The perfectly named Hunter Sharp is chief ranger at Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. This year, his peers voted him the country's best ranger. What is so special about him? Try overseeing 13 million acres, our largest national park, with a staff of five.
Q: Just how big is the place?
A: It's comparable to six Yellowstones, a little bigger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined.
Q: What are the highlights?
A: We have three different mountain ranges. Four of the peaks are taller than 16,000 feet. We have a lot of large glaciers, a little village called McCarthy, and up the road is the historic Kennecott Copper Mine.
Q: Is it possible for you to get lost in Wrangell-St. Elias?
A: I've worked in eight different parks and I would have confidently said I could find my way around in each after working there a year or two. But here I could get lost.
Q: Should sissies stay out of Wrangell-St. Elias?
A: There are opportunities for folks of all capabilities and skills. If you're inexperienced, you can hire a guide. Or you could stay to the road system. You could go to the McCarthy-Kennicott area, where there's a hotel, and it's quite civilized.
Q: What's the best thing about being a ranger?
A: The mission of the Park Service is preserving and taking care of the nation's treasures. This is what our culture holds precious. It's public service at its finest.
Q: Hunter Sharp is such an awesome name for a ranger. Is it the name you were born with?
A: It was my father's name.
Q: What's the best time of year to visit?
A: June, July, and the first part of August. In September, the weather's really changeable. March is actually fantastic, if you don't mind the cold.
Q: What's the coldest you've ever been?
A: The coldest I've seen is -60ºF. It means you need to pay attention to what you're doing. You can't afford to have an oversight.
Q: What's the scariest critter you've seen?
A: I've trapped and moved alligators in the Everglades, but they're rather stupid creatures. The toughest situation I've dealt with is running a bear off of food that the bear has claimed.
Q: How many visitors hit the park each year?
A: Something around 65,000. Unlike other parks, such as Yosemite, there are no gates and no traffic counters.
Q: Do visitors impact the park positively or negatively?
A: For Wrangell-St. Elias, it's a positive thing. There's plenty of space in Alaska and plenty of space in 13 million acres.
Photography courtesy National Park Service
This article was first published in September 2001. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.