Long pants for many park rangers, heat or no heat

A ranger in Arizona.
A ranger in Arizona. (Arizona Republic)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Ed O'Keefe and Felicia Sonmez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

If you happen to run into a National Park Service ranger this week, you might want to buy that man or woman a cold drink.

Many Washingtonians are suffering through the summer heat, but there's a good chance they aren't doing so in long wool pants.

The agency's dress code varies, but all rangers must wear a gray shirt, green wool-blend pants, a flat hat and an arrowhead patch.

"The American people have entrusted the NPS with their most treasured places," according to the agency's dress code. "As a measure of their pride in that trust, employees must wear the uniform in such a way as to present a competent and confident image to the nation and to the world."

Park rangers receive a $400 clothing allowance when they start and $150 each year after. The initial sum covers the cost of a summer uniform and parts of a winter outfit. Any purchases exceeding the costs are covered out of pocket.

Individual park superintendents decide whether rangers wear long wool pants or shorts, depending on the geography, the season and the location. In the District, park rangers on the Mall must wear long wool pants at all times, regardless of the climate. The pants are thinner during the summer and heavier in the winter. They wear a flat straw hat in the summer and a sturdier version in the winter.

"This is the nation's capital. It's a solemn place," said NPS national spokesman David Barna. "We like to convey that very professional look here in the District of Columbia." Rangers at most historic sites wear the long pants as a sign of respect, including the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum and at Acadia National Park in Maine, where rangers guided the Obamas during their weekend visit.

Scot McElveen, president of the Association of National Park Rangers, recalled wearing shorts during his work at Death Valley and said most park superintendents make reasonable clothing decisions. "There are superintendents that are sticklers for the way they did it when they came up, so they're not as flexible. But a good number of them are flexible and willing to keep their employees comfortable and safe," McElveen said. "Sometimes you're talking about avoiding overheating or hypothermia."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company