native American home for looting and vandalism. The area appears almost untouched since her last visit.
She returns to her truck and heads south on Antelope Creek Road to Cordes. The town, population 11, sits alone among the desert hills. The chilly streets and old general store are quiet.
Continuing south, Barrett turns onto Bumble Bee Road, yet another unpaved track. This dirt path leads to another small town. Surrounded by BLM land, the town of Bumble Bee is home to about 20 residents.
While the two ghost towns remain largely secluded, Barrett recognizes the importance in maintaining these isolated areas.
"A ton of the locals have been coming out here since they were little," Barrett said. "They have a lot of history and know about things that went on before I got out here or before the town was built. That information can be valuable."
At 9:20 a.m., Barrett takes a rugged route to her next stop - Hidden Treasure Mine, an abandoned, unclosed mine with its wooden catwalk still standing. She points to the illegal dumping in the mine's entrances. While it appears no structural tampering took place since her last visit, carpet, dry wall, bottles and tires remain scattered around.
Further south, Barrett takes a short walk off the road to check on petroglyphs isolated among the rocks. One petroglyph remains untouched, but Barrett notes the irreversible vandalism of others nearby.
"Any vandalism, regardless of where it takes place, is frustrating and heartbreaking," Barrett said. "But every violation helps reinforce why my job is necessary, and why it's important to educate people."
A significant part of her daily work is her interaction with the public. Barrett said she plans to spend the rest of her career at this job because it allows her to help the users of the public land.
"When it comes to law enforcement, there are a lot of people who are just uneducated about the laws or the land," Barrett said. "If I can educate them, they can learn from the experience. Hopefully my contact with them encourages them to be safer when they're out here and helps to ensure that the land is here for people to enjoy in the future."
In the first two hours of the day, she meets no one, but that pattern changes. Her genuine interest in the lives of those on the side of the road becomes clear.
"I like dealing with people. They're very entertaining and a lot of them are very pleasant," Barrett said. "Any given day can become overwhelming with multiple contacts, violations or activities, but I try to take everything in stride and handle each incident professionally. I take into consideration what visitors say, make sure the public understands why I'm there, and am always interested in the history shared by the locals."
Two active camping grounds with tents, canopies and chairs lie about 300 yards off Bumble Bee Road. The skulls of a horse and bobcat sit atop a truck hood at the northern site. Barrett runs license plate numbers through the Phoenix District Office dispatcher. She then issues and leaves 14-day camping permits at each site.
Twenty minutes after leaving the grounds, Barrett pulls over across from a white pickup truck. An elderly man stands in a dry creek not far from the truck, carrying a Ruger pistol. Barrett asks him to remove the bullets from his gun while she talks with him. The man obliges, quickly asserting, however, that the gun is not for practice shooting.
Barrett assures the anxious man, a 91-year-old longtime resident of Mayer, that the gun, as well as practice shooting, is legal on BLM grounds.
Following her discussion with the man, Barrett moves on. At 10:30 a.m., she slips out a granola bar, the only food substance within miles.
She drives the truck down a small trail after spotting an old red and white Suburban truck in the distance. Pulling alongside the vehicle, she steps out to greet the middle-aged man standing next to it. The man acknowledges his stay at this particular location surpasses the 14-day limit.
Barrett talks with him about his life situation, providing an outlet for discussing his retreat from society. Without a job, he explains, his indefinite move to the desert is a means of escape. Barrett encourages the man to move to BLM land near Wickenburg that is about the minimum distance for him to meet requirements to continue camping on public lands. She explains additional camping options and potential areas. The man says he will heed her advice.
Barrett progresses down the road, stopping next to a van with its two occupants snapping pictures of a saguaro cactus. The Michigan couple explains to Barrett the thrill of their first visit to the desert. With old, unreliable maps in hand, they share a desire to spend the winter exploring the areas around town. Barrett takes the next 13 minutes to outline her must-see destination suggestions and the ideal routes to take. She also tells them of a place to purchase updated maps.
A graduate of Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, Barrett attended Northern Arizona University and earned a degree in park protection and resource management in 2001. Following college, Barrett accepted a job with the U.S. Park Police in Washington, D.C. After five years of urban police work, she returned to Arizona, taking the ranger position with the Bureau of Land Management.
And while Barrett laughs about the transition from the city task force to the "boonies," there is no typical day for this BLM ranger.
She says she takes pride in serving the land and the people.
"I'd like people to know me, and say, 'she did a good job,' or 'she is good at this,' or 'if you have a question about this, ask her,'" Barrett said. "I would like that very much."
On this morning, Barrett accomplishes just that. She serves as a friend and assistant to the people that she encounters and gives citizens a reason to truly appreciate their public lands.