Cody Marsh grew up in some of the most iconic places in the American West—places like Yellowstone and Joshua Tree—as his family followed his dad’s career as a law enforcement officer for the National Park Service. Later they moved to the east coast, but Marsh always wanted to move back to the West—somewhere rugged, with mountains and desert. That’s what drew him to the Moab area after he followed his dad’s footsteps in becoming a National Park Service law enforcement officer. In 2016 he started working as a ranger for Canyonlands National Park; in 2018 he switched over to the Bureau of Land Management.
Marsh was selected as the national Bureau of Land Management Ranger of the Year for 2021. Earlier this month he attended an award ceremony in Washington, D.C., where he met Tracy Stone-Manning, head of the BLM, and Jason Hone, Acting Deputy Director of the Office of Law Enforcement and Security, and was recognized for his exceptional service. Criteria for the award include proactive enforcement and successful prosecution of violators; outstanding leadership and ethical qualities; positive working relationships within and across agencies; courage, ability and willingness to go beyond the call of duty; and exceptional or heroic achievement.
“It was awesome!” Marsh said of the trip to the capital. “It was really well put together.” The ceremony had been canceled for the past two years because of the pandemic, so Marsh shared the spotlight with both the 2019 and 2020 Rangers of the Year, one of whom is a friend of his—with only around 200 BLM law enforcement officers nationwide, they often get to know each other as they work and travel in different areas.
“It was awesome to share the stage with some other award recipients who I look up to and respect,” Marsh said.
The ceremony coincided with National Police Week, a memorial time to honor fallen officers across the country.
“It was a really meaningful time to be in D.C. for me,” Marsh said.
Marsh works in both Grand and San Juan counties, patrolling in popular areas, acting as the face of the BLM and interfacing with visitors. He focuses on safety, education and prevention, though he also has to address violations in the field.
“Marsh is a highly-effective and productive patrol ranger,” said BLM Public Affairs Specialist Rachel Wootton in a statement about Marsh’s award. “He patrols the public lands managed by the field office by vehicle, foot, bicycle, UTV and dirt bike, and continuously discovers and addresses field-level resource violations. He manages his time to ensure that he can do it all.”
He’s also an EMT and a member of the Grand County Search and Rescue team—in 2021, he participated in 34 SAR incidents. In March of 2021, he assisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency in administering COVID-19 shots during a weeks-long assignment in Reno, Nevada.
Each day is different for a BLM field ranger, and Marsh said he likes that variety and challenge. Sometimes he gets involved in something very unique—for example, he went to monitor impacts to the area surrounding the infamous “Monolith” after it was discovered and became a viral phenomenon, drawing a huge amount of visitors to the remote and previously desolate spot.
“It was pretty interesting,” Marsh said. “We were on the ground shortly after it was discovered. I was probably one of the last BLM employees on the ground before it was removed.”
Marsh’s favorite aspect of his job is the opportunity to help people.
“It’s really gratifying to me to be able to respond to and assist Grand County Search and Rescue and Grand County EMS when there’s someone who’s lost or injured or sick,” Marsh said. “Just being able to help another human being… potentially saving a life, is probably my favorite part of the job.” He also enjoys helping people in less intense scenarios—just answering visitor questions and helping to orient people to the area.
Another thing he really loves about his job is being a role model for kids. He was inspired by his dad’s career.
“I grew up running out to his patrol Bronco in the 90s, messing around with it and trying to turn the lights on,” He remembered. Now, Marsh’s own kids all say they want to be BLM rangers. When he meets kids in the public, he invites them to ask questions and check out his gear or patrol car.
“I always love any opportunity to get to do that—you never know if that one experience with an officer is the one experience that inspires them down the road,” he said.
The most challenging aspect of the job, he said, is working long hours, traveling frequently, and spending time away from his family. There are substantial ongoing training requirements for a BLM ranger, and Marsh maintains other qualifications (such as being an EMT) in addition to those. He has to travel about two months out of the year, he said, and even when he’s on district the hours can be taxing.
“It’s hard on family and hard on kids,” he acknowledged. “I work long days and sometimes I can’t say when I’ll be home; or I might have a plan and not be able to follow through.” However, he says he loves the job and loves the area—doing something different each day, meeting people, and enjoying the beauty of Moab.
“Moab’s a playground! I do all the things people come here on vacation to do, but I get to do them at work too: mountain biking, dirt biking, climbing, getting on the river,” he said.