As the original organizer of Lean2Rescue*, I have been asked many times how our group developed such a cooperative relationship with the DEC. Simply put, it boils down to a sincere trust in both directions. In the beginning, we needed to earn the trust of the DEC; to show that we would carry through on our (rather aggressive) commitments while respecting the rules that govern the park. Of equal importance was my instinctive trust of the DEC which is based on the privilege of knowing Ranger Douglas King.
One of my most moving moments in the Lean2Rescue adventure was on a field trip assessing the lean-tos in the Ha-De-Ron-Dah Wilderness. I was reflecting on all of the people and episodes leading to the 14 lean-tos we had rescued so far. Approaching Okara Lakes (the former home of Ranger Doug King), I was suddenly struck with an appreciation of how much Lean2Rescue owed to Doug, and by returning to this area, the Lean2Rescue story was coming full circle.
I first met Ranger Doug King in the spring of 1974 when I was 19 years old. A few of us wanted to spend the entire summer living in the woods, working in the local economy. We found a secluded spot well off the East shore of Mountain Pond, intending to stay there in secrecy, believing in the all-too common myth that the DEC would "just hassle us."
Secrets have a very short lifecycle in the Adirondacks. Doug King showed up at the campsite within a few days of our setting up camp. Our suspicions were immediately disarmed by his respectful and friendly approach. He took a genuine interest in our intentions, and showed us we could meet our goals within the rules (which have more flexibility than we had assumed). Doug was a ranger that believed the public wanted to do the right thing, and treated us as such. He used an educational approach to law enforcement, gaining the most genuine respect from those he met in the field. For the rest of our stay at Mt Pond, we always looked forward to Doug's visits to our campsites.
Doug told us about some great places to check out, often by bushwhack. He took the time to teach us about the public's relationship with the park (good and bad). He encouraged us to give back, and became our mentor for stewardship in the park. Under his guidance, we cleaned up (literally) tons of garbage, and cleared miles of trails. Because of Doug, we got a taste for the deep personal reward derived from giving back to the park we love so much; making us part of the Adirondack story instead of just visitors. Doug planted the seed that grew into Lean2Rescue 30 years later.
True to his values, Doug chose to work for the national park service in 1981 when the DEC required him to carry a sidearm. Three years later, in the most bitter of ironies, Doug was shot to death in a robbery while returning to New Mexico from a visit to the Adirondacks. Having been killed off duty, there is no official recognition of Doug's life, his work, his influence or his death. Doug was a native of the Adirondacks, growing up in Crown Point.
Since those days, I welcome my encounters with forest rangers, instinctively seeing them as informative friends. It is only natural that I extend this trust to others within the DEC, allowing me to see past so many myths about the department, the rules, the people, and their mission. In order to work effectively with the DEC, I cannot overstate the value of approaching the department with the sincere belief that they want to do the right thing, just as Doug King approached us.
Doug still inspires us today. At the end of each lean-to rescue I organize, I feel a sense of honor when we write into the lean-to log book: "This lean-to was rescued in memory of Ranger Doug King - still on patrol." As of today, working with the DEC, over 100 volunteers have rescued 39 lean-tos (new roofs, floors, foundations, and logs). We thank Doug for showing us the reward that comes with this work.
I think it is time we recognize Doug King: the person he was, the contributions he has made, the influence he still has, and all those (public volunteers as well as DEC) still continuing his legacy of respect and stewardship of the park.