MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) - Millions of people call Deception Pass State Park home, albeit for a day, maybe two, or perhaps a week.
For assistant park manager Rick Blank, the rocky coastline, swirling salty waters, old-growth forest and iconic bridge have constituted his home for 27 years.
Blank has been an employee of Washington State Parks for 45 years and is the longest-tenured ranger in the field - he arrived at Deception Pass in 1990.
“I came here because I had a chance to do interpretation,” Blank said. “It was a highly visited park back then, just like it is now, and I love dealing with people. I definitely have the gift of gab.
“I wanted to develop a strong relationship between the park and all those visitors. I really love the interpretation and interaction I get to do here.”
To do anything for 45 years, one must be enamored with it, and enamored is the perfect description of Blank’s career with state parks. He has literally done it all, and continues to do even the most menial of tasks. For him, it’s all part of a job he loves.
Blank calls Deception Pass State Park home, living at the historical Ranger’s Cabin at Bowman Bay where his four daughters - all adults now - grew up.
“The old double-stump that sits just outside, I remember the girls putting on plays and skits on it,” Blank said. “The park system was amazing for my family.”
Most rangers stay at a particular park for much less time, before moving on their own accord or being reassigned. Blank said he hasn’t had the heart to leave his park.
“It’s the people here that have allowed me to stay,” he said. “The other rangers, the seasonal workers, my bosses. Everyone has been so supportive and I have been very lucky. This is where I was meant to be.”
Those frequenting the parks have been blessed by Blank’s four-and-a-half decades of service.
Folks like Brianna Lyon - now the mother of six - who remembers fondly visiting the Rosario Beach Tide Pools as part of Clear Lake Elementary School’s Visions Program.
Lyon and her home-schooled clan were happily scurrying up, over and around the exposed rocks of West Beach on a rare dry day.
“We came out to the tide pools,” Lyon recalled. “I don’t recall the ranger specifically, but I remember our teacher Mrs. (Kathryn) Peck, the rocky shoreline and the tide pools.”
Blank has led hundreds of interpretive outings to his beloved tide pools. His other favorite spot: The 800-year-old Douglas fir tree at West Beach.
“I took marine biology in college, so I understand the resource,” he said. “I love that salty-shore environment.”
On this day, he was noting the species of crab that Lyon’s children had discovered. He also pointed out a seal bobbing in the salty waters just offshore, and asked if the family had seen any oyster catchers.
“When you’ve been here as long as I have, you are bound to run into people you’ve encountered before,” Blank said. “Right here is two generations. That’s special.
“The more information you can pass along to visitors, the more they know, the more they understand, the more they will respect and protect that environment. You treat people right and they want to come back.”
It’s about starting traditions and connecting generations for Blank.
“It’s so important to have a sense of place,” he said. “To start traditions like camping, fishing and hiking that can be passed down from generation to generation. We want that appreciation of the outdoors to continue. I want people to come here and remember how special this place is.”
Blank is in charge of the park’s camp host program, where volunteers have the opportunity to stay for free while overseeing and providing various tasks over a length of time.
When he isn’t busy inside the park’s boundaries, he enjoys ballroom dancing, classic movies and is a military history buff. He’s active in his church, does prison ministry and is an incessant volunteer.
Blank got his start with Washington State Parks in June 1970, working as a seasonal employee at Sequim Bay State Park, located about three-quarters of a mile from his family’s homestead.
“We have been four generations living in Sequim,” he said.
Since his time at Sequim Bay, Blank has worked at 18 different state parks on the west side of the state. His stops have included Bogacheil State Park to the west on the Olympic Peninsula and as far north as Larrabee State Park. To the south, he had a stint at Reed Island State Park, which is surrounded by the waters of the Columbia River on the Oregon border.
He didn’t miss a beat when asked about his favorite park (besides his current assignment).
“In 1975-1976, I was at Ike Kinswa State Park outside of Mossyrock,” Blank said. “That was a great park. One of my first jobs was to build 60 campsites. It was a lot of fun to do that.”
Blank’s love for state parks started with his father, who was a master builder with the Navy Seebees and who helped build Camp Ramblewood, a retreat center located a stone’s throw from Sequim State Park.
Growing up so close to an outdoor mecca, Blank was naturally drawn to the great outdoors, though at that point he did not envision a career in the park service. His dream was to be a teacher.
After high school, he attended Peninsula Junior College for two years, then transferred to Central Washington University in search of a teaching degree.
“I wanted to teach biology, science or math. But not physics. I hated physics,” he said.
After one year at Central, he discovered he didn’t want to teach. “I didn’t like anything about lesson plans.”
So Plan B it was - except there was no Plan B.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “Then I got the opportunity to become a ranger at where else, Sequim Bay, in February of 1974. In total, I spent three years as a seasonal employee and one as a ranger at Sequim Bay. That’s where it all started.”
Unfortunately for Blank, the sun may set on his career sooner than he would like. As of January 2019, all state park rangers will be required to be armed.
Blank has never carried a sidearm.
“I chose not to carry,” he said. “I am one of 19 rangers out of 160 in the agency who don’t. So at this time it looks like I’ll end with 47 years. I don’t regret it, I cherish every opportunity I’ve had. I’d love to get to 50, but we’ll see.
“It has been a great experience and this job has been my life. It’s one big family. I cherish every moment I’ve been here. All the other parts outside of it have just matched up. It’s wonderful.”
Information from: Skagit Valley Herald, https://www.skagitvalleyherald.com
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