Everyday superstar in Sleeping Bear

By Jane Greiner
Sun contributor

There are as many stories from the megastorm that hit Glen Arbor on Aug. 2 as there were people touched by it. This is the story of a local law enforcement ranger who survived a very near miss in the first moments of the storm and then without hesitation went back to work protecting the lives of others.

You may remember that there had been a wildfire burning north of Glen Arbor just before the storm. Ranger Jennifer Langel, who is also qualified as a wildland firefighter and an EMT had been working on fighting that fire for several extra long days. When the fire was finally under control, Langel was back at her regular law enforcement duties, working throughout Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Langel had completed her workday and had switched from her park vehicle to her personal truck in Glen Haven Historic Village, on Lake Michigan. She knew that a storm was expected and planned to be at home well before it arrived. Instead, the storm hit just a few seconds after she pulled out from the parking area.

As she crossed the Sleeping Bear Heritage bike trail in Glen Haven, a tree fell across the road in front of her. She put her truck in reverse hoping to be able to drive around it. Another tree fell behind her. And then a tree fell on her truck. Langel said the rear view mirror flew off, “clocked” her in the forehead and landed in the back. She was “covered in glass.” She tried to key her mike but the radio frequencies were busy with other traffic. She had nowhere to go. Fearing that the large black locust tree beside her could fall and seriously injure her, she laid her seat back as far as it would go and dragged some cloth grocery bags from behind the seat to cover her head and neck for protection.

“I worried that if a tree crushed my truck no one would know I’m in there, injured,” she said. “My truck starts rocking. It reminds me of being in Hurricane Katrina.”

She knew she was not safe and had to get out of the line of the falling trees. And she worried about the people in the car that had been behind her.

As the storm continued to rage around her and she heard trees snapping and falling, she decided to make a run for it to the nearest shelter. Fallen trees held her door closed but she managed to kick it open.

“I’m out of the car and I’m running,” she said. The rain was coming down in sheets, blinding her. She had to climb over downed branches. Pooled water was over her boot tops. She was seeing leaves all around her. She was not sure if they were blowing or were attached to downed trees. Once inside the building she continued her attempts to contact other rangers on her radio and cell phone.

“I did not make it back to the office right away. When the worst of the wind passed I found there was a way through Glen Haven if people drove through some lawns. I checked all of the vehicles that had been trapped behind me and then evacuated everyone from the area. Then I went to the ranger station for a vehicle, chainsaw equipment, and EMS supplies.”

“We were focused on our visitors, she continued. “Two colleagues were able to drive from Glen Haven to DH Day Campground.” Campsites were buried in downed trees. They cleared the way in with hand tools.

The main roads were crisscrossed in places with fallen trees and a multitude of downed power lines hung like spaghetti from the poles and were in many cases hidden in the foliage of the fallen trees.

The rangers were concerned that people would come out to look at the damage and accidentally touch the power lines or drive across live wires in their anxiety to get access. “We had to cut our way down M-109. We started directing vehicles off the road into the Dune Climb parking lot, which was free of trees, so the roadway was open for emergency responders and chainsaw operators.”

The work was hot, hard and dangerous. The Park rangers worked into the night and for days and nights after.

“The night of the storm, four visitors were rescued from Alligator Hill. All of the campers were accounted for that night as well.”

For several 16-hour days “we did the rest, with the help of many other Park employees … danger areas, opening roads/trails, directing traffic, maintaining closures to ensure public safety, and assisting Glen Lake Fire/EMS and Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office who were doing the same.”

Ranger Langel is not a stranger to disaster. She has faced and worked through emergencies while on duty many times. She was working for the National Park Service in Florida and living in Park housing in August 2005. When Hurricane Katrina swept through, she lost her car and most of her belongings. The truck she lost in this storm had finally been repaired after being severely damaged just last October by a falling tree on Day Forest Road. And still she carries on with her law enforcement work.

Officer Jennifer Langel is an everyday superstar who has shown once again her dedication to public safety and service in her work at our Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

She exemplifies the kind of courage and dedication that cannot be taught, nor even expected. But we can be thankful for her service (and that of her fellow rangers and first responders) and appreciate all that she brings to the Park, and by extension, to the safety of every one of us who enjoys the beauty of our National Lakeshore.