Few Vermonters can boast as spectacular a view from their home and office as John Frigault. But in his case, home and work are the same place. The 49-year-old park ranger lives and works with his wife and fellow ranger, Kim, high atop 968-foot Mt. Philo in Charlotte.
The Frigaults may be relative newcomers to the 268-acre Mt. Philo State Park, but they’re hardly new to the state park system. For the last eight years, the duo has spent six months each year working together as park rangers in the Wilgus, Townsend and Jamaica state parks. Their latest assignment, Mt. Philo, started in April.
The couple moved to Vermont from Connecticut in 1992 and got married the following year — on a mountaintop, of course. For about six years, they owned and operated an off-the-grid alpaca farm in Grafton, before getting into the park-ranger gig.
Because Kim suffers from Raynaud’s disease, a condition that makes her extremities highly sensitive to cold, she and John winter each year in Junquillal. It’s a small intentional community on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica that was created by Gardener’s Supply founder Will Raap.
Seven Days caught up with John Frigault at a scenic overlook facing Kingsland Bay and the Adirondacks — a spot, he says, where many people hold weddings and other family gatherings.
SEVEN DAYS: Tell me about your typical park visitor.
JOHN FRIGAULT: It’s a very special, spiritual-type place. So we have people who come and do tai chi and yoga up here. And, being so close to Burlington and five colleges, we get lots of kids.
SD: What’s the best part of your job?
JF: The people. What we’re trying to do is provide the best possible visitor experience we’re able to — and this park makes it easy. As long as we maintain the infrastructure and make sure the buildings and bathrooms are nice and clean, then people come up here and see the view and get the breezes off the lake, and it’s fantastic. And the sunsets! It’s like God stroking the heavens with a palette of color.
SD: What’s the worst part of your job?
JF: That’s a tricky question. There really hasn’t been a downside. Sometimes within the park system, it’s hard to leave your park. We have a great, great management team, and they’re always telling us, “You need to leave the park and stay refreshed.” But right now it’s just awesome. I have nothing to complain about whatsoever.
SD: Ever had any unusual experiences in the park?
JF: Yes, every day! One day after dinner we’re walking to watch the sunset with our friends. It’s 45 degrees out and really breezy, and we go up to the rocks over there, and there’s this big pile of clothes and sneakers. My friend Angela peeks down, and I’m like, “Are there naked people down there?” And she’s like, “Yup!” I don’t know why in 45-degree weather on a windy day people would take off all their clothes and go sit on a cliff, but it was kind of funny.
SD: Any interesting wildlife encounters?
JF: Not so much here yet. But at Wilgus [State Park], I saw two bald eagles fighting over the river. One of them plummeted down into the river with a big splash. Eagles can’t fly from the water, so it actually swam with its wings to the shore. And when it got to the shore, it ruffled its feathers and walked up and, I guess, found a place to dry off so it could fly again.
SD: Why do people have to pay when they just walk into the park?
JF: Our philosophy is, it’s an entrance fee to the park. So whether you’re walking, driving or riding your bike in, what we’re asking people to do is help support the park system. Because it takes a lot of time and money to keep this going for people. And a lot of work on a lot of different levels. We’re protecting this resource. We’re not in it for the money. We’re doing it because we love it.
SD: Do you get asked that question a lot?
JF: Yeah, we hear it all the time.
SD: Why do people need to keep their dogs leashed?
JF: We love dogs. We have two and take them for a walk every day. But it’s easier when everyone keeps their dogs leashed, so they’re not running through someone’s wedding ceremony [laughs].
SD: What’s the hardest part of your job?
JF: Enforcement. We’re not police officers. We’re park rangers. When people are camping and drinking, they have to turn off their radios at quiet hours at 10 p.m. We have to explain to them that there are children over here sleeping. It’s a family park. But, for the most part, everyone is really, really cool here.
SD: Have you and Kim always worked together in the parks?
JF: Yup. We are an excellent team. Whatever I lack, she makes up for.