Monday, August 14, 2017

My Date with Half Dome

Ranger Sender and I
Week 9 I finally got to make my way up half dome, this took place during Friday and Saturday. Before you get to hear about my hike up there and my time spent up top I will first half to tell you about the rest of the week and the build up to the trip. I started my week off on Monday helping out with a training for the seasonal rangers. In this training I got to be a role player and be as difficult as I could be when the officers where trying to deal with certain situations. It was interesting to be on this side of the training and see just how calm and collect the officers were while I was attempting to be as obnoxious as possible.

On Tuesday of this week I spent my time in the desk office learning how to use the reporting system that the National Park Service uses. This was a slower day but I learned a lot about the reporting system and how to do simple reports along with reporting of accidents. The group I worked with was also something I enjoyed learning about. Since Yosemite is so busy they bring in volunteers to write the reports for incidents that didn’t call for citations and accidents that didn’t have any injuries. This helps the officers not spend so much time writing the reports of everything that happens in the park.
Cables going up to top of Half Dome

On Wednesday I got to see the legal side of things in the park, which meant I got to go to court again. In this court session I got to see a couple of different cases, the most interesting one was an evidentiary review from an arrest in march. I was able to see a ranger getting questioned by both the defense and the prosecution. I was happy to see this because now I know how they do it in Yosemite and when I have to do that in the future I will have a better understanding of what is going on.   
On Thursday I was off so that I could prepare for my trip up half dome, so I spent most of the day hydrating and sleeping. I started to pack late at night and was given two dozen peanut butter cookies from one of my roommates for my trip up half dome.
On Friday we started our hike up to Little Yosemite Valley at noon, it took us about 2.5 hours to get up to where we would be staying for the night. The hike up there was hot but very beautiful since we followed the Merced river all the way up to the camp. Once getting up to camp we talked with the interns that stay up there for the summer and then checked permits of people staying in the camp to ensure they had everything they needed. Luckily everyone had the proper permits so we had an easy time. We decided to get an early night so that we could start our trip early the next morning.

Yosemite Valley
On Saturday at 6:30am we started our trip up to the top of half dome with water food and an iPad to check permits for going on the cables. It was an uneventful hike up to sub dome, that was where I split from the ranger I was going checking permits with. I make it to the top of half dome at 8:45am and saw one of the most beautiful views I had seen all summer. I spent about an hour up there enjoying the views and making contacts with visitors. After making my way down the ranger and I started our hike all the way down to LYV getting there about 1pm. From there we started our hike back to the valley, on our way we were told to look out for two missing teenagers. On our trip down we had to talk with many visitors about swimming in water that was close to waterfalls and making sure everyone was doing alright. We finally made it out of the trail at 3pm and I went home and passed out for a couple hours and spent Sunday relaxing. 
At Site of Reported Meth Lab

At Old Dam on Green River

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Ginseng'n: Lookin' for a Big'un!

Looking for Ginseng
     I spent a day with a Ranger in the Resource Division learning how to identify ginseng and why the plant is so coveted. He explained that ginseng is Kentucky's number one cash crop and its sale progression. Apparently, the ginseng harvester can sell the root to a local buyer. Local buyers are typically located within any firearms shop. After selling it locally, the buyers will then resell it to a port or large city at a multiple of the initial buying price. Following that transaction, the buyer will sell it to Chinese or Korean ports at a multiple of the last buying price. Once in the country it is bound for, the distributor can sell the root for very high amounts.

     Wild ginseng has a reputation for a variety of medical uses. The market and price tag really comes from the folklore around the plant. In China and Korea it is believed that wild ginseng absorbs the spirits of the forest as it grows. After absorbing the magic of the wild, its medicinal power can treat anything. The Ranger in the resource division explained how the folklore is so ingrained, people in these countries are willing to pay anything for the root when elders fall ill.

     Many Appalachian people have harvested ginseng roots for supplemental income. They typically wear gloves or knee pads and have a screw driver or walking stick with a metal rod attached to the bottom of it. Another inclination of someone digging is that their knees and underneath their fingernails will be very dirty. I was informed that so many have harvested wild ginseng, it has reached a point near extinction. Within the countries that import the root, the wild plant has already reached extinction. That is why protecting the plant on federal land is so important. At Mammoth Cave, the surveyed plants have been dug up and marked with a colored metallic powder (see picture below). If that powder is seen by any buyer either by eyesight or under black light, they are to report it. Each park or federal land has a unique chemical composition of powder to rub on the root of a ginseng plant. In theory, the powder aids in ginseng determent and monitoring where the plant is poached. However, it is a tall order to monitor and protect ginseng along with all other duties. It definitely has a better chance of being accomplished when it is made a goal across divisions.

Korean Ginseng Root
MACA Ginseng Powder

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Good Times Bad Times: Simulate them all pt. 2

 The first day of simulations tended to be more routine, with a few more difficult scenarios thrown in to change it up, but the environment became familiar, which will not always be the case when operating in the field. To change this up we ventured into a new location added in a partner in the simulation and increased the stakes of the simulation. All simulations involved weapons and control tactics. If this were not enough I also had to do burpees to get my blood pumping before entering the scenario to simulate the adrenaline I may feel if it were real. To combat this I did my best to control my breath, but my blood was still rushing through my body. The first scenario was an individual actively threatening with a knife so we had to move quick. Going through the house as strategically and quickly as possible we made our way onto the scene. With my blood rushing and doing my best to control my breathing and think clearly I believe I handled the situation as well turning to the rangers after to ask for advice and pointers. With my blood still pumping we prepared for one more scenario.
*all firearms in scenarios are simulated weapons

    This scenario did not have as high of stakes as the previous one, but could get quite difficult as there were firearms on the scene and an unresponsive individual. Clearing the house for security and dangerous weapons we ended with medical help to one individual and putting the other under arrest.
Working through these scenarios shows you just how difficult it can be and I look forward to completing more to learn and improve myself to be the best ranger I can be.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The End of an Era...

... but the beginning of a much grander era.

My time at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical park has come to an end.  I already expressed my disbelief in last weeks post, and I guess after a few days of leaving Maryland it is sinking in.

Fittingly, the Visitor and Resource Protection Division bookended my first Proranger summer internship.  Compared to the first week in the park this one was pretty uneventful for law enforcement.  Ranger Greene and I went on some vehicle and foot patrols.  We stopped a few vehicles for some minor infractions, entering a parking lot through the exit and speeding.  Warnings were given out on both occasions.

Wednesday was the second end of the summer youth summit.  It was hosted here at the C&O Canal at Carderock.  The event was pretty relaxed, as you could choose which activities you wanted to do at your leisure.  There was s'more roasting, a drawing station, rock climbing, loaner bikes, an informational station about the upcoming eclipse on the 21st, and as you might have seen in one of my recent posts, yoga.  After picking up my eclipse viewing glasses, eating a few s'mores, getting zen, and a drawing a stranded polar bear, it was time for the contest.  At the first youth summit event the various parks of the National Capital Region were asked to create a poster or video advertisement to go along with the "Your Park, Your Future" campaign.  There were some pretty creative and artistic entries, one Back to the Future themed (greatest trilogy of all time), and one that rick rolled us.  I did not stay to see which winners the judges picked, as it was a long drive back to Williamsport and Ferry Hill, but the good folks at the canal entered in some pretty stunning posters, so I hope they came away with a Mather or two (newly proposed NPS award, like an Oscar).

When I was not on patrol or at the youth summit, I was catching up on the last few items in my task book and saying my goodbyes.  Everyone at the park showed me such kindness and treated me like I was a longtime member of the team.  Much information and wisdom was imparted to me and I am that much more prepared for a career in National Park Service.  I know the agency is a pretty tight knit family, so I hope to see many of the people I met here somewhere on down the line.

And with all that regular business and sappy stuff out of the way, here are a few pictures of some of what its really all about, from my last excursion of the internship.

Seneca Rocks, West Virginia 
Once again I met up with my West Virginia dwelling cousin Leslie, this time in the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area.  This was the first National Recreation Area in a National Forest, The Monongahela National Forest, so it is administered by the Forest Service rather than the NPS.

The top of Seneca Rocks

Seneca Rocks is a popular spot for rock climbers.  I think maybe the next leadership camp, especially the SAR and rock climbing portion, should take place out here.

Blackwater Falls, West Virginia
 After the rocks we ventured to the falls, this time in a state park, which were gushing at full force after some heavy rains.

Shoutout to Temple for providing me with this opportunity

I was really psyched because Blackwater Falls looked like rootbeer. 

Following the Case: From Start to End

K9 Konyak
Back at work again after a few fun days off as you all read about, I started out my half day shift with a little bit of program and training paperwork before heading out for patrol. I would be riding with Ranger Little, who was quite excited about a new tool he had just received that he could use in the field on traffic stops. The new tool that he received is called a tint reader, which allows him to test what percentage of tint the owner of the vehicle has on his/her windows. If it is below the limit it is allowed, but if it is a higher percentage than what is allowed, they can be cited or given a verbal warning to get it removed and get the right tint installed. It was a rather slow day as we did a few car stops with nothing major occurring, so we headed back to the office to end our shift and go home.

Ranger Little and K9 Konyak with the seized
drugs from our vehicle stop
When there is a slow day, you can always count on the next day being busy, and well that is what we got. Again I would be riding with Ranger Little, as we started our day out running radar on Blacksnake Road, one of the park roads that is known to be dangerous for people speeding. Right away, we caught someone speeding and pulled them over, issuing them a verbal warning for speeding and for a broken tail light. Upon clearing that stop, I observed a car coming up the hill that didn’t have a working front light and notified Ranger Little. We proceeded to ride behind the vehicle until there was a clear area for the traffic stop that didn’t leave us or people in the car in harm’s way of passing motorists. Upon pulling him over and making contact, the occupants, one male and one female, were asked to step out of the car so that we could run Konyak to sniff for drugs. Konyak proceeded to sniff the car and sit down, meaning he had a hit of drugs in the car. Ranger Little returned Konyak to the car, then started a search of the vehicle from front to back, as I stood with the subjects in front of the patrol car to make sure they didn’t interfere or try to run. Ranger Little upon searching the rear of the car found a large amount of Marijuana, money, a scale, grinder, and multiple baggies suggesting that one of the occupants of the car sold drugs. We placed one of the subjects under arrest as they admitted to the drugs, and finalized the search of the car, as well as interviews, then were on our way to the county jail.

Since it was such a large drug bust, we decided to get the local Drug Task Force (DTF) involved so that they could possibly gather intelligence to help them take down more drug dealers. We had a DTF investigative agent meet us at the jail so that we could share our intel/arrest information with him. He also wanted to do an interview with subject, which they were kind enough to allow me to sit in on. After the interview was conducted and the subject released until his court date, Ranger Little and I headed back to the office as it was time to enter evidence into IMARS and our evidence room. During the evidence entering process, I helped Ranger Little by weighing the amount of Marijuana we seized, counting the number of baggies the subject possessed, and counting the amount of cash that was seized as well. After counting and weighing everything, entering it into IMARS, and printing barcode labels, we put the evidence in different bags depending on whether or not it was going to be sent to the crime lab to get tested. The final thing that needed to be done was up to Ranger Little, as he started the process of writing the reports, and calling the right people to get the ball rolling on such an extensive case. It was an amazing experience to be able to see  and help in this traffic stop/case 99% of the way (besides court), and know just how much work goes into a case after you make the arrest and do the more fun work!

Also that night upon finishing evidence as Ranger Little started to write the report, we got called out to a motor vehicle accident (MVA) by Ranger Summerlin. Upon arriving we found a car that crashed into a small concrete bridge with no driver or passengers in the area. We photographed the scene, called for a tow truck, and directed traffic until the car was removed. I was given the task of filling out a tow sheet, a task that I had not done before. I found it to be a pretty easy but crucial task for a MVA, as it documents the cars condition and such, ownership, and what towing company took it so that we can put all that information into our report.

The next day Ranger Little and I were on patrol again, running radar and driving around to make sure all was sound. One of our two big incidents for the day was a traffic stop we conducted that wound up with us transporting a subject that was wanted on a warrant to another county close by. The transport and transfer of custody went without incident, and we headed back to the park. Our second incident was helping out Ranger Flint with a traffic stop where drugs were suspected in the car. Upon arriving on scene, Ranger Little and Flint took both occupants out of the car, than had Ranger Little run Konyak on the car. Konyak alerted to a spot in the car, confirming the presence of drugs. The vehicle was then searched with a small amount of marijuana found, that was taken to be processed into evidence. After the stop was over, it was time for us to go home and rest up for our shift the next day.

Our shift the next day was a busy one, as we made a good amount of traffic stops, resulting in a few written citations. On two of the traffic stops, we encountered the drivers having suspended licenses and search waivers, but finding nothing in the cars upon the conclusion of the searches. They both were issued citations for driving on a DL then were on their way home. On another traffic stop that night, a driver we pulled over had an expired DL. That traffic stop also resulted in another citation, as this is a big problem in Hot Springs and we are making it known that the NPS does not take this lightly. Our last traffic stop of the night resulted in a DUI arrest. We were staged at the “honey hole” when we observed a two car truck approach a stop sign, stop, proceed a bit, turn their headlights on then off, then peeled out on the road. Upon conducting the traffic stop at the campground and running the individual through a series of SFSTs (Standard Field Sobriety Tests), Ranger Little came to the conclusion the driver was driving under the influence as he failed a few portions of the tests conducted. He blew over the legal limit on scene, but during the booking process he was unable to blow a correct test on their machines, which results in a refusal. The refusal resulted in another citation that was issued, as he would be left in the jail to sober up then be released a few hours later. This would be our last stop of the day, which proved to be very productive for all the rangers on patrol that night.

My last shift for the week was fairly relaxed, as not much occurred throughout the evening. The first duty I had for the day was to go to Ranger Littles house to check on K9 Konyak since Ranger Little and his family were away for the day. Upon finally arriving at the office, I meet up with my supervisor and went out to do some bike patrol and practice some new skills on the bike. Some of the skills we worked on that day were a running stop, tackle off the bike, and learning how to be able to balance the bike and get down low to go under small spaces. We also rode up Hot Springs Mountain patrolling the area, and descended the mountain on some trails that had us working on our off terrain maneuvering skills. To end the shift, I rode along with Ranger Flint for the night. While patrolling Bathhouse row, a Hot Springs Police Department officer alerted Ranger Flint and I to a possibly intoxicated woman he observed having a hard time walking. Ranger Flint and I, along with the assistance of Hot Springs PD stopped the woman and questioned her. Along with questioning her, Ranger Flint administered SFSTs, but the woman was unable to complete them because of her level on intoxication. Ranger Flint along with the help of Hot Springs PD placed her under arrest and put her in our patrol car as she was going to jail for the night until she sobered up. This ended a very busy week for myself and the Rangers, as there is no other way we like it here at Hot Springs National Park then being busy patrolling the park and keeping visitors and locals safe.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Goodbye Gettysburg!

Seeing the sites (and the cannons!) one last time before turning in my keys.