Edmonds woman recounts how she became first female backpacking ranger in National Park Service

Hein (front row, second from left) stands with the new group of rangers hired to work at Yosemite National Park. (Photos courtesy Lora Hein)

When you search the digital archives of the National Park Service, you can find many stories outlining the important role women have played in the conservation of our nation’s natural resources. Yet, one important name is missing: Edmonds resident Lora Hein, the first woman backpacking ranger in National Park Service (NPS) history. 

Hein was born into a family of nature and adventure lovers, a family that instilled in her a passion for the natural world from a young age. Throughout her childhood, the Hein family would spend almost every weekend outdoors, from family hiking to camping trips. Hein described her family’s hiking excursions as their version of “church.” This love of nature led her to one of America’s most famous and memorable parks, Yosemite in California. 

Lora Hein (back left) poses for a picture with her mother and siblings while hiking.

While living and working in the Oakland area, Hein felt drawn to trade the exhaust-choked air of the San Francisco Bay Area for the Yosemite wilderness. 

“I looked up the street, and realized I could see the air. It was brown,” she said “And I just thought, I’m miserable. I don’t know what I want to do. If I’m going to be a maid or waitress or something I’d rather do it someplace that I like. And there’s restaurants and hotels in Yosemite, maybe I can get a job there.” 

After arriving in the Yosemite Valley, Hein often visited the Yosemite National Park personnel office to  inquire about park ranger-type positions. The response was usually, “We don’t have the budget” or “We don’t hire girls.” Yet, while working as a camp helper, Hein met a Yosemite Park ranger, Bob Fry. As he led tour groups through her camping area, Hein would ask Fry questions about the valley and the park. This connection would prove crucial in Hein’s journey to becoming a ranger, after Fry told her that while no woman was currently doing his job, that could change one day. 

While she was away on a backpacking trip in July 1970, the Stoneman Meadow Riot occurred in one of Yosemite’s fragile meadows. A large number of young people gathered in the park, triggering a riot July 4 after rangers tried to evict visitors from camping illegally. According to Hein, the ensuing clash between mounted rangers and the public left a dark stain on the reputation of the National Park Service, specifically in the eyes of the younger generation. In response to this, the park service decided to adopt programs to better engage with American youth. One such program was the High Trampers, which provided three-day backpacking trips for teenagers in the Yosemite Valley. On one of these excursions, a teenage girl experienced her first period, with only a male ranger on hand. In response, NPS headquarters in Washington, D.C. ordered that the High Tramper trips must be led by both a male and female. 

Hein volunteered to take on this role, leading the High Trampers on backpacking trips throughout Yosemite with another volunteer named Joe Evans. At the conclusion of the season, Hein and Evans reported that Yosemite’s backcountry was largely unpatrolled by rangers and there were many novice backpackers who were unprepared and inexperienced. Hein then began to push for the park service to increase its ranger presence in the Yosemite backcountry. 

The following year, a major opportunity would again present itself to Hein. The Yosemite park service announced it was looking to hire new backpacking rangers and would consider women for the job.

Lora Hein in her National Park Service Ranger uniform.

Hein applied and was officially hired as the first female backpacking ranger in 1973. She was the only woman in the new group of seven rangers. The majority of the new hires would serve on horseback or from cabins in the backcountry; Hein was one of two new rangers exclusively on foot. To her knowledge, she was also the first woman to be fitted with an NPS uniform designed for men. 

The first female ranger in the National Park Service came long before Hein’s time – also in Yosemite. In 1918 Clare Marie Hodges was hired, largely due to the number of young men serving in World War I. Opportunities for women in the national parks increased when Title VII was passed into law in 1964. 

During her first summer as a backpacking ranger, Hein spent her time in the area of Tuolumne Road, cleaning out trash, engaging with visitors and recording various backcountry statistics. 

At the end of the summer, the rangers got together and compared notes. “The totals of numbers of people, numbers of campfire rings, pounds of garbage, that the seven men had encountered, dealt with, etc. equaled the amount I had done, so I had basically done the work of seven men,” Hein said. 

 Hein also experienced some surprised reactions from the public. “People would stop and look at me and say, ‘What are you? What do we call you? Are you a lady ranger?  Are you a ranger-ette?’” she said.

Children, however, had no problem with her identity. During a trip into the backcountry, she came face to face with a family of black bears. Fulfilling her ranger duties, she diverted the bears away from a crowded camping area. 

“This little kid said, ‘Daddy, Daddy the ranger scared away the bears,’” Hein said. “The kid called me a ranger.”

Lora Hein can still be found exploring the trails.

During her last season in Yosemite, a new backcountry manager was hired — one who did not believe women should hold a place in the workforce. As a result, Hein finished her ranger career at North Cascades National Park beforing transitioning to other ventures.  

Hein said that her park service work went far beyond her unique experiences in the backcountry. 

“It gave me an opening to self confidence, that was huge,” she said, “Putting on the uniform, and talking to people – not as Lora but as a ranger – got me out of that fear.”

In 2012, NPS Ranger Margaret Anderson was killed by a lone gunman in Mount Rainier National Park. While Anderson’s death was tragic, Hein said the description of the incident indicated the progress the park service had made regarding the diversification of its ranger staff. 

“One of the things that struck me was that she was not once referred to as a lady ranger, she was just Ranger Margaret Anderson,” Hein said. “it just hit me, how far we had come from ‘what do we call you?’ It was just a real shift.” 

During a visit to Yosemite, Lora Hein (right) stands with one of the park’s current backpacking rangers.

Hein said she found personal empowerment working outdoors – an empowerment she hopes all women can discover.

“Women’s connection with nature needs to be nurtured and the best way that I know of for women to nurture that nature is to get out in nature by themselves,” she said. ”And if not by themselves, at least with other women.” 

Hein resides in Edmonds with her partner Nora, and is currently working on a memoir she intends to have published in the next few years recounting her work and travels. You can learn more about her story through her website.

— By Logan Bury

  1. This is perhaps a story worthy of a Waterfront Center presentation? Many of us hikers would love to hear more about exploring Yosemite Park in the 1970’s!

    Lora is also a known for her research on lichen, is an author, conservationist and wrote a great article in MEN on getting rid of your lawn. Thanks for sharing your story Lora.

  2. Congrats, Lora, on a long and hard-fought career. Thanks for being a trail-blazer!
    From your neighbor, Kathy

    1. We are so happy to see your story shared here Lora, and look forward to your memoir. You are a real rock star in our book!

  3. What a wonderful story, Lora, and a good reminder of the progress made by trailblazers like you. Can’t wait for your memoir!

  4. Thanks, Lora, for all you have done for women and for protecting our wonderful natural environment. Your example had given support and encouragement to many- men and women. Delighted to read this story with some new information about your significant contribution to saving our forests, parks, and many other natural areas. Keep it up!

  5. Excellent article, Logan! You can be proud of bringing Lora’s awesome story to more readers.

    1. The original Joe Evans here. I had a great summer working with Lora on High Trampers. Also I was the other “hiking” BC Ranger in 74 & 75. And yes, I think we did get more work done than the mounted guys!. The article is correct about the new BC mgr being hostile to women and “hiking” Rangers. An old school leftover. We both moved on. Great years though! I am pleased Lora is doing well.

      1. WOW! as I live and breathe, the “original Joe Evans” right here on My Edmonds News comments. I have been trying to figure out how to contact you to verify details as I revise the memoir manuscript. Found the book you wrote, but no way to contact you except an address found in white pages.com. I will send a snail mail so we can connect, and hope you are still at that address.

      2. Joe (and Caroline)! Heh, believe it or not I’ve got your guy’s Christmas card here AS A REMINDER to write you. Like I said, heh. But, by gosh, I’m going to do it!! Today. Yes, today by golly!

        Hokay. Hope you’re well. Saw your family photos, none of us are aging a bit… .


        1. This is even crazier that a couple of former backcountry rangers from back in the day and far far away would be connecting via comments posted on an online local new outlet. Nuts! like the ones squirrels bury and forget where they left them … then sprout into trees that drop nuts years later and the squirrel says, “Hey, that’s not where I left one. How did this nut show up here?” (not referring to any person with the use of that word of course!)

  6. Thank you, Logan, for taking our rambling interview, me blathering all over the map with disjointed anecdotes and tangential bird walks!! And turning out this cogent piece of writing. It is a pleasure to have the salient details of a pivotal time of my life condensed and embedded in the cultural milieu as magnificently as you pieced it together here.
    Thank you, also, to neighbors, near and far, for your encouraging comments.
    Just the inspiration I need to get the current version of the memoir manuscript ready to deliver to my developmental editor by the end of this week.

  7. Kudos to Logan Bury for crafting this great article about Lora and her amazing experiences as a Ranger at Yosemite. It is fabulous that more people will have the opportunity to learn about her as the first female backpacking foot patrol ranger in the National Park Service!

  8. Lora & Joe!

    How exciting! There I am in a hot Sonora parking lot and Google News chooses an article about you. Kinda spooky, really. Anyway, terrific article and does, um, take me back. I’d forgotten High Trampers though I’d also led a few trips (’71 &;72?? with you? Then LYV in ’73). Remember one on Mt. Lyell where girl tweaked ankle and I carried her down to where we were camped. There were manly men (and women!) in those days… .

    Just checked Sequoia Kings ranger station assignments and Cindy Leisz started in ’74 and Sandy Graban in ’75. Both stayed for decades — Sandy for 30 years or so, then went to GIS. Of course, we didn’t have the same problems with supervisors. Gotta say, though, in RM’s defense, he’s a great and vocal advocate for the Sierra once he left NPS.

    Oh, and wow & Lordy Lordy. Just saw the last ranger photo. Sure glad I didn’t have to carry *()@(*&!! gun in thigh holster like that. Jeez. I knew Yosemite rangers were different but that’s bozo.

    OK. Great to see you’re having fun and getting famous. My email hasn’t changed since we last wrote in 2013.

    Just found your email. Are you still at earthlink?


    1. George Durkee! my stars, I am eternally bewildered by the machinations of Google and other cyber entities. I was just working through a segment of the memoir about when we got our first Motorola radios in 1974 and I was trying to find somewhere to transmit out of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.
      Thanks for the info about Cindy and Sandy. I have yet to track down any female backpacking rangers prior to 1974, confirming my “first” status in ’73. Had no idea about them in 1974 when I thought I was still the only one. we may have had some influence back in the day before people became “influencers” through the magic of social media.
      Funny thing, I just looked up our last e-mail exchange this morning, doo dooo doo doo, what was in the airwaves? yes same earthlink address you last sent a message to. One of mine from you has an e-mail from Joe with a “cakeinaussieland” moniker
      I’ll send you a message! Crazy it takes an article in My Edmonds News to reconnect us!

  9. Lora, When did you go to the North Cascades? I left Yosemite trail patrol position with Valley District there in June 1977 for a backcountry ranger job in the Cascades. Same reason – the YOSE backcountry manager told me females could not be backcountry rangers.

    1. Judi, You and I were both in NOCA in 1977. That was my first year there. My last summer in Yosemite was 1975 and I took a break to figure out what to do in the face of that misogynistic manager. Worked a research grant with the National Science Foundation, then got offered the BC position in North Cascades and never went back to CA. We have had to prove and prove and prove ourselves capable over and over. Women are still under-presented in the National Park Service ranger ranks.

  10. Wonderful story! We might have cross paths in TM. I spent 14 glorious summers from 72-86. Durkee – did you visit Alex and I at our fear and loathing abode?

    1. Jim, What were you doing in Tuolumne ’72 to 75? This were the years I was there. I am loving how this article is finding people who may have crossed paths far away a long time ago and are getting re-connected.

  11. My first three summers I was at the TM lodge kitchen. In 1975, I was lucky to land a seasonal naturalist position with Smitty’s recommendation (he was my Boy Scoutmaster.. In 79, I was selected at the Mather District Naturalist and tagged along on some SAR missions with Mead Hargis.and ultimately was selected to be the District Naturalist. The ranger community was truly special. You must have overlapped with Laurel Munson – another special female ranger!

    1. Jim Sano,
      You definitely were there the same time I was, except in different circles. As a ranger I had next to nothing to do with the ™ lodge kitchen and the housing for NPS staff and Curry Company employees were in different locations. I did work with Smitty and crossed paths with him in the backcountry in 1975, although our assigned patrol areas were at opposite sides of the park. I recall possibly running into Laurel Munson, since I knew people who lived in El Portal and Foresta, but I did not know her when I was working as a ranger and she came onto the backcountry scene well after I had moved on to North Cascades. It is lovely reconnecting through this article with many people I either knew or knew people I knew. The park service is a special realm.

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