A Day in the Life of a DNR Park Ranger
Office of Performance and Transformation's Communication Representative Monica Drake follows different State of Michigan employees throughout the year.
Dayna LaFlamme is a mechanic, a plumber, a carpenter, an electrician, an accountant, an event planner, a first responder, and a law enforcement officer.
In other words, she is a park ranger.
LaFlamme works as the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Parks and Recreation Division lead ranger at Proud Lake Recreation Area in Commerce Township. It’s typical for LaFlamme to be the only officer, along with summer workers, on staff during her shift, so she needs to know how to do everything that keeps the park operating smoothly – whether it’s treating an injured guest, remodeling and maintaining infrastructure, inspecting possible environmental hazards, responding to unruly campers, processing camping fees, picking up litter, or cleaning the bathrooms.
“There’s no job too big, no job too small,” said LaFlamme with a laugh. “A state park is a lot like a small city. You have infrastructure, sewer, and electrical systems. We are the department of public works and the police and the road crew. I enjoy getting to be a jack of all trades. Everything that has to be done in the park, we do it ourselves. There’s never a typical day.”
Proud Lake Recreation Area is located on 4,700 acres with more than 20 miles of trails, two lakes, 130 modern campsites, and two cabins overlooking the Huron River.
“Park rangers get to work on the best pieces of real estate in Michigan. I get fresh air and exercise every day,” said LaFlamme, who started working for the DNR in 2004 as a summer worker at Holly Recreation Area. “How many people can say that about their jobs?”
One recent construction project LaFlamme was involved with was the building of an observation deck, which was completed in November 2017 and looks out over a marsh. It was built in memory of frequent parkgoer Laura Tijan-Martin, who died at age 53 in April 2016.
“We worked with her husband to raise funds to build it, and I was involved with designing the deck,” said LaFlamme. “Projects like that are what I’m involved with during the off-season.”
Prior to being promoted to ranger, LaFlamme attended the DNR Parks and Recreation Commissioned Park Ranger Academy in Lansing, where she received training in a variety of areas such as constitutional law, park rules, customer service, law enforcement, department policies, search and rescue, first aid, water rescues, report writing, communication, and officer safety.
“Park rangers have the authority to make arrests and write tickets for misdemeanors and civil infractions. But we try to, instead, educate guests on our rules as much as possible, and correct them for minor issues – like not having a dog on a leash – instead of writing a ticket. We try to be more educational and positive than disciplinary,” said LaFlamme.
In addition to learning laws and first aid at the Law Enforcement Academy, LaFlamme said the most important skill they taught her was how to effectively communicate.
“I’ve learned how to speak to people as tactfully and calmly as I can and try to see things from their perspectives,” she said.
When LaFlamme is doing her rounds at the park – either by foot or riding around in her Gator utility vehicle – she is always saying hi or chatting with guests. Like the sitcom “Cheers” where “everybody knows your name,” that is the kind of environment LaFlamme creates for campers at Proud Lake Recreation Area.
“Most people I meet here are happy. It’s a nice atmosphere,” she said.
LaFlamme is especially thankful for the volunteers, who are essential in keeping the campground running. A few men and women, often retirees, volunteer to be part of the “Welcoming Committee” at the campground. They help guests set up camp, bring coffee and donuts, and host crafts with the kids. They stay at the camp all summer and, in exchange, receive a free camp site.
“We also have a very active Friends of Proud Lake group that helps us with all the fun events – like, every Friday, we set up a huge movie screen and have a popcorn machine and a movie night for the kids. It’s really popular,” said LaFlamme.
Another part of LaFlamme’s daily job is writing violation notices for vehicles without a Recreation Passport. She records the license plate number and leaves an envelope on the windshield of the vehicle to remind violators to secure their passport.
“The envelope is a way for them to pay for the park pass and then we’ll mail it to them. If they ignore that and then ignore a reminder, then we write them a misdemeanor ticket. We give them a lot of chances,” she said.
Recreation Passports are only $11 if purchased at a Secretary of State office when renewing their license plates or $16 at the park.
“It’s cheaper than getting a misdemeanor ticket. And you get to enjoy 103 state parks all year for that amount. You can barely even see a movie for that price,” said LaFlamme. “Not only does that money support the state parks but it also goes toward the DNR’s grant program for county/township parks.”
LaFlamme said her favorite part of her job is knowing she is making an impact.
“I grew up enjoying outdoor activities, and state parks were something that our family could do that was affordable. I always looked forward to it, and I have so many happy memories from it. It’s important for me to reach out to residents and introduce them to the resources that are available to them,” she said. “This park is going to be here in 100 years, and I feel like it’s my legacy to help protect it and make it better for future generations.”