07/12/10 — Ranger Laura on duty ...

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Ranger Laura on duty ...

By Laura Collins
Published in News on July 12, 2010 1:46 PM

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Cliffs of the Neuse State Park Ranger Joel Jakubowski teaches reporter Laura Collins to build a harness before sending her down the side of the cliffs to pick up trash.

The Job: Park Ranger

The Company: Cliffs of the Neuse State Park

The Location: Seven Springs

Bear Grylls better watch out because there's a new nature man in town.

OK, "nature man" might be a little much. The star of the "Man vs. Wild" TV show probably has a thing or two on me, but I can almost guarantee he's never scaled the cliffs at the Cliffs of the Neuse State Park. And that's exactly what I did, with some guidance from park ranger Joel Jakubowski.

I arrived at the park not sure what to expect, but dressed for success, at least I thought.

"Where are you working today, the set of the new Rambo movie?" a fellow reporter asked in reference to my black muscle shirt and army green cargo pants.

What I should have had on was a back brace. Soon after arriving, Jakubowski handed me the backpacks they typically wear. He claimed it weighs only 30 pounds. I don't believe him.

We started by patrolling the grounds. The 900-acre park has 35 camping spots, offers boating, swimming and walking trails. During the patrol, park rangers not only look for law-breakers, they also count and record any animals they see to keep a running inventory of wildlife at the park. The patrol is one of the only parts of the job in which the rangers are in vehicles. Most of the time, they are on foot.

Jakubowski, who described rangers as tour guides to the wilderness, said educating the public is as much a part of the job as law enforcement.

"The biggest part of our job is the presence of being around," he said. "Enforcing the law is no different than teaching someone. You're educating them about why they can't do something at the park."

In addition to explaining the park regulations, the rangers answer any questions visitors might have and look for opportunities to teach. At one point, Jakubowski and I came upon a green lizard on one of the trails. He saw a family in the distance headed our direction and decided to wait for them so he could point out the lizard and tell them about the little guy.

"If you know anything about lizards you can tell them," he said.

"You don't want that," I said and left the educating up to him since most of my lizard knowledge comes from Geico commercials.

After the lizard lecture, Jakubowski and I continued along the path. I was in charge of picking up trash, using a long pincher tool. That's when we came along a bend in the trail that over looks the Neuse River about 40 feet down.

"We pick up trash at the bank of the river, too," Jakubowski said.

"This pincher thing won't reach that far," I said, slightly confused.

"I know."

At that point I realized I would be going down there myself. But that was only part of what concerned me. Rather than making the harness for me, Jakubowski chose to talk me through making my own harness and securing it to a tree. He was also staying at the top and not scaling down the side with me. Then he dropped the final bomb.

"The side of the cliffs really isn't rock. It's sand. So everywhere you step will likely give away under your foot," he said.

This was not sounding promising and I understood then why only rangers are allowed to climb the cliffs. I took my first step down the side facing forward towards the water with my back to the cliffs. I was hoping I could just walk down instead of rappel down since it wasn't a steep angle. What started as climbing down the side turned into sliding a few feet, walking a few feet and sliding a few feet more until I reached the bottom. At one point only half of my body was sliding and the other half was stationary. My left leg was straight out in front of me sliding down the sand and my right leg was in the same spot still bent at the knee and was now at eye level.

In the end, I made it to the bottom, picked up the trash I found and made it back up without injury.

I capped off the day by nailing red dots to trees to help mark one of the walking trails.

The job included probably the widest variety of duties of any job I've tried so far. Jakubowski is not only a law enforcement officer, he is also a walking encyclopedia of wildlife knowledge.