Parkway’s Gestapo?

An increasing number of drivers on the Blue Ridge Parkway in and around Floyd County say a new Park Ranger is overly-aggressive, rude and condescending. Even worse, some say, he abuses his power
Park Ranger running radar in front of Mabry Mill
Park Ranger running radar in front of Mabry Mill
Park Ranger running radar in front of Mabry Mill

An increasing number of drivers on the Blue Ridge Parkway in and around Floyd County say a new Park Ranger is overly-aggressive, rude and condescending.

Even worse, some say, he abuses his power and confronts those who legally cross the Parkway to get from one section of the their farmland to another in times of bad weather when the road is closed to tourists but not to those who have a legitimate reason to use the road.

Parkway officials acknowledge they are receiving complaints about the actions of a new ranger in the area and say a “review” of his actions and behavior is underway.

Farmers who have land on both sides of the Parkway say they have been harassed by the ranger when they drive farm vehicles along the road on dog-leg intersections that require them to use short sections of the road.  Virginia’s long-standing agreement with the National Park Service allows such use of the road by landowners whose property lie along the road.

Others say they have been verbally abused and threatened with additional punishment when stopped by the ranger.

The ranger’s actions bring back unpleasant memories of of excessive abuse of power by the Parkway’s now-defunct Criminal Interdiction Team (CIT) that terrorized those traveling to and from FloydFest in 2008 and even harassed Floyd County Sheriff Shannon Zeman.

Parkway officials tried to deny the that Zeman was stopped by an officer who used abusive language even though the incident was witnessed by chief Deputy Jeff Dalton, a passenger in the sheriff’s vehicle.

In 2008, when I tried to photograph a CIT member hassling a FloydFest patron, the ranger threatened me with arrest and claimed the USA Patriot Act prohibited me from taking photos of his actions.  Then-Parkway Chief Ranger John Garrison denied the incident occurred and rejected my offer to pick the ranger in question out of a lineup of CIT operatives.

The CIT unit, created with funds from the Department of Homeland Security, was later disbanded.

Some who have complained to both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the National Park Service compare the new ranger’s actions to long-time ranger Pete Schula, who is retiring next month and who was often polite and understanding when dealing with users of the road.

This story is developing.  More to come.

Enhanced by Zemanta

26 thoughts on “Parkway’s Gestapo?”

  1. When I worked on the parkway it was our job to make sure the guest had a good experience, and a good dose of local southern hospitality. To teach them about their surroundings.

  2. Doug, my son and I encountered him during the big snow. He was aggressive, rude, loud, demanding and threatened us with citation for walking on the parkway to avoid the 6’+ drifts on Tuggles Gap Rd…we hiked up to the parkway after noticing it was cleared…we were out to see if the gap at Rt 8 was open yet. He accused us of trespassing, but I thought even though the road was closed that foot travel was legal.

    We were shocked by his nasty attitude and my son was shaken up a bit, too. Given that we’ve known Pete Shula/Park Ranger for over 15 years…a kind, caring, friendly and well mannered man both in and out of uniform…I was very surprised by such a gross display of over-the-top posturing.

    I meant to call Pete and let him know what we experienced that day…just didn’t get around to it…glad to see there is concern and complaint. I need to let them know, too. Thanks for keeping us informed, Davis Wildman

  3. Sounds identical to the situation in 2008…. Fix this shit, Parkway. This is totally unacceptable, and you’re shooting yourselves in the head by doing this. You already shot yourself in the foot 6 years ago…. In 2008 a family friend and I (teenagers at the time) were in a 1973 black and red VW Beatle, headed to Floyd Fest. We crossed the parkway, and stopped at the beginning of Black Ridge Road, not knowing where to go to park and catch the shuttle to the Festival. After asking the Park Rangers for directions, we were asked to step out of the vehicle and empty our pockets… We were then asked to open the trunk and hood, while being verbally intimidated by a female park ranger. The trunk had a stainless steel bumper blocking it from opening… This wasn’t our vehicle, we had no idea how to open the trunk. We were forced to stand aside from the vehicle for 30+ minutes while the rangers attempted to open the trunk to look inside. We told this female officer the vehicle wasn’t ours, but belonged to the young man’s uncle that I was accompanying to the festival. We mentioned his name, and that the vehicle wasn’t ours, and were told to be quiet or we’d be detained. All of this because we stopped and asked which way we needed to be going?

    Discipline your rangers. DISCIPLINE YOUR RANGERS. You’re obviously doing something wrong if this is an ongoing issue. If this ignorant, cocky SOB pulls me over and pulls his power-hungry card on me, I’ll video tape the entire thing and have the entire world see it, and I’ll be sure that he loses his job. Again, this is TERRIBLE for the businesses along the parkway, and for Floyd/Meadows of Dan. Someone please publicize his name, please. Let it be known that he’s mistreating our tourists and respectable residents of the area.

  4. Doug, this must be the guy who stopped me last Fall. I got on the parkway at Tuggles Gap after playing some music with friends, headed north towards Barberry. Two cars were coming at me and the trailing car whipped a quick U-turn and sped up to my bumper.

    I was going 46 miles an hour. I waited to see if he would pass but then he dropped back a short way and followed. He then came up on my bumper again like he wanted me to go faster. Soon after he turned on the flashing lights, hit his hi-beams and tooted the siren.

    It had rained and when I pulled into a side cut that goes into Morning Dew and stopped I realized I had parked in a puddle of water. So, thinking I was being courteous, I slowly pulled forward 4 feet so the Officer wouldn’t have to stand in the water. He hit the siren and I parked. When he came up he said “why did you start to pull away?” I told him that I was in a puddle and didn’t think he wanted to have to stand in that. His response was a brusque, “License and Registration”, which I gave him.

    After about 10 minutes he came back, asked where I was coming from and where I was going, which I told him. He then asked if I had any guns in the car, which I did not. I then asked him why he pulled me and he said I had a front light out. I got out and went to look and the lights were on, however, when I put them on low, indeed a light was out.

    He did not cite me, said get it fixed and left. My question was, why did he pull the aggressive maneuvers going to stop me, trying to intimidate with the vehicle, then act like I was some hardened criminal? I had a light out. Pete would have simply told me I had a light out, which I do appreciate, but not try to scare me into speeding up or whatever he was doing. If it is not the same guy, then it was someone other than Pete and a poor representative of an honorable profession.

    Dave

  5. I live in Fancy Gap and we too have been harassed by a ranger that fits this description.
    I have been to many State Parks across the country and have never met a Park Ranger that was nice and willing to help in any way. Here the Rangers that we’ve had on several occasions seem to use their position against the locals who live here. We have a gate they close on bad weather and at the mention of foul weather the gate is closed and stays that way as if to inconvenience the people who travel on the Parkway.
    Another gripe I have is the general appearance of the Parkway. It used to be such a nice place manicured place to spend a Sunday afternoon and now they’re trees and limbs that have laid there for years at a time.
    I don’t expect to see a change either way from complaints that people make but we need to speak our mind and see where it goes.

    • We were visiting Fancy Gap where my parents live and were threatened with being sent to jail when we asked a ranger for an alternate route to get to I77. We told him we were from out of town and GPS only told us this way to get to the interstate. He said figure it out or I will put you in jail. We were on the parkway for less than 1/4 mile and stopped to ask HIM for help. This was thanksgiving weekend.

  6. This is a copy of a letter I sent to the main Blue Ridge Parkway office and I posted it on Facebook. I see here that we were not alone in being harassed. What a shame!!

    To Whom it may concern,

    I am sending a check to pay for this violation only because my son had to return to school in South Dakota and it was not cost prohibitive for him to return to contest it. I am extremely upset with the violation and the way in which it was issued.

    I called the main Blue Ridge Parkway telephone number and left a verbal complaint with an officer there. He said he would speak to Officer B. Smith but I’m not sure that happened. He asked if I’d like to file a formal complaint but at the time I thought we would be able to contest the violation in court so I declined.

    On 3/7/14 John Bray flew home from college and his friend accompanied him. There was ice and snow on Friday. But on Sunday, 3/9/14, the sun was shining and the temperature was 64 degrees by afternoon in Meadows of Dan (see attached report). He took my pick-up and drove to show her the area late in the afternoon. They drove up Squirrel Spur Road and got onto the Parkway there. There was a “closed” sign to the side of the entrance and a light on top that was not blinking. There were other cars on the Parkway at the time, so he entered. The closed sign was not blocking the entrance! It was setting off to the side. Since the weather was great he thought it had been there on Friday but was moved out of the way for that Sunday. He had not driven far and met several cars when he was stopped.

    Officer Smith pulled him over and proceeded to berate him for driving on the Parkway. He was rude and “just mean” in the words of John’s friend. John tried to explain why he thought the parkway had reopened but he wouldn’t let him speak. He even had the nerve to ask my son if he was paying his own way in college or did his parents give him money to pay for everything! This was none of his concern and I am highly disturbed that he is allowed to ask such questions. He told John that since he paid his own way he would give him a “lesser” offence. John and his friend were so upset with this encounter with Officer Smith and his attitude toward them that they drove straight home. Her visit to the NC/VA area was totally and forever marred. Not only was the violation uncalled for, his demeanor was abusive, insulting and intrusive. I believe because John was young and had a young friend with him; Officer Smith took advantage of the situation and of my son.

    John’s friend is from South Dakota and had never visited the area. This was her first impression. It saddens me to think that this is what she saw. We had always recommended to our out-of-area visitors to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway and had done so ourselves many times since we grew up in the area. It’s a beautiful drive and was well worth the time. We are hesitant to ever do this again and if we do it will be a long time. Time for us to heal from the sting of such an encounter! It deeply saddens me to this that such a treasure will forever be marred by this situation.

  7. They are just like the government and politicans they get a title and they think they are rulers or kings or something and they abuse their power. And just like most all of the politicans they need to be fired these bums work for the people.

  8. I too have been harassed by this ranger. I was travelling southbound on the Parkway about a month ago for a distance of about 5 miles. I had been told the Parkway had reopened. We’d had unseasonably warm weather for weeks and all the snow and ice had melted except for the barricaded portion at Fancy Gap. I was about 500 ft from my turn off when he stopped me and 5 other travelers. He gave one man a ticket for speeding and made the rest of us turn around and travel about 3 miles back north to get off at the next exit even though we were only 500 ft from where we were going to turn off. He was extremely rude and he lied to me when he told me there were signs posted stating the Parkway was closed where I got on even though I told him there were no signs. He also belittled me telling me I should have had a clue when there was snow and ice on the road when there was not ANY snow or ice on the road. The rocks that often freeze from runoff were even bare it had been warm for so long. I’m thankful he didn’t write me a ticket, but he was certainly a jerk and pulled the “As you can see I’m a very busy man…….” speech on me.

  9. I have a story, too.
    I was on the Parkway looking for an elderly friend with dementia, diabetes, and heart problems, He had had left his home in his pickup. and had been missing for over 12 hours. A ranger pulled me over, and I was told repeatedly, as I tried to explain my situation, that I was not allowed on the Parkway for ANY reason because of ice. I understood his point, however I had reason to think that my friend could be along a road in the area, and explained that we were searching for him BECAUSE of the weather. If he had survived the first night, we were were hoping we would find him before he spent another night out in the cold.
    The ranger ordered me off the Parkway. I was told that he knew about the missing person, and he was the only person allowed to search on Parkway land. The ranger said that no one was allowed on HIS road, regardless of the reason. He told me that if my friend was on the Parkway, HE would find him, and that NO ONE was allowed to be on the road even if it meant that my friend may die fi not found soon. The ranger stated that he had put papers up at both of our local stores stating that the Parkway was closed in bad weather, and there was no excuse for me being there. He was rude, threatening, and aggressive, and I left because my daughter was afraid that we were going to be arrested.
    I was just amazed !!! I knew that perhaps technically, I should not have been on the road, but we were a community of friends who help each other, long before the Parkway came through. My family, and many other families, have lived here on “the mountain” for more than six generations. Our community has given a lot through the years to respectfully live with the Parkway as a neighbor.
    My daughter learned very quickly, how it feels when an adult in an authoritative position totally abuses their power. She was afraid we would end up in jail if I insisted on being there. and wanted me to accept the ranger’s ‘authority’ out of fear. We left with a warning, but what is that teaching my daughter? Will she try to help a friend in the future, or will this experience teach her that we have no right to help each other in our own community. Perhaps it is easier to look the other way, and avoid conflict.
    OUR family and friends helped build the Parkway, Our people gave up THEIR land years ago without a choice, OUR families and friends are the volunteers on the Rescue Squads and Fire Departments who are called when folks need help on the Parkway.. They gladly give their time and risk their own lives to help folks who pass through, just because it is the right thing to do. That is who we are as a community.
    Now I hear that we aren’t even allowed to cross the Parkway where we have had the right to cross for decades, because of one man’s abuse of his power. These crossings were allowed from the time the road was built, and there are even road signs at the crossings permitting traffic to cross. What the heck??
    Why is one ranger allowed to bully our community members, and why aren’t we standing up for what is right? I, too, allowed this to happen by not telling someone higher in the Park Service chain of command. It is not acceptable that he treated me and my daughter with such disrespect, but what about our older citizens? And what about our young people? Who is going to stand up with them when they can’t stand up against this intimidation?
    Just my thoughts…

  10. Travel via 608 and stay off of this crappy road. There is absolutely nothing to see there and the speed limit is a joke. The so called rangers patroling it are douchenozzle wannabe’s who were bullied as children and take it out on families out for a drive. Piss on any state park in Virginia for that matter. Go to NC where getting into state parks is still free and no assbags to harrass you.

  11. My husband and son were stopped by this ranger a couple of months ago. My 15 year old son had just gotten his learner’s permit and we thought the Parkway would be a good place to get some driving time in especially during the winter when there was no traffic. As like many of the young boys in Floyd my son has a pickup truck. Not lifted but has a little wider than normal tires. Now understand, we had already checked with a local deputy and VDOT codes and the tires were not too wide. They were very legal. This ranger however stopped them claiming the tires were too wide. He was extremely rude and disrespectful and told my husband the deputy didn’t know what he was talking about. He told my husband he was a “piss poor example of a father” for letting my son drive with those tires. He also cursed him when my husband asked if he could contact the deputy who told him this. My husband said he had never been treated like that in all of his 52 years and my son was in tears when they returned home and said he would never go back on the Parkway. I was so upset that I called the Park ranger’s office at Rocky Knob to talk to someone about it. Apparently it was this ranger’s boss. He took my complaint and said they would review it and the tape on the ranger vehicle and that someone would call me back. Well, surprise, surprise, no one ever called. I get the feeling nothing was ever done. It’s very sad that my son’s first experience with an officer of the law was so upsetting and that he was treated so badly. And he had done nothing wrong!!! We have always taught our children to respect the law and those that serve. But this man doesn’t deserve anyone’s respect!

  12. Update: I emailed the NPS office in Asheville, NC to file a complaint. URL here: http://www.nps.gov/blri/contacts.htm and received a prompt reply from Bobby D Miller,
    Plateau District Ranger,1670 Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd VA 2409, 540-745-9681.

    He expressed concern, offered an apology and asked if I wanted to make the complaint formal. I replied to his email asking for specifics on a formal filing; not heard back as of 330pm today. I also called Ranger Miller this AM, so far, no reply. He provided the name of his Supervisor, Acting Chief Ranger Deb Flowers and said if I filed a formal complaint, she will take over and investigate.

    In my email I inquired about foot travel along the parkway when the road closed signs are up…he wrote saying: “yes the road is open to foot travel when it’s closed to motor vehicle traffic during snow and ice. Sometimes we do close the road to all vehicle, bike and foot traffic, an example would be construction.”

    Just thought I’d offer the contact/email info in the event anyone else wanted to write/file via email instead of calling or snail-mail.

  13. I won’t go down the parkway anymore either and I once was a naturalist ranger for the BRP. I was among the victims stopped in 2008 after a late night shift volunteering for JAX. I was followed for miles from Floydfest and stopped at an overlook and harassed including car search and an alcohol test which I passed. The ONLY reason I did not fight the bogus ticket from Murphy was I did not want it showing up in newspapers and feared the ramifications as my ex is an attorney and I had two kids and feared he would use it against me for custody in court. It was simply easier to pay the ticket. When I asked why I was being stopped I was told I was going TOO SLOW (35mph)..not exactly reasonable cause.. REALLY? The ONLY good thing about the bogus stop was that my son, who wanted to be in law enforcement, said to me after watching the car being searched and my walking the line and touching my nose and saying my ABC’s, ie, the “alcohol test” was that he no longer wanted to be a cop… Sadly, the NPS has always had a negative and aggressive history with locals instead of nurturing good relations.

  14. I’m amazed first that he thinks he has this much authority. Second, I’m amazed at how many people don’t know their own rights. You do not have to consent to a search of your vehicle without just cause! This man is looking for an excuse to write citations and make arrests! Don’t give him one. If you are pulled over, turn on the video or audio on your cell phone! And most of all, get a copy of your Bill of Rights and learn them!

  15. I also suffered a stop by this ranger on Valentine’s Day 2013, My wife and I had been visiting some friends and were heading our home a couple of hours away. Not knowing the area very well, we set our GPS to home and as luck would have it we were routed onto the southbound Parkway for a short distance to Fancy Gap. Just before you arrive at the intersection of hwy 52, there is a considerable downhill section and it’s easy to coast over the limit unless you keep your brakes on and I drifted over the limit by 7 mph. The ranger was sitting on the left side backed into a drive just before hwy 52 and he stopped me after I had turned on hwy 52 north.

    He was immediately rude the minute I rolled down the window, The first thing out of his mouth was “If you hadn’t been on that cell phone maybe you wouldn’t have been caught for speeding on the parkway.” Well, before leaving our friends house I had put my cell phone in my shave kit and it was in the trunk so the next 10 minutes was pretty tense and I thought he was going to blow a gasket as I told him I wasn’t on the phone and I could prove it to him. We really had quite a serious argument and I thought it was going to go from bad to worse. I stood my ground regarding his false allegations (cell phone) and criticized his manner and let him know that his attitude sucked and that one must give respect to get it in return. He went back to the patrol car, wrote out a warning and sent us on our way. He does not deserve to have any power or control over any other human being as he is incapable of handling the responsibility it requires.

  16. Wow, we have some of the same issues with NPS Rangers on Cape Lookout National Seashore in NC. They think they are above the law and everyone that enters into the park is a “thug”. It is SAD because these parks are OURS. Our tax dollars help fund them and without visitation, would they still need a Ranger? So very sad and unbecoming of the NPS system.
    I suggest you contact your congressmen and senators. Front the talk in DC, this Governmental Agency, Department of Interior, National Park Service, is BROKEN…..

  17. Here is one of my many Park Police stories. This guy is just the latest in a slew of mean spirited cops on the Parkway. I was screaming down Rocky Knob on my bicycle. There was a strong cross wind that day. The Park Police that was behind me started to pass me, but then when he got beside me he slowed down and I almost crashed. Anybody who rides a bicycle or a motorcycle knows what happens when a strong crosswind suddenly turns into NO wind. He was waving his arm I think for me to get out of the middle of the lane. I started screaming and waving my fist after I got control. At the bottom of the hill he pulled over and I pulled over behind him. I was livid. He got out of the car and I threw my bike to the ground and started walking up to him. As I did, he unsnapped his pistol. Then I really went off. I guess I am lucky he didn’t shoot me. I am told that I can be pretty scary when I am that angry. After I calmed down a bit, he told me that I was impeding traffic. I said in my most sarcastic voice, “If the speed limit is 45 and I am going 50, shouldn’t you be giving me a speeding ticket?” He didn’t know what to say. I turned around a got back on my bicycle and he never said another word. I don’t know what it is with these guys. Even when they come into town they are total jerks. I am sure this is not every single one, but if there is a nice one out there I have never met them. On the other hand all of the people I have met that do the maintenance on the Parkway are as nice as they can be.

  18. I had the honor of working on the Parkway and greeting visitors from far and wide. Almost daily I had to apologize for Ranger Smith’s behavior. It became an ongoing joke even though it is far from funny.
    After reading all these comments I realize that it is even a bigger problem than I realized and is a terrible situation for the BRP to be in with the season soon approaching. I look forward to watching this story unfold and hope that the ranger loses his right to serve the people. It is hard to believe that it has not already been addressed.

  19. I grew up a couple miles from Mabry Mill. Only one time I got pulled over by a Park Ranger. I was driving my uncle’s Camaro. I went out to the store and was on my way back home. It was foggy and there was a huge RV pulling a car. I got a little too close to them, they didnt have any lights hooked up to the car they were pulling so I couldnt see if they were slowing down. It was a female ranger that got me. This was over 20 years ago, I am not even sure if she still works as a ranger. She had me pulled almost within sight of 758. She got my license and I found the registration to my uncles car and gave them to her. I didnt know what all my Uncle Giles had in the car, was not my business. She came back and gave me my things and looked behind me in the floor behind the driver seat. There it was..6 pack of Budweiser and a mason jar of furniture glue he got from the plant he worked in Bassett. She took his 6 pack and put them in his car and picked up the mason jar and said..”What the hell is this? Some kind of mountain medicine?” I told her that it is my uncle Giles’ items and I had no idea that they were back there. About that time, here came my dad and uncle Giles. They thought I had wrecked or broke down. I remember my dad yelling at her. My uncle Giles did too. Well, she kept Giles’ beer but gave him back his jar of glue..lol.. I didnt get a citation, but I did avoid the Parkway after that.

  20. I encourage everyone posting here to contact Ranger Bobby Miller at Rocky Knob and/or send an email to the NPS. I posted the contact above.

    I spoke with Ranger Miller and he is very helpful, understanding and wants to help. I don’t know how far back or how long Ranger Smith’s (if he is the one) unprofessional and intimidating behavior has been going on, but it needs to stop and the NPS wants to help, but can’t unless we let them know what’s going on. Ranger Miller asked me to be sure and let him know as soon after any such event occurs, so he can address it asap.

    Thanks,

  21. The Ranger in question appears to be one of the few. In the Fancy Gap area we have been blessed with Ranger’s who serve and undersatnd respect. This “Lone” Ranger was transfered from the St. Louis Arch and to this date one is not sure why. The Ranger in question has made it known that he hates the area and is attempting to get back in the military. Simple answer to the problem, accept his multilple transfers and place him in a area that his services would match?
    Ranger Greg, Ranger Jeff and Ranger Bobby Miller have displayed respect for the citizens and landowners. Maybe the new Super can get this transfer on his radar for a quick resolve.

  22. I knew exactly who this article was about even before any reference was made to his name. I have lived close to the Blue Ridge Parkway for most of my life, and I have had several interactions with rangers over the years. Most of the rangers have been friendly and helpful, and the worst interaction in the past was a ranger who was calm and professional, even if not especially nice. So, when this ranger approached my vehicle this winter (with my older parents in the car, no less), I was stunned to find myself on the business end of a verbal lashing before I even said a word (and I never argued at all with him). Had I not been in shock over his aggressive and abrasive behavior, I might have been tempted to laugh when a tourist drove up on the same stretch, stopped, and asked if the Parkway was open, and he yelled at them, too. He also gave me the “I’m too busy to be bothered” routine, which was quite ironic since I told him early on in the interaction that I was going to the crossing that was 100 yards in front of us. This ranger has certainly soured my impression of the Parkway, and I will not be joining the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway as long as he is one of the rangers.

Comments are closed.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter