Yosemite National Park rangers will be kicking off a big year on a big stage when they ride through Pasadena New Year’s Day for the 127th Rose Parade.
The National Park Service turns 100 years old in 2016, so being featured in one of the world’s largest parades – themed “Find Your Adventure” this year – will be an extra special treat.
Are the parks ready for their close ups? Because this a close-up year. There will be a lot of attention, which is great.
Yosemite Conservancy President Frank Dean
They are expected to be among the first of 44 floats. Broadcasts, including on ABC (Channel 30.1), NBC (Channel 24.1) and Univision (Channel 21.1), begin at 8 a.m.
Representatives from Yosemite will make up more than half of a 55-person group in the parade, which includes people from Glacier, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone national parks, Point Reyes National Seashore, Cabrillo National Monument, and Golden Gate and Santa Monica Mountains national recreation areas.
They’ll be riding and walking alongside about 40 horses and mules – nearly all the from Yosemite – and two stagecoaches.
One of its drivers, Burrel Maier, is the only park ranger/stagecoach driver left in the National Park Service. He’s been educating visitors about the wonders of Yosemite and its rich history during stage rides around the Pioneer History Center in Wawona for more than 40 years. Into the early 1900s, around 400 horses and 16 wagons came through Wawona every day.
I have a saying that I ride for the brand – it’s called U.S. – and I’m just lucky to be in the parade with everyone else.
Yosemite park ranger/stagecoach driver Burrel Maier
“I love working for the government,” Maier says. “I have a saying that I ride for the brand – it’s called U.S. – and I’m just lucky to be in the parade with everyone else.”
Maier will be driving a celebrated stage during the parade, hauling park superintendents from Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Santa Monica Mountains, and Frank Dean, president of nonprofit Yosemite Conservancy, funding the Yosemite group’s trip to Southern California for the parade.
Dean hopes the spotlight on the National Park Service during its centennial year draws more people to the nation’s natural treasures.
“I hope it creates more of a deeper appreciation or understanding of the parks and how important they are,” Dean says. “Everyone likes the scenic beauty and all of that, but hopefully people get a sense that these are amazing places that we have that are part of American history and tradition.”
Representing some of that history in the parade will be Yosemite park rangers Shelton Johnson, representing a “buffalo soldier,” and Jeff Ellison, portraying a cavalry officer, some of Yosemite’s earliest protectors. Yosemite Superintendent Don Neubacher and Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, will be nearby, also riding horseback.
Justin Fey, Yosemite’s mounted patrol program manager who was selected as marshal for the Park Service’s equestrian team entry in the parade, is excited to showcase the continuing role livestock play in parks.
Yosemite National Park has about 90 horses and mules, most used to pack supplies to backcountry trail crews. Delaware North (the park’s longtime concessionaire that was not selected this summer for another contract) has around double that number in Yosemite, Fey says.
The park’s horses will also be featured in the Tournament of Rose’s Equestfest on Dec. 29.
“Horses are an incredible natural ambassador for the Park Service,” Fey says. “There are very few things that draw people’s attention more than a ranger on a horse, it’s a very iconic image. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve engaged with (in Yosemite on horseback.)”
We want people to just find the places they connect with and take pride in them.
Sabrina Diaz, Yosemite’s deputy chief of interpretation and education
Sabrina Diaz, Yosemite’s deputy chief of interpretation and education, hopes that image continues to inspire people during the Rose Parade.
“We want people to just find the places they connect with and take pride in them, and visit them, and be stewards to those special places,” Diaz says. “Locally, everyone knows Yosemite, but there are over 400 places that are protected by the National Park Service.”
Maier says it’s exciting, overwhelming, and a great honor to be in the parade, but that there’s no greater joy than working in Yosemite National Park.
“I really like Wawona – that’s the best,” Maier says with a smile. “I’ll be glad when we’re back in Yosemite, hauling visitors and school kids, but I’m glad to be part of it.”