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Fort like home for park ranger
It can be a little unsettling when Jon Crimmins looks back to his teenage years spent at Fort Casey State Park.
Crimmins, the park manager who runs Fort Casey and four other state parks on Whidbey Island, grew up just down the road from the former U.S. military installation and spent much of his childhood making it his own personal playground.
He laughs as he shares tales of teenage mischief, including the embarrassing moment when he ran into a beam and got a concussion during a game of “Capture the Flag,” then bites his lip as he remembers his place as parent and role model.
Crimmins and his wife Jodi are raising two teenagers at their home that rests on the same Fort Casey grounds that serve as the backdrop for so many childhood stories.
“Some of the stories I don’t tell them,” Crimmins said, breaking into a smile.
Crimmins, a 1993 graduate of Coupeville High School, is in his 15th year serving as a ranger with the Washington Parks Service and second at Fort Casey.
As an area manager, he covers larger territory, also watching over Joseph Whidbey, Fort Ebey, South Whidbey and Possession Point state parks. But Fort Casey, the place he knows intimately, is his home base.
Although the terrain he covers is familiar, his position as area manager of Central Whidbey State Parks is new.
Cutbacks within the state parks system led to the creation of one area manager overseeing five state parks. Crimmins was finishing his third year across Admiralty Inlet at a different fort site, Fort Flagler State Park on Marrowstone Island, when he applied for the position and got the job.
He had previously worked eight years at South Whidbey State Park.
“I was either really naive or I really liked the challenge, or maybe both,” Crimmins said. “Nobody had ever done this.”
The decision to come home —literally — has been popular with the family.
Aiden Crimmins, 15, and his sister Maggie, 14, might not freely admit it, but they recognize that their dad has a cool job in a cool place.
On top of that, living inside Fort Casey State Park isn’t a bad deal for them, either.
“It’s really fun to have that in your backyard,” Aiden said, pointing to a wide expanse of grass and the old fort with the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountain range in the background.
For Jon Crimmins, 38, he couldn’t be happier to be back home on familiar footing.
“I always loved Fort Casey,” he said. “I always thought it would be an awesome place to work.
“I grew up on Fort Casey Road. I went to the Camp Casey pool. We’d play Capture the Flag at Fort Casey. I got my first concussion there.”
Crimmins’ encounter with the beam as a teenager wasn’t funny at the time but he could laugh about it a little decades later.
It’s ironic now that it his job to patrol the very same park where he partook in shenanigans.
Fort Casey is filled with chilly, dark rooms and halls built at the turn of the 19th century that served as places for thrills and pranks when Crimmins and his wife were teens in Coupeville.
He shares tales with his kids about many of these sites, including one chamber in particular that was popular back then, known as the Switchboard, which was a base for communications at the old fort.
The door to the Switchboard is locked these days except during special tours. A hallway leads to the room, which is surrounded by a narrow space that allows visitors to walk around it.
“It’s a box within a box,” Crimmins said, adding that the design protected the sensitive equipment from the concussions of gun blasts at the fort.
As he gave his kids a recent tour of the room, he pointed out that as a youth, it was a common prank to reach through a small hole and grab the feet of passersby in the tight space surrounding it. Some would drop pebbles from above.
“Did you do that?” Maggie Crimmins asked her dad.
“No, I never did that,” Jon Crimmins responded, feigning a serious tone.
Jodi Crimmins knows better. She remembers coming to Fort Casey in high school.
“A typical day coming here in the summer, there were constant screams coming from that part of the park,” she said.
Jon Crimmins wants visitors to experience some of the fun he treasured as a kid.
Yet guests’ safety is of paramount importance at Fort Casey and all of the parks he oversees.
He acknowledged that old friends will tell him he has one of the best jobs on the planet. He won’t argue, but said the job doesn’t have the glamour that one might envision.
“But it truly is a great job,” he said, “because there’s such a variety in what you could do. No day is the same for me.”
Within the state parks, Crimmins has the authority to enforce laws and make arrests. He’s grateful that such incidents are rare at his parks, with enforcement typically involving citations for parking violations.
“During the winter I can find myself throwing on coveralls and digging ditches and fixing broken pipes,” Crimmins said. “The next minute, I could be sitting doing paperwork for hours on end. I could be off training. I could be doing interpretative talks at schools.
“For me now, I get to spend a lot of time with community groups trying to imagine what we could have here and grow this place and make it even more of a community park. That’s something I really enjoy doing.”
Evidently, Jon Crimmins is all grown up now.