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Mason County News
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Outdoors Outpost
Over the Trickling Main
Wednesday, September 30, 2009 • Posted September 30, 2009

When I was in high school there was still a drive-in theater in Brady. The fence around the property was in bad shape, and people started driving in through the rear without paying. So the owners hired a teenager to stand back there where the fence was down, and keep people from getting in.

The only problem was that this was an enterprising youth, and he knew opportunity when he saw it. He started charging people half price to come in the back way, and collected a pretty good income until his duplicity was discovered. I have no doubt he’s a politician somewhere now.

But that guy, whose name I will not reveal until I remember what it was, didn’t have anything on the fellow who ran the gate at a parking lot at the Bristol Zoo, outside London, for 25 years. The cost was a dollar and forty cents for cars and seven bucks for busses, so the daily income for parking at this busy zoo was substantial.

Then one day the gatekeeper didn’t show up for work, so the zoo folks called the city office and asked them to send over someone else to run the gate. But the city people said it wasn’t their parking lot, it belonged to the zoo. And they had no idea who the guy was who had been collecting the parking fees all that time.

Officials estimated the guy had collected about $560 a day for 25 years, which comes to about $7 million. And they still don’t know his name.

But zoos everywhere seem to be having problems lately. The Helsinki Zoo, which is in, of all places, Helsinki, Finland, has a bunch of Asian lions, and they evidently eat a lot. So the zoo officials decided to save some money and solve another problem at the same time.

It seems the city of Helsinki is overrun with wild rabbits. The obvious solution was to trap the rabbits and feed them to the lions. Which makes perfect sense to me, especially when you consider that predators eat rabbits in nature anyway, so the rabbits really don’t have an argument coming about it.

But, as you may have guessed, this is not exactly a popular idea with everyone. Animal rights groups are complaining about it. This is perfectly understandable, too. But the animal rights people are not, for some reason, offering to pay to feed the lions.

And then there are the pirates. Jim Shepherd sends out his Outdoor Wire emails almost daily, and one of the stories last week was about the problems the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is having with pirates. Which sounded rather odd, since West Virginia, unless I’ve missed a pretty big news story about earthquakes on the East Coast, doesn’t come in contact with the Atlantic Ocean at all. Or any other ocean

But when I read the story I found that these are not ocean pirates, like the ones the U.S. Navy Seals had to whack recently. These are river pirates. So it sounds like they’re sort of junior varsity pirates, maybe hoping to get some on the job experience working inland rivers for a while, and then move up to running the coastlines, finally graduating to full-blown sea piratage. There isn’t, after all, a Pirate University anywhere. I checked when I was a senior in high school.

The story started out with a quote from Captain Kevin Ransom of the WVDNR, which is a pretty cool name, you have to admit. Sort of conjures up images of damp prisoner exchanges using dingys at dawn in fog-shrouded inlets along rocky coasts.

Ransom kind of ruined it, though, because he said, “These pirates don’t wear eye patches or carry swords, but they do steal money.” Not exactly the same as “I ordered the men to fix bayonets and we stormed the enemy’s inflatable raft, causing a great deal of air leakage and ice chest trauma,” but still. Stealing money is bad enough, I guess.

Only it’s not even as bad as all that. The DNR has got its scuppers in a pinch because of a band of white water river guides who were operating WITHOUT A LICENSE. West Virginia requires river guides to be licensed, provide extensive training for all employees, carry up-to-date equipment, and even carry liability insurance. This guide service didn’t do all that, so the DNR came in and keelhauled them.

We have become a nation of wimps. We want excitement, as long as there’s adequate padding. We want adventure, as long as we can sleep between clean sheets at night. We want to think live on the edge, but we demand that someone else be responsible if we fall off.

We can’t officially condone it when people charge for parking that isn’t theirs, but it’s hard not to admire the gall it takes. We should at least have the guts to stand up and say, “The lions are hungry. Throw in the rabbits.”

If this keeps up, river tourists will be suing their guides for letting them get wet . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and river outfitter who provides one paper towel each time he rents a kayak. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or jeep@verizon.net

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