The Star of Ken Burns’ “National Parks” Documentary: Ranger Shelton Johnson

Shelton Johnson is a United States Park Service Ranger.

In fact, he’s one of the few black park rangers in the country. Johnson has been with the Park Service for 22 years.

The man is so enthusiastic and awed about where he is and what he loves. And he wishes that more than 1% of blacks visited the parks. As the San Jose Mercury News related:

Johnson, 51, isn’t your typical park ranger. Born and raised in Detroit, he visited Yellowstone as a youth and says it was a life-changing experience. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English literature and won a Major Hopwood Award in poetry. He recently published “Gloryland,” a novel about the Buffalo Soldiers — black Army troops from the Presidio assigned to patrol the Yosemite backcountry in the early 1900s.

Johnson, a 22-year veteran of the National Park Service, speaks with eloquence about his “kinship with the land.”

“I can’t have a sedate conversation about the national parks,” he says. “I get too excited. My molecules get all charged up.”

I’m watching him on Ken Burns’ newest mega-documentary on PBS, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, and I love his infectious enthusiasm. I know something of how he feels, having seen Muir Woods myself. I call the trees “the old ones.” Somehow, I just didn’t want to leave it. You can’t find that kind of peace in the city. A peace that takes you out of yourself and connects you to the wide world.

And I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite, Devil’s Tower, and some of the rest. Yes, he may seem goofy and a little geeky, like an older, but more dimensional Urkel, but what a change from rappers, ministers, and businessmen, and murders, sex scandals and health care debates. A welcome change.

~ by blksista on September 28, 2009.

3 Responses to “The Star of Ken Burns’ “National Parks” Documentary: Ranger Shelton Johnson”

  1. I saw this and noted Ranger Johnson too!!! I’ve decided to take a trip out to Yosemite.


  2. I was a naturalist for the US Forest Service, and had the good fortune to see Mr. Johnson do a living history presentation as a Buffalo Soldier protecting Yosemite. He is a man of great talent, able to portray through his eloquence and acting skill, how it felt to be one of the soldiers who protected Yosemite. We are a lucky nation to have someone with his skill and obvious passion as a Park Ranger sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with the public. I hope to have the opportunity to see him again in person. He is a great choice to represent the Park Service for this program.


  3. How do you keep a people down? You ‘never’ let them ‘know’ their history.

    The 7th Cavalry got their butts in a sling again after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn’t for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry. Read, and visit site/great history,


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