Friday, July 20, 2018

The Last Frontier, for ProRanger Leadership

While I didn't get to go on another backcountry trip, I think this last week was still able to top my previous week here at Denali.  How could this be, you ask?  It is because last week was my program site visit, and I had the good fortune of receiving Program Manager Ranger Adrian Fernandez and Program Director Dr. Vicki McGarvey.  I was disappointed that Associate Director Anthony Luongo was not able to come along as well, but hopefully he wont have to spend quite as much time traveling for his site visits. 

But before we get into all that, check out some more pictures of our trip that I received from one of my backcountry companions, Jake the wildlife tech.

Vicki and Adrian arrived on Sunday night, and Meaghan and I showed them to their accommodations in the lovely park panabode.  Monday morning we were ready to rock and roll.  We got a delicious breakfast at Black Bear Coffee, just up the road from the park entrance.  Then the tour began.  I explained to them the rangers' jurisdiction here, the park's boundaries, and showed them where some of my law enforcement encounters have occurred.  We checked out the Post office, Riley Creek Mercantile, and Riley Creek Campground.  I explained how we roll through with the windows down to use all of our senses and what kinds of thing we would look for, usually unattended food fires and pets, generator violations, and anything else that might call our attention.  We checked out the visitor center, talked to the ranger at the backcountry information desk, and watched the videos they play there.  

We went to the train depot and watched the train arrive, the Denali Star arriving at 12:10, the same train I arrived on originally. 
We hiked the Horseshoe Lake trail. We went to see one of the sled dog demonstrations.  Unfortunately, they didn't bring all the dogs out and run them around the track like usual because there were moose in the area. Vicki and Adrian got to see the moose though, which I think they enjoyed.

We checked out the rest of Headquarters and C-camp.  We poked around the Shaffer building, saying hello to Ranger Dave Stack, as well as the Shaffer annex, and maintenance yard. We headed out to the Savage River area and talked to the folks in the Savage box. We hiked the loop trail, as well as climbed up to the rock outcropping that begins the Savage Alpine trail. It was a busy day. In the evening Meaghan joined us and we went to eat at 49th State, where I ate with Meaghan when I first arrived.

On Tuesday, I put Vicki and Adrian on a bus, since we already had a pretty exhaustive tour of the front country, minus a couple of trails, and they were here for three days.  I explained to them their options, taking the different tours or transit buses of varying length journeys.  They chose to take the transit bus out to Kantishna, the end of the road.  This is a twelve hour round trip journey, and Ranger Fernandez didn't let anyone forget that particular detail afterwards.  But if he tries to say anything to you about it, remember that it was their choice; I didn't tell them which bus to take.  And also look at this photo showing how happy they both were.
It wasn't the nicest day for a ride, but it sounded like they saw a good amount of wildlife.  Unfortunately for them, the weather wasn't too cooperative during their whole stay and they could not see the mountain.  But I told them not to feel bad since Denali only shows itself to 30% of visitors. 

While they were enjoying their bus trip, I spent the day working at the dog kennels.  I had been loaned out again, but I wasn't complaining.  The kennels staff, including my roommate Malik, showed me a day in the life.  First, we did health checks of all 31 one dogs, looking them over and palpating most of their bodies in a structured manner to make sure they had not incurred any injuries. 

We went throughout the dog yard and scooped up any poop, remaining vigilant for any more presents throughout the day.

We brought gravel over in wheelbarrows and filled in all the holes the dogs had dug, most of which seemed to be with the intention of sinking their houses into the ground or getting to china.

I accompanied Rachel, a YCC (youth conservation corps) intern, who gave the brief safety talks to the visitors coming to the kennels for the dog demonstrations by bus.

Rangers Jess and Marinell provided most of my instruction, including how to do the health checks and how to harness a dog and hook them up to the sled.

It was a full house
During the 10am demonstration, I mostly just watched.  I got to hang out with the dogs in the gravel pit where they sit in front of the audience after running their loop.  The person who sits here with the dogs makes sure they are behaving and not interrupting the ranger speaking.

For the 2pm demo I actually got to bring a dog over to the sled and hook her up.  I got to bring Party over in two paw drive, meaning I held her by her collar, picking her two front paws off the ground so as not to step on them and to better control where we were going.  Party is the smallest dog at the kennels, so I guess they figured I would be able to handle her.

I spent some time hanging out by the two dogs who are not roped off, answering questions and making sure people were interacting with the dogs appropriately.  The day I was there, Cupcake and his sister Party were the sled dog ambassadors.

I got to spend some time turning over the poop compost.  The kennels staff collects all of the dogs' poop and composts it, eventually turning it into rich soil. Turning it over helps increase the temperature and helps the poop break down faster.

I observed while Rachel did some clicker training, reinforcing the dogs knowledge of certain commands, mostly to sit, stay, and get on top of their houses. She had to remain quite stoic while only giving commands and some treats for successful following of those commands, while clicking a clicker.

We took a few of the dogs to the free-run area to see how they would get along.  These dogs were scheduled to be the two lead dogs up front during one of the demonstrations, but since they had not worked together in this capacity before the kennels staff was not sure if they would be able to keep their composure together during the show.

I was allowed to make some of the announcements, telling the visitors when it was first and last call for them to go back to the parking lot and get the buses that would bring them back to the entrance area.

When Vicki and Adrian returned from their trip, Meaghean and I met them and we had a late dinner together at the Overlook at the Crows Nest.  Many leftovers were given to me which is always appreciated. 

Wednesday was our day to take care of business.  There were meetings to be had and interviews to conduct.  Vicki, Adrian, and I had breakfast again at Black Bear Coffee and we had my interview there.  Meaghan and I had an orienteering training from 10 to 12, so during that time Vicki and Adrian met with Chief Ranger Erika Jostad to discuss the program and Denali's participation in it. We had a bit of downtime before a rescheduled meeting with Superintendent Don Striker, Deputy Superintendent Denise Swanke and Chief Jostad.  During this time Vicki and Adrian interviewed Meaghan.  We also talked casually with some of the other folks in the Visitor and Resource Protection division, Rangers Jim Syvertsen, Chris Shore, and Sarah Hayes, all of whom I had spent at least a little bit of time with.  Our meeting seemed to go quite well, with the park brass expressing a lot of support for the program. Not so subtle hints were dropped about my becoming eligible for hire around the same time that Meaghan would be leaving for Mt. Rainier.  That night we had our farewell dinner at Black Diamond Grill, where we were joined by Vicki's friend from NPS Fundamentals, interp Ranger Katie Mikulla.

The next morning Vicki and Adrian left the park and headed back to Anchorage to fly home.  Their visit was short but sweet.  Then I had two days off and nothing of note happened, but the next two days were fairly eventful.

Coming back on Saturday there were a good amount of rangers on duty, so Ranger Page and I were sent on a patrol out west.  We went to the Eilson Visitor Center at mile 66, the farthest I had been down the park road. 
View Polychrome Pass
Section of road near polychrome that had recently washed out and been repaired
Also Polychrome Passs
A view from Eilson
Close by at mile 59, there had been a wolf kill the previous day or early that morning.  The wolves had gotten a caribou, and by the time we got over there the wolves were gone, and there was nothing left but the spine and some of the ribs.  There was a professional photographer hanging out in the area, waiting for a grizzly to show up and pick over the remains.  He had a permit to be out on the road, but was not following some other regulations, as he had been stopped for an extended period of time in a place he should only have been making a temporary stop.  We spoke to him and told him he had to move on.
My phone camera is not very good but there is a carcass in this photo

We looked for signs to mark off a closure around the kill site in the Toklat Camp. While we were out there Ranger Page showed me around a bit, including the VRP building out there.

We also saw this happy fox, running along the side of the road.

And we saw some caribou perfectly placed for a shot in front of this epic mountain.

The patrol vehicle was quite dirty after the trip, so we gave it a wash.  This power washer is pretty luxurious, last summer I had to use a squeegee.

That evening, after work, Meaghan and I had planned to go to the gym together.  We were in our gym clothes and walking out the door when she got a call out about a stolen car.  Since I was there at the time and it was a law enforcement scenario I had not yet encountered, I put my uniform back on as well and accompanied.  We got to the visitor center and spoke to the couple, who said they had spent the last hour looking for their car and were sure they had parked there.  One of them had left her Iphone in the car and she was using find my Iphone on the other's phone, and it was showing that her phone was pretty close by.  Ranger Page asked the couple to get in the car with us, and using her superior investigatory skills and intimate knowledge of the park, drove us over to the Wilderness Access Center/Bus depot, where the couple's car was parked.  They were a little embarrassed and thanked us for our help.  Then we went to the gym.

The next day was quite busy.  Ranger Page and I made our usual morning rounds and gave out two warnings for out of bounds camping.  Some quirk of one of the contacts got us taking about the Supreme Court case Hiibel v. Nevada (2004), which determined that it is not unconstitutional for states to make a law requiring suspects to identify themselves to officers during investigations if the officer has reasonable suspicion of a crime. 24 states currently have such laws, Alaska is not one of them.

A little later in the day the rangers were fingerprinting themselves to renew some kind of partial Alaska commission, making it easier to avoid jurisdictional disputes near the borders of the park. I got to help out a bit by taking Ranger Page's fingerprints using the Digit 10 Inkless fingerprinting system. It kind of has ink though.

We gave out a warning about a generator that was being operated outside of approved hours.

Thanks to Ranger Shore, who even laid down on the
ground to further my education

Later in the day Ranger Page and I made two traffic stops for speeding.  During one of them, the driver replied yes after Ranger Page asked if there were any weapons in the car.  In order to safely complete the stop, Ranger Page removed the occupants of the vehicle and sat them on the car's back bumper.  This led us to practice approaching the vehicle during a traffic stop, removing occupants from vehicles, and to a lesser extent performing a Terry frisk to search for weapons.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Getting Organized

After completing the swift water rescue training course, a lot of work needed to be completed to put the training into effect. First, the rangers needed to acquire the equipment needed to safely perform these rescues, and, second and third, that equipment needed to be inventoried and distributed to the rangers. In the beginning of my third week at Mammoth Cave, I helped with these efforts, sorting and cataloging new rescue gear including PFD’s (personal flotation devices, life jackets,) wet suits, ropes, carabiners, as well as more specialized equipment such as a line throwing system.

A new fire extinguisher and rope cleats

I also got to help work on the new patrol boat, installing rope cleats on the hull and mounting a fire extinguisher onboard.
inside the SAR trailer

The most time intensive project of the week, however, was inventorying the contents of the park’s search and rescue (SAR) trailer. Nearly everything that the rangers might need for a search and rescue, including litters, backboards, high angle rescue equipment, swift water rescue gear, and even equipment needed to transport a patient by helicopter, is kept loaded in the SAR trailer so that it may be accessible in an emergency at a moment’s notice.

Inventory on the SAR

I went through all of the trailer’s contents and created an inventory of everything onboard, recording each item’s description, issue date, quantity, and location. As I sorted through all of the ropes, harnesses, climbing systems, and other gear, I learned a lot about search and rescue equipment, and more importantly, I made a system that might make it easier to organize everything or find a piece of equipment during an emergency.

In the middle of the inventory, I got to ride along with Ranger Clemons as he investigated a call that marijuana had been found in the Visitor’s Center. Just to prove the expression that when it rains, it pours, immediately after concluding the investigation, the skies opened up, and the downpour caused several problems. Due to the heavy rain, a tree fell and blocked a road outside of the park, while another fell onto one of the Green River Ferry’s cables, rendering it unsafe to operate. While trail crews began to clear the fallen tree from the cable, we learned that there were a number of visitors out on the water in canoes and kayaks when the storm hit. The Green River turned brown due to all of the top load, and the current became noticeably faster. We found out that the boaters were late, and should have already made it down to the ferry.

Preparing for a search and rescue on the river

As we waited for the visitors to float down the river, we readied the boat for a search and rescue operation gear in the event that any boaters were missing. Thankfully by the time we returned to the ferry and prepared to launch, the first group of kayakers arrived, soaking wet, but safe.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Lights, Camera, Week 1!

       Hello everyone! My name is Sam Vecchione and I am a member of Cohort 6, partaking in my Summer II internship. If you may recall, I was the ProRanger developing the blog from Colonial National Historical Park (the blog with the witty jokes and scenic photos) last summer. This summer, the ProRanger Program has provided me the opportunity to work in New River Gorge National River (NERI)!
Sandstone Falls

View from the Grandview Overlook
       My arrival at NERI was nothing short of incredible, as it is quite different in terms of scenery from good ol' Philadelphia. Surrounded by nothing but nature as I traveled down I-64 West, I arrived at the Headquarters of NERI to meet with the Chief of Visitor/Resource Protection. I spent the day touring with park with Chief, listening intently as he pointed out the innumerable qualities of the park. This included touring the most scenic overlooks of the Gorge, trails, waterfalls, recreational areas, and so much more. My first week of work here at NERI was even more incredible, and I knew from quite early on in this internship that I would struggle to find my favorite area of the park. Each piece of the park adds its own value to the park as a whole, and it truly is living up to its name of a "Ranger's park." If you are interested in law enforcement, search and rescue, EMS, or fire, you are bound to work with tremendous staff here at NERI.

       The greatest challenge for myself at this location is determining the exact layout and boundaries of the park, being that it is so much larger than a visitor might expect. The law enforcement (LE) division protects over eighty-thousand acres across five different counties in the state of West Virginia, and to say that I've been studying park maps for hours would be an understatement. The LE rangers at NERI waste no time in introducing me to the popular or otherwise secluded areas of the park, and I am confident that after my weeks here, I will understand why their job is so unique. Perhaps the biggest icon at the park is the New River Gorge Bridge, the largest arch-bridge in the Western Hemisphere! If you think that is exciting, wait until you hear that I received the opportunity to walk along the catwalk that goes underneath the bridge, overlooking eight-hundred seventy-six drop below. Although my hands were glued to the railing at first, it only took a couple minutes before the captivating views overcame my fleeting fear of heights.
       My first week at NERI was such a fun experience, and I cannot wait to spend the next couple of weeks here. The time spent with LE in this first week has already given me so much more of a developed perspective of my future career and the National Park Service as a whole, and every day at work I am reminded of the importance and value of the ProRanger Program. Thanks for hanging out with me this week, and I look forward to our next weekly blog together!

Moments of a Lifetime: SAMO Edition

Hey guys! Time is flying by so fast!!! I am already three weeks into my internship, It feels so unreal. Every day at SAMO is truly a moment to appreciate! This week was the best thus far, issuing arrest warrants, creating defensible space by reducing heavy fire fuel vegetation, hiking the canyons, and connecting with visitors on foot patrols have made this SAMO experience a moment of a lifetime.
On the Backbone trail

The Santa Monica Mountains is a popular destination where millions of visitors from all over the world visit for recreational adventure. But for thousands of transients National Parks have become a place of retreat. Law enforcement rangers have seen an increase in the homeless population within
 the park over the past few years, many often driven by job loss, drugs, alcohol addiction and mental health problems. Transient(s) use the park as places to get out of the elements, for its infrastructure, and create places inside the park to reside for periods of time. By creating unauthorized camping areas, using fire and camping supplies outside designated areas, and littering the area it poses a threat to the parks resources.

Defensible Space unit working with inmate crew
During the week I assisted rangers with a field operation that consisted of cleaning up a polluted park site and issuing a warrant for residing on park lands, a violation of the NPS’s Title 36 rule. I was tasked with being the person of contact, whereas I managed communications for the operation between LE rangers and dispatch center. This was an exciting learning experience. I learned about a safety tool known simply as GAR. It stands for green, amber, and red which is a go/no go operational tool. Every ranger references this index card prior to approaching any mission. It’s a tool that helps with operational risk management. It originally stemmed from the coast guard, and the National Park Service, and Search and Rescue have adopted this tool to ensure personal and team safety.

This week I continued working with the defensible space unit under fire management. The goal was to remove excess vegetation that pose a threat to NPS constituents who live nearby. The removal consists of litter and debris that has stemmed from homeless people living on park property over the years. The NPS works in collaboration with L.A County’s fire department who share similar goals of ensuring wildfire safety for the environment and for the public.
L.A County Fire Department

 Defensible space unit has incorporated inmate crews for the past 25 years.  The nature of the collaboration is to protect the values natural resource protection. By using the inmate crew it helps the NPS manage their numerous properties throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. At the same time the program also helps to rehabilitate the inmates and assist them in making a conversion back in the community once their sentence is completed. They also get an opportunity to build a skill set while incarcerated. This is a beneficial program, working with the inmates you can really see firsthand that many of them are willing to make changes to better their life.
Clean up done by inmate crew

On that day we reduced fuels that spark potential fires that invade social values such as human communities. The management of LA County realizes that there is a need to protect people within the community. Fire protection is the main goal. This is done by managing the habitat to prevent the spread of wildfire. As an example, the Migratory Bird Act protects many birds that dwell on NPS land, however that mitigates fire prevention when it comes to defensible space. For this reason Planning Science and Resource Management (PSRM) has to oversee the operation.
Observing for bird nesting activity

At the end of the week, I hiked Solstice Canyon on a foot patrol, I observed a few infractions such as dogs off leash and area closure violations near the waterfall on Solstice canyon trail. I issued verbal warnings to the individuals and they left the area immediately.

Solstice Canyon Waterfall
Robert's Ranch (ruins)

Apart from the many infractions observed it’s an amazing place to go for a hike and get lost within mountains while being so close to LA. I also had the opportunity to connect with the public and share my experience with them. Many of them was interested in the mission of the ProRanger Program and wished me well in my endeavors.
Selfie with visitors

……………………..this place is really growing on me!

Santa Monica Views