Chief ranger looks back on dream career

Ranger Jeff Ohlfs worked most of his career in Joshua Tree National Park.

JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK — Chief Ranger Jeff Ohlfs will retire Aug. 31 after 32 years with the National Park Service, one-third of its existence.

Ohlfs served at Joshua Tree National Park for 26 years.

Thanks to Park Service retiree Donald McHenry and his wife, Bona May, Ohlfs was introduced to the park service at a very early age.

At the age of 5, he heard stories of adventure, travel and nature and dreamed of becoming a park ranger.

“Not many people can say they have lived their dream,” Ohlfs said.

Ohlfs began his park service career in 1981 as an intern at Pinnacles National Monument. He worked as a law enforcement seasonal at Crater Lake National Park, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and Redwoods National Park.

He was a law enforcement ranger first at C&O Canal National Historic Park, then Hot Springs National Park.

Most of Ohlfs’ career however, has been spent at Joshua Tree National Park. He never planned to work at a desert park but grew to love the beauty of Joshua Tree.

“It is a very different environment,” Ohlfs said. “It is unique; it is like no other place.”

He especially loves the expanse of the desert and finds the temperature variance interesting.

Ohlfs graduated from Humboldt State University, West Valley Community College, Santa Rosa Seasonal Academy and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

Milestones of his career include a Hurricane Ike assignment, a protection detail for the emperor of Japan’s visit to Saipan, serving five years on a National Type 1 Incident Management Team, representing the park service at two National Scout Jamborees and completing a Department of the Interior assignment to Oman.

Most recently, he represented the park service at the 2016 Tournament of Roses Parade and festivities. He even did a stint as a reality TV star on “Wildlife Wars.”

Always one to honor fallen officers, Ohlfs was a primary researcher for names on the Washington Office Memorial Wall.

As an Eagle Scout, he received the William T. Hornaday Award for Conservation.

Ohlfs has been and continues to be very active in the international ranger community. He has attended every World Ranger Congress, initiated the first World Ranger Day and most recently served seven years as the International Ranger Federation’s North American representative.

In his retirement, Ohlfs plans to continue traveling the globe, including working on his park service life list, and being a closet historian.

“Nothing is set in stone for my retirement yet; my exit plan is to exit first,” Ohlfs said.

“I hope to volunteer in the community more,” he added. He plans on continuing his work within the Historical Society in Twentynine Palms.

He will also continue his work with the international ranger community honoring the work of the “Thin Green Line.”

“Jeff has had a remarkable career working for the national parks. When I first came to Joshua Tree as a volunteer in 1994, he was my very first supervisor,” Superintendent David Smith said.

“Jeff is known throughout the NPS and all local law enforcement agencies as an outstanding and reputable chief ranger. Jeff’s unsurpassed integrity has earned him the local Officer of the Year Award three times during his time at Joshua Tree,” Smith said.

“Joshua Tree has truly benefited from his experience in law enforcement, fire, search and rescue, wilderness issues, safety, fee management and historical research for the past 26 years.

“On behalf of his many NPS colleagues, we wish Jeff well in his retirement.”

Ohlfs and his wife, Deb, will continue to live in Twentynine Palms.

(1) comment

Branson Hunter

Jeff, thanks for your dedication and your service. May you have a wonderful retirement. .

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