CAPE ELIZABETH – When I heard I’d be spending a morning with Coleman Rogers, a park ranger at Fort Williams Park, I envisioned my equipment as a whistle and maybe one of those wide-brimmed hats the rangers of TV cartoons wear.

But in the time I spent with Rogers at the iconic southern Maine destination, my primary tools were a broom and a bucket of toilet paper.

And while I did spend my morning taking in splendid views of Casco Bay and Portland Head Light, I saw lots of porta potty interiors as well.

“Yeah, that’s part of the job, making sure the porta potties are cleaned out,” said Rogers, 76, a retired elementary school principal. “On busy days I might be cleaning them out three times or so.”

“The first question people usually ask when they get off the (tour) bus is, ‘Where are the porta potties?’” said Rogers.

As if on cue, a minute later we were standing in front of the lighthouse when a visitor asked me where the bathrooms were. Having just swept the floors of some 18 portable toilets in three areas of the park, I had no problem pointing him in the right direction.

I should explain here that Rogers and I only swept and removed refuse from the porta potty floors, and refilled toilet paper rolls. We did not clean out the toilets — that’s for the company that owns the johns.

But when I entered a portable toilet, Rogers would ask me if it looked like it had been “pumped out.” Suffice it to say, that was a different kind of view than the crashing surf seen from much of the park.

There is more to the job than cleaning, though. Depending on the day, Rogers might be directing bus traffic. Or looking for graffiti. Or checking on reservations to see if wedding parties are coming in. And answering a lot of questions from visitors.

We also spent some time sweeping out a covered picnic shelter, just minutes before an elementary school group from Portland arrived for an outing.

Rogers let me use a gas-powered blower, so I could blow sticks and dirt and debris off the picnic shelter’s concrete floor. I found it a little tricky, especially near areas bounded by soil and gardens. Sometimes I ended up blowing more dirt onto the floor than off it. Then I’d have to go back and re-blow.

We tried to sweep the floor and tables pretty thoroughly. Renting out the picnic shelter is a source of income, and since the town pays for the park upkeep, income is important. And a clean picnic shelter is more likely to attract return customers.

When the elementary school group arrived, Rogers sought out the adult leaders and told them they could drive their cars up the hill on a private park road to unload, instead of carrying coolers and supplies up the steep steps to the shelter. They were very grateful.

Since the park is pretty big — 93 acres or so — Rogers does a lot of his patrolling in a small John Deere tractor/buggy with a small bed for storage in back. It’s the size of a golf cart but drives like a small car, I found. Rogers drives it all over, including on the park’s cliff walk sometimes. That sounded a little too dangerous for me, so I asked if we could walk.

Rogers said he patrols the cliff walk, and other areas, looking for graffiti, or broken benches or problems of any kind.

Not long ago, he said, a girl who looked to be about middle-school age was climbing below the cliff walk and fell to sea-level rocks below. Rescue workers were called to take her to the hospital.

“We try to warn people not to come off the path, to be careful,” Rogers said.

Rogers told me his favorite part of the job is interacting with visitors, who range from local school kids to tourists from Asia and Europe.

Standing outside the lighthouse, a visitor asked Rogers and me if we knew the date of the “perfect storm.”

I thought he was talking about the film with George Clooney and guessed 1997. But Rogers knew he was talking about the actual storm the book and film were based on.

Roger asked the man to wait one moment, then he led me into a storage room in the lighthouse. There, in one of many boxes, was a printed sheet with the exact date of the storm — Oct. 31, 1991 — and some descriptive text.

A local artist sometimes sells images of the storm at the lighthouse, and Rogers remembered that the text was on hand.

“It was Halloween, that’s what I thought. Can I keep this?” said the man.

“Sure, go ahead,” Rogers said.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]


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