The Urban Ranger

31 Mar

When most New Yorkers go to work, they usually hop onto the bus or the train, and head to an office or a place among the bustle of the big city.  But on the Greenbelt, Staten Island’s forest area, one man leads a very difference existence.  Being a forest ranger is an atypical job, especially in a bustling metropolis like New York.  But it is the calling of one man.

Gilbert Schweiger, or “Gil” as he is commonly known as, works as the Senior Ranger at William H. Pouch Scout Camp.  For the past nine years, Schweiger has watched over the camp and the forest.  With not one, but four trusty German Shepherds by his side, it’s Schweiger’s mission to make the camping experience as enjoyable and as enriching as he can.  At 49 years old, Gil Schweiger is in charge of maintaining the grounds at Camp Pouch, whether that means planting more tress, picking up trash, or renovating camp sites.

Schweiger’s job is one that demands his full effort.  He is on call 24 hours a day.  If anything happens in the 143 acres of prime Greenbelt forest, Schweiger is called to fix it.  During the scorching heat of a summer day or the cold frost of a winter night, he must maintain the camp grounds and keep the facilities in working order.

Schweiger is one of the top rangers in the camp, and it is a job that requires a lot.  “You have to be trained…the trainings include fire fighting, maintenance, of course, you have to have scouting experience,” Schweiger said.  “If you have self dedication, you will have success.”

Prior to becoming a ranger, Schweiger took on odd jobs.  After graduating from New Dorp High School, he was hired by Coors to deliver and distribute their product across the island.  But the company took the routes back soon after, and Schweiger was left without a job.

It was then that he decided to get back to his scouting roots.  A bad windstorm had knocked down many trees at Camp Pouch.  This provided a golden opportunity for Schweiger.  Utilizing his skills with a chainsaw, he helped clear the camp of debris.  He was offered a position as the ranger soon after.

That was 12 years ago.

Nowadays, Schweiger is a senior ranger, but is still tending to the camp every day.  A typical New Yorker commute can take anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour, but Schweiger’s trip from his home to work is rather unique.

“I have seven footsteps from the backdoor of my house to the backdoor of my office,” Schweiger joked.  “Sometimes the flies get in the way and slow me down half a step.”

Schweiger and the few other rangers at the camp have improved the camp and made significant changes to the park.  Camp Pouch has always been a large area of congregation for the Boy Scouts, and the campgrounds reflect Schweiger’s support of the organization.

“I remember what scouting was to me and how I enjoyed it,” Schweiger said.  “I like watching when people get excited, especially the young guys.”  Schweiger put in what he calls “program areas” to enrich the scouting experience.  There are areas for archery, swimming and fishing, a climbing wall, and a handicraft area, to name a few.

Schweiger’s office is placed right in front of the campgrounds, and serves as the central hub for all of the rangers of the camp.  Inside reflects the open nature of Schweiger.  The door to the outside forest is usually open, allowing the natural world to edge in.  There are three cats that hang around the camp, and usually one is always asleep in or around the office.  A cockatoo squawks in the back room.  Pictures of the forest, Camp Pouch community projects and old camp badges line the walls.

GilOffice

On any given day, Schweiger goes out into the forest to perform some reconnisance.  Almost always sporting his ranger uniform and cap, Schweiger stands at average height and weight, though the work requires that he stay healthy and fit.  Sometimes in his old truck, and sometimes on foot with a dog by his side, Schweiger makes his way along the forest path looking for anything inconsistent or out of order.  If he finds something, it’s his responsibility to get it fixed.  One one outing in his truck, Schweiger found a broken water pump that was running.  Unable to fix it at the time, he made a note of it and said he would come back to fix it as soon as possible.

Most of the repairs and work are done by he and the other rangers, so the rangers have to be handy.  Maintenance has to be done as quickly as possible, so Schweiger also travels through the forest at night.

He will always stop to pick up trash, garbage, and bits of debris and dispose of them appropriately.  And he greets every visitor to the forest with a warm smile, an open palm, and a story to tell.  Schweiger, despite holding a job that tends to keep him isolated from society, keeps many connections to the community.  In his green ranger uniform goatee, and stern face, Schweiger is very discerning and open in his care for the camp and the forest.

Sometimes the job brings an unexpected challenge.  On one occasion, a fisherman informed Schweiger that his wife had gone missing somewhere in the forest.  Schweiger immediately reacted by organizing a search and rescue mission for the woman.  But the incident took an unexpected turn.

“It turns out the fisherman lied to us,” Schweiger said, describing the episode.  After finding out about the deception, they went to his home to confront him.  “We found out the fisherman that came to us actually beat his wife and he used it as an excuse.  It was very disturbing to see things happen that way.”

In another more recent incident, Schweiger had to stop a thief from stealing scrap metal from the camp.  At first only words were exchanged, but the standoff soon came to blows.  In the struggle, the thief bit Schweiger’s finger.  While Schweiger did keep the would-be thief from stealing anything, the bite got infected, and Schweiger was in the hospital for a week.

Nevertheless, Schweiger finds work as a ranger rewarding.  “My mission is that whenever a kid gets dropped off on a Friday, he goes home on a Sunday the way he’s supposed to go home.  Maybe a little dirtier.  Maybe a couple of scrapes and bruises, but with a smile on his face that goes from ear to ear.  Unreplacable.”


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