Being a park ranger comes naturally for Tom Betts – you could even say it is in his blood. As the son of a park ranger, Betts literally and figuratively grew up honing his outdoor skills in national parks. Since 1980, Betts has added to the family legacy by becoming one of the most accomplished and respected park rangers in the country. Last night, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation presented him with the 2013 Harry Yount National Park Ranger Award for excellence in the art and science of rangering – the agency’s most prestigious ranger honor.
“The Harry Yount Award, named in honor of the first known park ranger, recognizes the best of the best in the National Park Service,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Having worked beside Tom in Crater Lake and Wrangell-St. Elias, I know that he is a model park ranger – a true leader whose intelligence, situational awareness, physical strength, and skill set make the extraordinarily tough jobs look easy. He has truly made a difference in the parks, and for the visitors, through the years.”
The son of a park ranger, Betts currently serves as the chief ranger at Bandelier National Monument. He has also worked at Crater Lake, Lake Clark, Hawai’i Volcanoes, Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Wrangell-St. Elias national parks during his 32-year National Park Service career. Service at such diverse parks has allowed Betts to take on a variety of duties and circumstances. He has protected park visitors and resources during volcano eruptions, wildland fires, earthquakes, floods, snowstorms, wildlife encounters, and search and rescue missions. He has conducted patrols via foot, truck, boat, helicopter, raft, ATV, skis, snowmobile, horseback, and airplane.
At Crater Lake, he helped to extricate a seriously injured baby trapped in an overturned vehicle. He provided her with constant care during transport to the hospital and resuscitated her when she stopped breathing. During another rescue, he personally carried a hiker with a skull fracture more than a mile up a steep Grand Canyon trail.
“Early in my career I was told ‘Remember who you are and what you stand for,’” said Betts. “I have always tried to emulate the high standards and uncompromised ethics exhibited by my father, my father-in-law, and many other fantastic park rangers I’ve had the privilege to work with and know. I have been very fortunate to have had a career doing the things I love in some of the most amazing places on earth.”
Also recognized at the ceremony were the recipients of the 2013 George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service. The awards are named for former National Park Service Director George B. Hartzog, Jr. who started the Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) Program in 1970 with 300 participants. Last year, more than 246,000 volunteers donated 6.7 million hours of time and talent to help preserve and protect national parks.
“Each year, volunteers make extraordinary contributions across the National Park System. The George and Helen Hartzog Awards honor the distinguished group of individuals who proudly give of themselves to make the National Park Service a stronger and more vibrant institution,” said Neil Mulholland, President and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “This award recognizes the great legacy started by George Hartzog and carried on today by his wife Helen and embodied by the passionate people giving back to America’s national parks.”
Jim Robbins from Catoctin Mountain Park received the Hartzog Individual Volunteer Award. Jim has been a driving force in reaching new audiences and forming partnerships that have expanded the park’s youth service and educational programs. Last year, Jim personally contributed more than 500 volunteer hours to Catoctin. He was also directly responsible for an additional 2,000 hours donated by church, school, and civic groups he recruited to help in the park.
Ashley Burns from George Washington Carver National Monument received the Hartzog Youth Volunteer Award. Just 17 years old, Ashley has already been a volunteer for seven years. In addition to bringing her talent and energy to park operations throughout the year, Ashley has developed engaging programs for park special events, including Prairie Day, Carver Day, National Park Week, and the Summer Junior Rangers.
The Coastal Cleanup Corporation from Biscayne National Park received the Hartzog Volunteer Group Award. The group is a nonprofit, founded by George and Suzy Pappas, which addresses the issue of marine debris and its effects on wildlife, particularly threatened and endangered sea turtles, in the park. George and Suzy have provided more than 800 volunteer hours themselves, in addition to leading and inspiring more than 400 Alternative Spring Break volunteers who provided 2,500 hours toward shoreline cleanup in the park. Last year, the Coastal Cleanup Corporation removed more than 12,000 pounds of marine debris from sea turtle nesting beaches.
The FRESH (Flat Rock Exceptional Sandburg Helpers) group from Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site received the Hartzog Volunteer Youth Group Award. Last year, 44 youth volunteers between the ages of 11 and 15 provided care for the descendants of Mrs. Sandburg’s champion dairy goat herd that live in the park. The youth spent 1,560 hours working with the park’s staff and other volunteers, including 4H mentors. They learned about the goats and the history of the dairy goat industry. The youth handled and groomed the goats, fed them, cleaned their stalls, and explained their history and role at the site. Their efforts provided 8,000 park visitors with insight into a unique aspect of the park. They also continued Mrs. Sandburg’s tradition of showing the goats and earned a couple of first places in a state fair.
Cabrillo National Monument received the Hartzog Park Volunteer Program Award. Under the leadership of Park Ranger Tavio del Rio, the park’s volunteer program has more than doubled since 2010. Last year, nearly 400 VIPs (Volunteers-In-Parks) logged about 12,000 hours. The influx of new volunteers has bolstered existing programs and allowed the park to provide new opportunities. Dynamic volunteer-based accomplishments include the formation of the Cabrillo National Monument Conservancy – a nonprofit park friends group, the expansion of the Tidepool Protection Education & Restoration Program, the establishment of the Dusty Socks Club to promote outdoor fitness, and the creation of the “Fort Rosencrans Goes to War” program which restored a derelict bunker into a fully operating command post staffed by living history volunteers.
Glen Brinkman from Homestead National Monument of America posthumously received the Hartzog Enduring Volunteer Service Award. Glen was an active and dedicated volunteer for more than 15 years. He donated more than 13,000 hours of time and will be especially remembered for his lasting contributions to Pioneers Days and Homestead Days. He and a park ranger created Pioneer Days to provide hands on, curriculum-based activities for fourth graders. During Homestead Days, Glen led a team that demonstrated antique farming equipment. They ran a threshing machine with a 1916 steam engine, used horses to power a well driller, mowed and raked hay with horses, and displayed machinery that traced the evolution of farm equipment. They even built a partial log cabin and a partial sod house using antique equipment. Glen’s legacy at Homestead will live on through both his accomplishments and his family members who continue to serve the park and its visitors as volunteers.
In addition, for the first time ever, the Colonel Charles Young Diversity Recognition Award was presented. This award honors the legacy of Young by acknowledging the outstanding accomplishments of those whose efforts in the national park community foster greater appreciation, advancement, and celebration of diversity and inclusiveness in our national parks. The award was given to Robert Stanton, the 15th director of the National Park Service.
As director of the National Park Service and as a trustee of the National Park Foundation’s African American Experience Fund, a fund established by Stanton in 2001, he has worked tirelessly to support and preserve African American history in our national parks.
Photos and additional information about the Hartzog Awards are available at http://www.nps.gov/aboutus/hartzog-awards.htm
Photos and additional information about the Yount Award are available at http://www.nps.gov/aboutus/harry-yount-award.htm
Logo courtesy National Park Service