warden speaking to family at RV site

Provincial park wardens: protecting what you value most

“Hey you there, squirrel? Do you have a license to store those nuts?”  Such was a day in the life of Ranger Smith from ye old Jellystone Park where keeping Yogi Bear and other park dwellers in line was job one.

In real life, the job of a provincial park warden is serious business.  Trained to give visitors the safest, most secure visit possible while safeguarding park resources, wardens perform a variety of functions that most visitors may not even be aware of, including:

  • Enforcing the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act (PPCRA) and other related legislation;
  • Protecting park resources by enforcing legislation, providing education and increasing public awareness;
  • Resolving conflicts;
  • Working with other government agencies when necessary;
  • Preparing court documents and testifying in court proceedings, if needed;
  • Ensuring public safety.
wardens in a boat
Backcountry park wardens frequently patrol in areas accessible only by boat or plane. Photo Credit: R. Thompson

“Everything our park wardens do is derived from our legislative responsibility under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act (PPCRA) to protect people and property,” says Amy Yakelashek, Senior Parks Technician, Operations and Development, with Ontario Parks.  “It’s the job of our park wardens to not only protect our natural resources and the properties within the park, but also to ensure that every visitor within the park has a peaceful and enjoyable stay without being disturbed by others around them.”

At densely populated, southern car camping parks such as Inverhuron Provincial Park, being a park warden involves everything from educating visitors on the safest way to light a campfire to why disturbing flora and fauna is not allowed. It also means breaking up disturbances or encouraging visitors to keep the noise down.

warden on campsite

“A lot of our job is based on officer discretion,” says Tiffany Wall, who studied police foundations at college before becoming a park warden at Inverhuron.

“Throughout our initial training and yearly refresher courses, we are educated on such things such as legislation, park rules and policies. Within the boundary of  the park, we have the same powers and authority as the OPP, however, most of our job is about using our discretion for the best possible outcomes.”

backcountry rangers
In addition to patrols, backcountry park wardens often complete projects such as bridges on portages. Photo Credit: J. Diebolt

For fly-in backcountry parks that are only accessible by float plane or canoe, ensuring safety and security means wardens work jointly with outfitters, conservation officers and law enforcement agencies to monitor park activity and respond to incidents.

Shannon Lawr, park warden and Assistant Park Superintendent at Wabakimi Provincial Park in northwest Ontario, helps safeguard the second largest park in Ontario (it is 900,000 hectares) by managing routine paperwork remotely and flying in for routine patrols throughout the season.

Park wardens at one of the busiest, most highly populated provincial parks, Wasaga Beach, have very different challenges than those of their northern colleagues. Just a short drive from the Greater Toronto Area, Wasaga Beach attracts thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of visitors every year who come to escape the heat and stress of the city and to swim at its gorgeous beaches (among the longest freshwater beaches in the world).

While Wasaga Beach is a definitely paradise found, things can get rowdy sometimes, especially with groups of 20, 30 and 50 people at any one time.  For the nine park wardens who patrol Wasaga Beach, their eyes and ears are always open.

“Our job encompasses most of the duties that all provincial park wardens perform although we kind of consider ourselves more of an emergency service, where we’re part paramedic, part enforcement officer and doing various other duties kind of meshed in between,” says Benjamin Dasti, Warden at Wasaga Beach.

“Our primary focus is on public safety, beach safety, drowning prevention, education, enforcement, dealing with rowdy visitors and knowing what to do in emergency situations. One minute I might be doing paperwork in the office and the next I’m out on a water rescue.  It’s all about being able to switch gears at a moment’s notice to serve our customers and ensure their safety at all times. That’s the bottom line.”

warden talking to boaters

Safety and security of people aside, all park wardens, regardless of location, are guardians of protected spaces as well and must do everything within their power to ensure visitors respect the ecological integrity of the park today and for the future.

“One of our main goals is to protect our natural environment because that is why we have provincial parks,” says Tiffany Wall.

“Because of that, we want our park property and resources to be protected.  So if we see somebody cutting down a tree or doing anything to destroy crown property or disturbing some of our natural park ecosystems, we have to step in, educate and take appropriate action under the circumstances. Most of the time our visitors our thankful to us for explaining the reasons why we intervened.

“It’s very rewarding knowing you have done your part to help protect a really beautiful place and Inverhuron really is gorgeous.”

Park wardens provide an invaluable, sometimes invisible service, to Ontario Parks’ visitors, responding to everything from lost children to an injured or lost backcountry paddler in need of military airlift; many have received citations and awards for their service, not to mention letters and e-mails from grateful visitors.