Meet the American park ranger who welcomes Canadians to a unique open section of the border

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Even though the Canadian side of Peace Arch park, which straddles the border, was closed in June, people continued to flock to the US side of the park.The self-proclaimed lone ranger who oversees the American side of the park greets them all.

Rickey Blank, 68, has no problem with Canadians jumping over a shallow ditch near 0 Avenue in Surrey, BC, to mingle, picnic and often hug Americans, then return home – even though the international border has been closed to non-essential traffic since March 21 due to COVID-19.

In the first months of the pandemic, the unusual park that straddles two countries on the B.C.-Washington state border has become an oasis of human ties in a time of deep isolation.

It was the only place on the border where people could enter and exit from either side, providing an escape route for couples and family members cut off from each other when the border was closed.

Peace Arch Provincial Park – the Canadian side of the park – was closed on June 18 due to concerns about overcrowding. But that hasn’t deterred many Canadians from crossing Peace Arch State Historic Park – on the American side of the park – on Avenue 0, the nearby road that runs along the border.

But this has led some to worry about a porous border, given the growing number of COVID-19 infections in the United States.

‘A special place’

In nearly 50 years as an American ranger, Blank has never seen a summer like 2020.

In the parking lot on the American side – where the site is called Peace Arch Historical State Park – there are license plates from almost every state.

“I never imagined something like this would happen. Our borders are closed and the people of America and Canada are simply unable to share time together. It’s a special place, right now, for people to meet, “Blank said.

Ranger Rick Blank takes a photo for a group visiting the park on August 5. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

On patrol, he says he sees people looking for a bit of normalcy. He saw a woman meet her granddaughter for the first time, a mother and daughter reunite after 50 years and three proposals – and it was just last Saturday.

Canadians have freely entered the American park for 99 years and COVID-19 has not seen it fenced – until now.

“The park was considered to close, but I never worried. I just knew it would be valuable, and especially after the provincial park closed – it’s more valuable now, ”said Blank, who is expecting up to 250,000 more people. visitors this year.

Blank took charge of the park about a year and a half ago. He is responsible for 20 acres of grass, 21 flower beds, and the white Peace Arch monument owned by Washington State Parks. The 20-meter-high structure was built to honor the War of 1812 treaties which guaranteed a peaceful border.

On August 5, Ranger Rick Blank patrols Peace Arch State Historic Park. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

‘It is not the moment’

But some of the park’s neighbors don’t like new crowds. They are concerned that bad things will happen there, such as people coming into Canada and not coming back. Some fear that COVID-19 may also be transmitted. Visitors to the US side of the park can enter and exit without checks or quarantine provisions.

20-year-old Surrey resident John Kageorge lives across the street from the park and wants it to remain empty and safety rules followed.

“I know there’s this pent-up cabin fever. People just have to cross. But now is not the time, ”he said.

Surrey RCMP Corporal Daniel Michaud says police are watching the park and know people are bending quarantine rules.

But officers are focused on education and sinning on the side of compassion, he says.

As for asylum seekers, British Columbia has taken in 39 since January and only a few were near Peace Arch Provincial Park, Michaud said.

Will be Acacia under the park’s redwood on August 5th. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

Ask Blank if he’s concerned about criminals and he seems more concerned about the health of the park’s redwood.

Sitting under the tree is Sera Acacia, an American who waits to meet a romantic interest he hasn’t seen since February.

“I had a hard time sleeping last night because I’m so excited to see them,” Acacia says.

Blank greets Acacia and moves on. He knows that the strange plush or gift has crossed the border through this park, but he shrugs. He said his job was to mow lawns and tell visitors to divide into groups of five, stay six feet from each other and wear masks in the toilets.

On June 18, Peace Arch Provincial Park – the Canadian side of the park straddling the border – was closed due to overcrowding issues. (Yvette Brend / CBC News)

He is convinced that activities in the park are filmed and that few crimes pierce this peaceful bubble.

“If I saw something obvious I should take action, but I didn’t see it. I just think it would be unwise to do something like that. Did it happen? Probably yes. I don’t know, ”Vide said.

He apologizes that the Peace Arch monument is hidden, as it is being renovated for its next 100th anniversary in 2021.

Blank strides forward talking about his daughters, two of whom live in Vancouver.

“I think it’s pretty special that we have a border that hasn’t been fenced – and we’re so intertwined and intertwined,” Blank said.

“I like the people who are here. “

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