Longtime popular ranger retires

By Meg Olson

Longtime park ranger Ben VanBuskirk has resigned from Whatcom County Parks and Recreation and will spend the summer as a park aide in Bellingham to put in the last six months he needs to work in order to collect his pension.

“It just got to be too much,” VanBuskirk said. “They had too much on my plate.”

Starting in 1989 as the live-in ranger at Lighthouse Marine Park managing all county parks on the Point, VanBuskirk took the position of lead ranger for the northwest region in 2004, managing 20 parks from Point Roberts to Ferndale.

Since then, he said, he has seen a sharp decrease in full-time staff for the west county parks, from 10 full-time employees in operations in 2006 to two full-time and seven seasonal in 2016.

Decreasing staff meant increased responsibilities for VanBuskirk. At the end of 2014, when the lead ranger for the southwest region resigned, the regions were combined, leaving VanBuskirk responsible for the operation of 40 parks in the western half of the county, stretching from Point Roberts to Lake Samish and including wedding halls, historic homes and 40 miles of accessible trails.

“The expectations were unattainable,” he said. “I didn’t feel the administration was giving me the support I needed to
succeed.”

Without the time and staff to keep things up, VanBuskirk said infrastructure was degrading. “Things that aren’t getting done are just piling up, and it’s not just weeds,” he said. He also said his inability to keep up his parks was too stressful.

“I love being a park professional; I love working with people,” VanBuskirk said. “I just felt we were all competing for scarce resources rather than working towards our mission.  We need an infusion. We can’t even keep up with what we have on our existing operational budget.”

Whatcom County Parks and Recreation director Michael McFarlane was not available to comment on the need for additional operational staffing and funding to keep up the county’s parks.

VanBuskirk, who lived in the house at Lighthouse Marine Park with his family for 20 years before moving to Blaine, wanted to especially thank the community of Point Roberts for making his career there a pleasure.

“I went to Point Roberts in the ’80s trying to get my foot in the door and I fell in love,” he said. In leaving his position with county parks VanBuskirk said he was glad to be leaving Point Roberts parks in the care of ranger Aaron Johnson. “You’re in good hands there,” he said.

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