Ranger Roger retires

The history of Alaska State Parks Chief Ranger Roger MacCampbell’s career mirrors that of lower Kenai Peninsula state parks. Among his milestones are:

• Helping build the park system in the post-Alaska Pipeline budget boom of the early 1980s;

• Weathering budget cuts in the mid-1980s Alaska recession;

• Surviving the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill;

• Coping with a changing environment from the 1990s spruce bark beetle infestation;

• Expanding trails, cabins and other facilities using volunteers and spill recovery and other funds, and

• Guiding increased public use over the past 30 years.

On Friday, MacCampbell, 60, adds a personal marker to that timeline. Effective April 30, he retires as chief ranger for the southern district, including Kachemak Bay State Park and Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park. At 6 p.m. Friday at Land’s End Resort, friends, coworkers and the community hold a retirement celebration.

“I have a great deal of respect for Roger,” said Jack Blackwell, MacCampbell’s boss and superintendent for the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound region, Alaska State Parks. “Roger’s an outstanding ranger and will be dearly missed by his coworkers and friends.”

Mako Haggerty, a water-taxi operator and member of the Kachemak Bay State Parks Advisory Board, noted MacCampbell’s decades-long

tenure contributed to the parks’ success.

“He came up here as a young man and that’s been his park for lo these many years. He’s invested in the park,” Haggerty said. 

MacCampbell has spent almost his entire adult life working in park management. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, and at age 18 in his first year of college at West Valley College, Saratoga, Calif., did his first internship working in county and national parks, including Yosemite National Park. West Valley had started a program in park management and an adviser encouraged MacCampbell to enroll.

“I loved it. You get paid for hiking,” he said.

Through college he worked on wildland firefighting crews, as a watcher in fire lookout towers and as a naturalist. At 21 he got his first badge, firearm and citation book as a ranger.

He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in environmental education from California State University, Chico. For a while he considered being a park interpreter, but moved into being a ranger.

“Another ranger diverted me,” MacCampbell said. That ranger told MacCampbell he seemed to like doing things involving public safety. “Apparently, I wasn’t that good at leading wildflower hikes.”

In 1981, MacCampbell came up to Alaska, working 180-day jobs as a seasonal park ranger with the National Park Service at Denali National Park. In the off season he worked construction in Anchorage. The role of a National Park Service ranger began to change then, from a ranger general to more specialized jobs. MacCampbell said he considers himself to be a multi-specialist, a role suited to working as an Alaska State Park ranger.

“You have to be good at everything you do,” he said. “You have to be multi-disciplined.”

That’s a quality Blackwell said he admires in MacCampbell.

“He’s really a generalist at heart. He understands the philosophy and the mission of state parks, and what state parks should be,” Blackwell said. “He totally understands the resource management aspect of the work, as well as the importance of trying to interpret our natural and cultural resources.”

MacCampbell started with Alaska State Parks in 1984, when he took a job as a ranger in Ninilchik. In 1985 he became chief ranger for the southern district.

“I figured I’d be here five or 10 years,” he said. “And then a child came along. … I realized early on this was the best chief ranger job in the state, the best community to live in and to raise a son.”

Part of MacCampbell’s retirement plan is to travel with his son, Collin, who graduates from Homer High School this year.

MacCampbell said he sees his job as simple.

“We protect the people from the park, the park from the people and the people from the people,” he said.

Part of that job is law enforcement. State park rangers enforce all the rules and regulations of parks and can make arrests for things like boating under the influence. His philosophy is to practice the lowest effective level of enforcement, he said.

“Ninety percent is just education or just a presence being here,” MacCampbell said.

When MacCampbell started as chief ranger, access to the Kachemak Bay parks was limited. The 4,000 acres of parks only had about 10 miles of trail and only a few water taxis operated in the bay. Recovery money from the Exxon Valdez spill fund in the late 1980s and early 1990s gave the park some seed money to build trails and cabins and redo campgrounds.

The park also added some land, like the Eveline and Diamond Creek areas. A network of trails expanded to about 80 miles. 

Haggerty said Campbell helped get built public-use cabins in Halibut Cove Lagoon, Leisure Lake and Tutka Bay. MacCampbell has used volunteer crews such as young adults who come up for the summer or locals who pitch in for the annual National Trails Day projects — another program MacCampbell organized.

“He’s really done a lot with very little resources,” Haggerty said. “A lot of that is Roger, just because his heart is in it.”

It was MacCampbell who had the idea to create the Friends of Kachemak Bay State Parks, a nonprofit advocacy group, Haggerty said. Nonprofits like that and the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club and the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society also have given support.

Haggerty said park visitor numbers have grown dramatically, probably 20 or 30 times from when MacCampbell first started. Trail logs will see visitors from 60 or more foreign countries and almost all the 50 United States. About 70 percent of visitors are Alaskans. Recreation outside the summer also has increased.

“The demand is there for more trails and the amenities to get to the trails,” MacCampbell said.

At the same time, the number of rangers has dropped while the management area has grown, said Blackwell. Twenty-five years ago the district had 12 rangers for the western Kenai Peninsula. Now it has seven rangers for an area that includes Prince William Sound. MacCampbell manages an area from Kasilof to the tip of the peninsula at Gore Point.

Haggerty said MacCampbell has always had good ideas. A week out from retirement, he was still pitching them, like building Adirondack shelters, three-sided roofed shelters that can give hikers and kayakers respite from the rain and wind.

“He sees the big picture. We’re really going to miss it, too,” Haggerty said. “It takes a long time to develop that vision.”

That’s part of the parks philosophy, Blackwell said.

“As a park manager, he is part of the community. He listens to the community, its needs and wants and recommendations,” he said. “That’s one of the things I’ve admired.”

Blackwell said Alaska State Parks is still in the process of filling MacCampbell’s position and hopes to have it filled soon.

“We’re all going to miss him, even those who had disagreements with him,” Haggerty said. “We just lost a real advocate for the park. He’s going to be very difficult to replace, especially in these fiscal times.”

Roger MacCampbell retirement party

6 p.m. Friday, Land’s End Resort

$20 contribution

R.S.V.P. at 907-262-5581, ask for Leanna Moore