GLEN ROSE It may be the weekend at Dinosaur Valley State Park, but school was in session Saturday.

The teachers are park rangers, dedicated to their jobs. And their students are everyday people, trying their hand at park service professions.

'The overall goal was to raise awareness, and I think we've absolutely done that,' said park superintendent Shannon Blalock.

The program is called Citizens Park Ranger Academy, and 14 people aged 24 to 74 are spending Saturday mornings going behind the scenes.

Paul Schmitt is a doctor by day, but this program is giving him and his classmates the chance to deploy fire shelters.

'It really impressed me with the danger that firefighters go through every day,' Schmitt said.

Next up: Digging ditches that can stop flames from spreading... then fighting a make-believe fire before taking on the real thing.

'What people see in state parks is just what they experience when they're here,' Blalock said. 'Most folks don't recognize all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes on in keeping this park operational.'

And once they do, there's a greater appreciation for those protecting the park.

'I've learned a lot more than I had planned for, and it's all been very interesting,' Schmitt said.

The group will have learned search-and-rescue operations, how to use a Bobcat, and more by the end of the program next month.

The park hopes some members will join them as volunteers, or even look for careers with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Graduation day is October 5.


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