Q&A with Thomas Bryan, MontCo Parks, Trails and Historic Sites Park Ranger Supervisor

Photo by Rob Sankey

Keeping trails and parks clean and accessible is not a simple task, especially this year, as trails have seen major surges in use. Luckily, there are dedicated park rangers, managers and supervisors #OnTheCircuit and around the nation who work day in and day out to protect our natural resources and those who visit them.

This week, we caught up with Thomas Bryan, Region 1 Park Ranger Supervisor for Montgomery County Parks, Trails and Historic Sites, to get an inside look at what it’s like to be a park ranger #OnTheCircuit. Read on to learn about his experience as a ranger, his favorite trails #OnTheCircuit, pro-tips for trail users and more!

Photo courtesy of Thomas Bryan

Q: How long have you been a Montgomery County park ranger?

A: I have been with the county for nine years but have 14 total years of service as a ranger, five of which I spent in the National Park Service. My National Park career began in 2006 as a seasonal park ranger at Hopewell Furnace NHS in Birdsboro, Pa. I was promoted to full time/temporary in 2009. When I first started working for Montgomery County in 2011, I was in the Green Lane Park area. After a few months of part-time work, I was promoted to full time and began working at Central Perkiomen Valley Park and the Perkiomen Trail. I moved to Lower Perkiomen Valley Park in April of 2018 and took over as supervisor in October 2020.

Q: What does the job of a park ranger entail?

A: Our main job is to protect the resources and orient visitors to the park, but that is only a fraction of what we do here in the region. We provide a safe environment through a combination of enforcement, patrols and education to the general public. Ranger-led programs, historic site days and hikes are offered throughout the year. We also make sure the trails are clean and accessible to all. At Upper Schuylkill Valley Park, we have more specialized duties assisting with animals.

Photo by Rob Sankey

Q: Which trails, parks and historic/educational sites do you steward?

A: Our patrol area encompasses the lower part of Montgomery County. This includes the Schuylkill River, Perkiomen, Schuylkill East and Audubon Loop trails. Our parks are Lower Perkiomen Valley Park, Upper Schuylkill Valley Park and Lock 60 on the Schuylkill Canal. Our historic/educational sites are The John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove and Pottsgrove Manor.

Q: What is your favorite part about being a park ranger?

A: The obvious answer is working outdoors, but it’s more than that. The interactions I get with the park visitors are my favorite part. I get to explain the beauty of what is around us and show them through a trained eye, and help them experience what they may not have noticed while visiting our parks before.  For example, around and underneath the Perkiomen Trail there are hidden springhouses and visible remnants of the old Perkiomen rail line and stations that our trail now uses.

Q: Have you noticed a difference in trail use since the onset of COVID-19?

A: We had record numbers of trail users in the beginning of the pandemic. Our parks and trails provided somewhere for people to go that was easy to socially distance. We closed some areas for a bit and limited others to ensure that we could keep the public safe while they benefitted from being outdoors.   It’s typical for the trails to be packed on the first warm day of spring, but we were getting thousands more than we normally do, with trail use remaining consistent through the spring and summer. They say that nature refreshes the soul. I hope that in a small way, the services we provide during the pandemic have done and will continue to do exactly that.

To further keep park visitors safe, we posted signs enforcing mask wearing, limiting restroom use to two people at a time, banning gatherings larger than 250 and encouraging a six-foot minimum social distance rule.

Q: Have you visited other trails #OnTheCircuit other than those you patrol during work hours? Which trail is your favorite?

A: The Wissahickon Valley Trail/Forbidden Drive and Cross County Trail. The Wissahickon Trail will always hold a special place in my heart. I grew up in Roxborough, a few minute walk or bike from the Wissahickon. My favorite parts are all the neat little areas that you’ll find while wandering through the woods, such as Devil’s Pool, the Tedyuscung statue, Kelpius cave, the carved stone drinking fountains, WPA park guard stations, and of course the Valley Green Inn.  It reminds me of a smaller version of the ravines I’ve hiked out in western Virginia.

Photo by @morgys_travels on Instagram

Q: What is one tip you would give to a first-time trail user?

A: Always research the park or trail that you’re going to visit before you arrive. Know where you’re going and what things you’d like to see. Will it be busy during your visit? Print out or save a screenshot of a trail map to make sure you know where you are in case you get lost. Remember that not all parks have good cell phone service.

Q: How can trail users help do their part to make sure that our parks and trails are clean, open and accessible to all?

A: Rangers do their best to keep up with things, but we will always appreciate anyone who helps out. If you see trash, pick it up. Respect the trail guidelines. Be courteous to other trail users by keeping appropriate speeds while riding bikes. Remember to keep your pets leashed and clean up after them. While hiking, leave room for others who need to pass you. And it never hurts to ask our Rangers if there are any tasks that need to be done.

With miles and miles of trails to explore #OnTheCircuit in Montgomery County and beyond, there is always something new to discover. For more information regarding MontCo parks, trails and historic sites visit www.montcopa.org and www.circuittrails.org. More guidance on how to keep yourself and others safe #OnTheCircuit can be found here.

If you enjoy visiting trails in Montgomery County, help us express our gratitude to all of those who play a part in supporting, funding, maintaining and advancing the progress of these wonderful places! Send an email to the Montgomery County representatives to thank them for their continued support of the Circuit Trails.

Don’t live in Montgomery County? No worries! You can send an email to the representatives throughout the Circuit Trails nine county region. Find your county here.

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