Monday, January 9, 2017

Program Visit: SHEN

I planned our visits to COLO and SHEN so we could spend the weekend camping and hiking at Shenandoah National Park.

But first, we made a stop along with way at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.  We spent the afternoon with Ranger Matt Roland and his family, touring the park and earning some patches!  

The Rolands and the McGarveys.
Junior ProRanger with the grave of Stonewall Jackson's arm.

I also got to catch up with ProRanger alumnus Eric Morgan who has recently returned from FLETC and field training at SHEN.

Ranger Roland, Dr. McGarvey, Ranger Morgan and Junior ProRanger McGarvey
Shortly after getting settled in Shenandoah NP at Mathews Arms campground, where I should note there is no cell service, I broke a crown on my tooth!  Fortunately I was not in too much pain and we continued with the visit.  I'm just glad it was only a minor inconvenience -- it does make a person think about how used to cell service we have all gotten!  

The campground is in the North district where ProRanger Dan Bussell was working.  After a coincidental meeting with Dan and his supervisor Ranger Jacob Wahler we decided to have an impromptu meeting at the ranger station.  Just then they got a call to back up another ranger and I almost followed them to the call!  After a quick grocery trip, we worked our way down Skyline drive stopping to admire the sunset at every pulloff!

Sunset along Skyline Drive
Sunset along Skyline Drive

One of many bears on or near the road.

We later saw them again as they passed through the campground and learned of a missing hiker from a campsite just across from us.  Later Dan told me about their search – they found him later that evening, lost and dehydrated but otherwise fine.  SHEN is a busy park on the weekends!

Aislin and I spent our weekend camping, exploring the park, attending ranger programs and getting started on our junior ranger badges.  We saw several bears by the roadside during our travels on Skyline Drive.

We ate s’mores for dinner (shhh!).

Lots of work to earn that badge!

Byrd Visitors Center at Big Meadows

Junior Ranger Program with Ranger Meredith!

Climbing is fun!

On our final morning, Dan met us at our campsite.  As I finished packed the car, I heard rustling the bushes and out emerged a smallish bear!  I scared him when I jumped in the car and slammed the door.  So, alas, no photos!  But, then I did remember all the rustling in the bushes that I heard from the tent each night.  I had assumed they were just deer - now I'm not sure.  I sure was glad that I had followed all of the park’s safety rules to properly store coolers and food items!!

Fun at the Dickey Ridge Visitors Center!
Working on the badge with ProRanger Dan Bussell.
Taking the junior ranger oath is serious business.
We spent the day with Dan on a hike, finishing our junior ranger badge and learning about Shenandoah NP and the law enforcement issues he has gotten to see this summer. 

ProRanger Bussell and Ranger Wahler.

We also moved back into cell phone range, so I made an emergency appointment with the dentist!  So, after a meeting with Ranger Jacob Wahler and presentation of the plaque, we hit the road for home!

Up next:  VAFO

Monday, November 7, 2016

Program Visit: COLO

I was accompanied on my visit to Colonial National Historical Park by Junior (Pro)Ranger Aislin.  After an uneventful drive, we arrived at COLO to visit ProRanger Taylor Johnson.

Our first stop was to the ranger station for a visit with Chief Ranger Steve Williams.  Program Manager Adrian Fernandez had stopped by COLO earlier in the summer and presented Chief Williams with the program plaques.  I was pleased to see that they were already hanging proudly on his office wall!  Chief Williams presented Aislin with a park ranger doll and she scored some awesome Centennial tattoo bling!

ProRanger Taylor Johnson and Chief Ranger Steve Williams
Colonial NHP has been a five summer participant in the ProRanger Program (the superintendent has the 2016 plaque!)
You can't beat this for Centennial bling!

I was also thrilled to see ProRanger alumnus Wayne Lamb!  Ranger Lamb is back at Colonial after completing FLETC and his field training at Glen Canyon.  The day ended with a meeting with Ranger Mark Krebs who has been working with ProRangers for four summers starting with students at Cape Hatteras National Seashore!

We even got a chance to see a local high school band!

Drawing of the doll, wearing Georges Island Junior Ranger Badge
High school drum and fife band

With Ranger Lamb!

With the meetings out of the way, the second day of our visit was devoted to Taylor showing us around the park.  We toured the Yorktown area of the park and saw some of Taylor’s favorite spots and he showed us some of the park’s problem areas.  We visited Jamestown and met some of the rangers who Taylor has worked with this summer, earned a junior ranger patch, watched the park movie and toured the settlement.  But, most importantly, we saw the statue of Pocahontas!!

ProRanger Johnson swearing in Junior Ranger McGarvey

A young buck was cooling himself in the swampy water.

We ended the day back at the Yorktown Visitor Center and earned a final badge for the day!  Then we were off for a stop at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on our way to Shenandoah NP.

Up next:  SHEN

Monday, October 17, 2016

Program Visit: SAJU

Where we last left off....we missed our flight from St. Croix to San Juan.  The missed flight meant that our visit to San Juan National Historical Park was cut a full day short.  But, ProRanger Nick Fitzke rose to the challenge and made sure to pack in two days of meetings and tours into a day!

Chief Ernesto Padilla accommodated our change in schedule by coming in from vacation to meet us in the evening for dinner and an interview.

Preview of Castillo San Felipe del Morro at night
We started the next morning bright and early with a quick meeting with Superintendent Walter Chavez and then we were off for a private tour of the San Cristobal fort before it even opened!  Despite the early hour the sun was already hot and there was a lot of "hiking" within the fort, but the views were worth it!

The SAJU gym was as small and hot as advertised in Nick's blog!

At the gates of Castillo San Cristobal!

View from Castillo San Cristobal with Castillo San Felipe del Morro in the distance

"Graffiti" from the soldiers in the San Cristobal dungeon.

Why did the iguana cross the road?

Such interesting things in the curatorial workspace.
We then headed up the streets of San Juan in a golf cart to Castillo San Felipe del Morro.  After touring the fort, we rode down the Paseo del Morro to the Puerta de San Juan and then through the streets of San Juan back toward the Castillo San Cristobal.  There is a sanctuary for stray cats located along the walkway and we encountered muchos, muchos gatos!!

Castillo San Felipe del Morro by day.

ProRanger Fitzke documenting a helicopter possibly flying over park property (prohibited!)
Trust me guys, just a little further.....
We held our meeting with Ranger William Morales, who has been supervising ProRanger Nick Fitze this summer, over a cup of coffee.  The rumors of his love of coffee were well founded!  After Nick presented him with a plaque, we were off to the airport for our flight home.

ProRanger Fitze presents a plaque of appreciation to Ranger Morales.
We definitely did not want to miss another flight, so no time for lunch!  But we did stop for some takeout snack on the way to the airport.  What to choose?  Flan.  Definitely flan.

So many choices...
So many more choices....
And, so many more choices....
The right choice

The joint park visits were very productive.  Ranger Fernandez and I came away from the visits and interviews with a lot of ideas for tweeking the evaluations, taskbook, and the outline for a "Guide to the ProRanger Program."  I learned about the the high level of collaboration and cooperation between these three Caribbean parks while also getting to witness their spirited but friendly competition!

Up next:  COLO

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Until Next Time...

        Leaving Shenandoah was a bittersweet moment. I don’t know how much more I could have gotten out of the park because everyone provided me with such great experiences and shared knowledge that I couldn’t have asked for more. There are always new scenarios to experience within the park but I left there feeling like I had seen so much more than the average visitor would ever see even if they visited the park each year. 
I had amazing mentors down in Virginia that I’ll be contacting to ask for advice or just to catch up with for the rest of my days. I’m already planning a trip to head back down there just to catch up with some of the Rangers and to see the park in a different season. I think it’s important to visit a park that you’ve grown to love and appreciate in all of its seasons. I look forward to coming back and heading up on the drive, this time as a visitor. I’ll do my best to not scowl at those going over the speed limit, or the ones who stop in the middle of the road and leave their car doors wide open to chase down a bear for a photo. Until next time, enjoy this sunset up on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Program Visit: CHRI

We began our visit to Christiansted National Historical Site (CHRI), Buck Island Reef National Monument (BUIS) and Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve (SARI) with a short flight from St. Thomas to St. Croix on a small plane.  It's always fun to get lined up by size to get your seat assignment.  But, flying between the islands was so quick and easy!

Our plane from St. Thomas to St. Croix
Ranger Fernandez arrives home on St. Croix

We arrived at CHRI and ProRanger Kelechi Akabogu led us on a tour of the Danish fort, Fort Christianvaern, and its associated buildings, including the Scale House and the Steeple Building.

Scales used to weigh imports and exports, and probably slaves

ProRanger Akabogu standing guard

Inside the fort's dungeon - not built for tall people!

Rangers Fernandez and Rivera with ProRanger Akabogu.

Then we headed out to Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve.  We planned to meet up with the superintendent, but he was working with the Youth Conservation Corps students and we ended up just missing him all around the island!  At Salt River, we toured the Visitor Center and viewed artifacts from the Taino people before visiting the construction site of the Salt River Bay Marine Research and Education Center. 

Due to some interesting jurisdictional issues, we stood on the shoreline and discussed cases that Rangers Fernandez and Rivera had encountered at SARI.  Then we moved to hypothetical variations and an in depth discussion of the various sections of 36 C.F.R. and how they might apply.  ProRanger Akabogu demonstrated an impressive command of the regulations!

Views from the Salt River Visitor Center
Well tower at Salt River
Rangers Rivera and Fernandez quizzing ProRanger Akabogu

We ended the day at the ranger station with interviews with Chief Ranger Isander Rodriguez.  WE also secured a commitment from Ranger Rivera to offer a “use of force” class for the ProRangers via webex!
Chief Ranger Rodriguez, Ranger Fernandez and ProRanger Akabogu
Then it was a reunion for Ranger Fernandez – the law enforcement rangers along with a members of administration and other divisions joined us all for another amazing dinner at Kelechi’s favorite restaurant, El Sol.  Oh, the stories I can now tell!  

The next morning we talked with Superintendent Joel Tutein and presented our plaque.  As we stood outside, I couldn’t help but notice that he seemed to know everyone who passed by, who all smiled, waived and honked their greetings!

ProRanger Akabogu and Superintendent Tutein
Ranger Fernandez, ProRanger Akabogu and Rangers Laurencin and Rivera

Lifesaving practice!
"Captain" Akabogu
Then we headed out for a tour of Buck Island with Kelechi in the captain's chair!  Ranger Fernandez was a tough judge of Kelechi's boating skills, but she passed!  On day four of the trip and on my third island, I finally got the chance to go in the water!  It was beautiful!  We took the opportunity for Kelechi to practice her rescue skills and she alternated between throwing the rescue rope to both me and Adrian until she could accurately “save” us and pull us in.

Wet hugs to thank our (dry) rescuer!
As a storm headed in, we returned to the park and then the airport.  Unfortunately, we missed our flight and we were forced to spend an extra night on St. Croix as there weren’t any seats available until the next afternoon.  Fortunately, my room in park housing was still available! 

Up next:  SAJU