Long pants for most park rangers, heat or no heat
Updated 10:10 a.m. ET
By Ed O'Keefe and Felicia Sonmez
If you happen to run into a National Park Service park ranger this week, you might want to buy them a cold drink. Though most Washingtonians are suffering through the summer heat, at least you don't have to do so in long wool pants.
The agency's dress code varies depending on the geography and weather, but all rangers must wear a standard gray shirt, green wool-blend pants, a flat hat and arrowhead patch on their shirt.
"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 earn a $400 clothing allowance when they start and receive $150 each year thereafter to buy new clothing and equipment. The initial sum typically 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 geography, the time of year 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 straw flat hat in the summer and a sturdier version in colder months.
"This is the nation’s capital, it’s a solemn place. We like to convey that very professional look here in the District of Columbia," said NPS national spokesman David Barna. 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, where rangers guided the Obama Family 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."
His only concern with the policy is that NPS should allow a little more time for rangers to switch between their hot and cold-weather outfits. Currently most parks make the switch in May and October with a 30-day grace period.
"I would always argue for expanding that as much as possible, in case you had a really warm day in February or a cold streak in July," McElveen said.
So the next time you're complaining about the heat at your office just remember: Regardless of the heat and location, there's no such thing as Casual Fridays for park rangers.
Know of similarly strict government dress codes? Do you think there should be some flexibility?
Leave your thoughts in the comments section below
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| July 20, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Eye Opener
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