Sunday, July 26, 2015

Elusive Clocks

Aft Engine Room of the Cassin Young
This week I spent some time with Resource Management. The first day I received a sneak peak of what the annual inventory of collections might entail. It seems like a game of hide and seek but I would never get to hide. The inventory process sounded systematic at first, reading the location of the item, finding the item, matching the catalog numbers, and recording the item’s condition. Eventually, this information finds its way onto the Interior Collections Management System. However, there were a couple of elusive items that made for a bit of a patience building exercise. For instance, few clocks became much more difficult to find on the Cassin Young then I would have ever imagined. On the bright side, I thoroughly enjoyed crawling through hatches, to get the aft engine room in search of the ship’s clocks. It is interesting to think about how investigations into missing items depends upon the importance of the item. Personally, I am glad I am not the one that has to make those seemingly tough decisions. Although it may be something as simple as a missing pencil, but what if it were one of the missing clocks? How much of an impact has the clock made on today’s understanding of the way those aboard the Cassin Young told time? Many questions would need to be asked and hopefully one would be able to figure out the answers, making way towards a definitive answer for the missing item.

Blue board (left) and ethafoam (right)

During my time with Resource Management, I was able to help out with a preservation project that they have going on. Within the collections holding area, the items are held on top of ethafoam. It is a foam sheet that provides a bit of protection for the items as they sit on the shelves. Over time, ethafoam starts to deteriorate. This was unforeseen as an impending problem and has become an issue. The deterioration has made the sheets useless for protecting the items. After being touched, the sheets turn into a snow-like form upon touch. We spent a day replacing the ethafoam with blue boards. These blue boards are consistent with a card board type of substance. It provides support for the collections and will not deteriorate nearly as quickly as the ethafoam has proven to.

Myself and the SCA Curatorial Intern
Overall, Resource Management involved care-taking for the pieces of history that BNHP still has. I feel as though this division contains a large amount of appreciation for this role of preservation. Many pieces of America’s story can be told through these pieces of history and it was amazing to be a part of its preservation. 

Best of Both Worlds

Time at Monocacy National Battlefield is flying by! They say "time flies when you're having fun" and I can say with confidence that this is the case in my situation. The last two weeks have been a great experience with two very different divisions. My weeks with Maintenance and Interpretation reassured me that it takes many diverse skill sets to run a park effectively.

For my days with Maintenance, we would report to the visitor center early in the morning to make sure that the place is spotless. We would vacuum, clean exhibits, dust, and clean the bathrooms. It may not be the most attractive duty, but someone's got to do it. With that mindset, the Maintenance team does a great job. 
Cleaning toilets isn't fun, but Andrew showed
me how to do it with a smile from ear to ear.
People come in from walking the trails with dirt on their boots. We clean the visitor center every morning, and make sure that the visitor has a pleasant experience. 
Thankfully, I was also able to get outside. 
Keeping the arrowhead clean and welcoming.

During the days with the Maintenance crew, I was able to continue sharpening my skills with the weed whacker. Pictured above, we also cleared brush and were able to put it through the chipper. I loved being outside and working with the guys, but was pleasantly surprised with a trip to Philadelphia.
Pictured above (L-R): ProRanger Tim Greene (me), ProRanger Isaiah Lewis,
Chief Ranger Jeremy Murphy, and ProRanger John Hesdon.
It was awesome to see my former Chief Ranger Jeremy Murphy (now at Gettysburg National Military Park) and fellow ProRangers John and Isaiah. We were able to be a part of the Incident Command Team meeting, which was a great display of effective planning, unavoidable stress, and amazing teamwork. As a member of the National Park Service, you have many opportunities to take on collateral duties that can take your career on a different and exciting path. Having unique experiences like this will only help you grow as a ranger. 

As my time with Maintenance came to a close, it was time to switch gears and work with the Interpretive Rangers. I enjoyed my time at the Visitor Center because you are constantly communicating with visitors. I may not be able to answer every question about Monocacy, but I can point them in the right direction and give them a nice smile. Making sure that the visitors have a pleasant experience is key to the growth of our park. I also enjoyed sitting in on the Ranger Programs, which we host twice a day. 
Ranger Brian Dankmeyer giving a program. 
The Interpretive Rangers are all about customer experience. They are never bored on the job, because there is always something that can be improved. Pictured above, Ranger Brian is outside on a beautiful day. He is feeling fine while being well covered from the sun. However, it is clear that the visitors are a little warm and the sun was impacting their comfort. Instead of going along with the program and ignoring the uncomfortable situation, Brian asked them for advice. The end result:
Improvising in order to meet the visitor's satisfaction is an important skill.
The whole crew moved into the air-conditioned Visitor Center and Brian gave the program from an electronic map upstairs. This may seem like a small gesture, but the visitors were beyond pleased. This situation impacted me because even while giving an in-depth program, the visitor's comfort was still on Brian's mind, and he acted. Having a passion for pleasing the visitors is another priority that I have noted for my future.

I say that I experienced the best of both worlds because the Maintenance crew works physically and tirelessly to give the visitor a pleasant experience, while the Interpretive Rangers take a creative and passionate mindset to please the visitor. These two divisions complete very different everyday tasks, but have the same mission. Giving the customer a satisfying visit is the goal and I have been lucky enough to see talented people dedicate their time and passion to achieve this goal, while continuing to improve as time goes by. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Filters and Fountains

The foundations of the President's house, as seen from below
during a filter change
Changing a water pump
Last week was my second with the maintenance division here at Independence. The first week was spent with the grounds, custodial, and motor vehicles as they were preparing for the fourth of July festivities. I weeded the garden outside of the liberty bell, set up barricades, visited the maintenance and garage facilities, among many other things. I was stationed with the Buildings and Utilities Branch. B&U is responsible for the upkeep of the buildings in the park as well as the various heating, cooling, and electrical systems. They also do woodwork, masonry, and painting when the need arises. They are, as you can imagine, a busy group of guys.

Each member of the Utilities staff is very skilled in many different areas, and they are all capable of handling nearly every job that comes up at the park. For example, when shadowing the Park's Electrician, Jeff, I helped to: clean a fountain, dig holes for electrical covers, replace the head on a street lamp outside of Franklin Court, clean a different fountain, and hook up and place a water pump, all in a day and a half. The needs of the park are varied, common, and urban, and maintenance workers have to be equipped to handle all of them, single-handed if need be.

One of the most important needs of the park is the air filter systems. Most of the historical buildings have their own climate control systems for the sake of preservation. The air filters for the systems have to be replaced fairly regularly and as such this is a common job for utilities. I went along with utility member William to replace one such set of filters in the basement of the Independence Hall block.

Part of the maze under Independence Hall
All of the buildings on the block use one space to house most of their utilities, which means air, water, electricity, etc. for five buildings are packed into a relatively small space. The result is an elaborate maze of pipes, ducts, and wires that is impressive to say the least. It was very cool (if very cramped) to get to walk around down there, like being in a thoroughly planned out cave. I also got to see an example of how multi-talented the people in Maintenance are, as a routine filter change turned into a repair of an air pump and greasing of a motor, which were all handled by William.

The people in maintenance were very hardworking and incredibly talented, and I gained a lot of appreciation for what they do in my two weeks there.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Deer Trackers!

Deer With Radio Tracking Collar
Hello my name is Nicholas Fitzke and I am the ProRanger currently stationed at Fire Island National Seashore.

A large portion of my time with Resource Management was spent tracking deer. Deer are an overpopulated species on Fire Island and the scientists here want to learn as much as they can about their ecology and how they interact with the environment. This is no easy task as deer are often in places that regular folks wouldn't dare enter (swamps, forests, tick infested fields). Thankfully we are not regular folks and have a thirst for adventure!

Each deer that is a part of the study has its own tracking collar. This collar lets the researchers locate and even track behavior of these elusive creatures. To find the deer we use a Yagi antenna which looks like those antennas people use to get TV service. This lets us triangulate the radio signal that the collars emit. We also wear Tyvek suits to keep the ticks out of our clothes. It is often a strange sight to behold for the random passer by. We look like we are searching for aliens! One gentlemen we walked past screamed, "SCIENCE!" at us, to which I replied, "YES, SCIENCE!".

Tyvek Suits
Never a dull moment! Deer tracking really pushed me out of my comfort zone. At one point during the tracking we ended up in a salt marsh. This was a mosquito breeding ground. There were so many that my body locked up from discomfort. If there is one thing I hate it is mosquitoes! But when science is involved you need to do what must be done. Like Taylor Swift I just shook it off and continued my work.

This tracking was just one piece of my conservation project that included vegetation monitoring and post hurricane Sandy restoration. The theory being that deer populations have a direct effect on vegetation and regrowth post-disaster.

If you want to learn more about Fire Island National Seashore check out their website at:

Check back next week for some of my highlights with the Law Enforcement division!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A New Week in Boston

After spending a week with the Maintenance division of Boston National Historical Park (BNHP), I have been witnessing the unique relationship that this park has with the Navy.  For instance, I toured the dry dock to take a look at what sort of responsibilities the Maintenance division has within the area. These responsibilities have changed since the U.S.S. Constitution is undergoing restoration. Before this tour, I had no idea that the park took on such duties. For instance, the Navy built a completely new caisson specifically for the U.S.S. Constitution’s restoration. Meanwhile, BNHP’s caisson remains tied up along the side of one of the piers.

(The caisson is pictured right.)

The remainder of my week had been spent with the Law Enforcement division (LE). I had an opportunity to run through safety procedures with weapons and even clean out a side arm. Safety has been continually reinforced within all of the divisions that I have worked with so far. This experience, like many others, continues to prove how enticing this field of work appears to me. The realistic situations that BNHP encounter as an urban national park has been taking form by learning what makes up the different pieces of the puzzle that form the LE division as well as the entirety of BNHP. This includes the relationship that this park has with the navy as well as situations that may take place for visitors of this urban national park. Experiencing the variety among perceptions that exist between the park’s divisions has also helped mold my growing understanding of the Park Service.

A final piece of the week involves the Friday night Concert Series held in the Navy Yard. Since the event happened within BNHP’s jurisdiction, I had the opportunity to work with a LE ranger. We created an incident action plan (IAP) for the event in case of emergency. The IAP provides a systematic way of organizing different resources in the event of an emergency. It also makes important information accessible to all of the LE rangers. Before the event, I ran the briefing with the LE rangers before we dispersed into different positions (pictured right).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Salute to Independence

Antietam National Battlefield hosts the Salute to Independence around Independence Day each year, featuring music from the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and a tremendous fireworks display. It's a large event and has been happening since 1986. With that being said, these people know what they're doing and how things should be done.
Photo taken from
Visit their site for more info on the event and the Orchestra!

I was excited to head over to Antietam from Monocacy, as I was asked to help park cars and assist with the traffic while everyone was exiting the park. I was also looking forward to seeing fellow ProRangers Dan Bussell from Manassas and Isaiah Lewis from Gettysburg. With expected crowds of up to 20,000, it was important that everyone was on the same page.

The stage from afar and small crowd earlier in the day. 
Luckily, that is exactly how it happened. Upon arrival, we were given assignments for where and who we were working with for the evening. Dan, Isaiah, and I were all assigned to the same parking zone, so it was nice to catch up in person for the first time since Leadership Camp. We were working with employees from Antietam and through clear instruction and well mannered visitors, the time flew. Cars were parked, the sun was disappearing, and the fireworks show was amazing.
Fireworks never look as cool in a picture,
so you should check them out in real life next year.
Our supervisor was saying that it has been difficult in the past with the amount of people trying to get out of the area at the same time. Maybe it was beginners luck, but it was painless. We all spread out along the road, making sure the pedestrians and cars knew where they belonged for a safe exit. We stopped traffic when necessary, or asked pedestrians to wait for a car to pull out. All in all, it was a great experience that went smoothly while everyone worked as a team. 

I highly recommend that everyone attend the Salute to Independence at Antietam National Battlefield next year for great music, tremendous fireworks, and a patriotic experience surrounded by friends and family.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Exploding Whales and Other Sea Life

Deceased Juvenile Humpback Whale
Hello my name is Nicholas Fitzke and I am the ProRanger currently stationed at Fire Island National Seashore.

Warning: This article contains graphic images of dead and dissected sea life. 

It was a sad day when we heard the news that a young Humpback Whale had washed ashore in one of the 17 communities on Fire Island. After asking around I came to the understanding that sea life often washes ashore here, ranging from dolphins to sea turtles. The park service's role in these kinds of situation is to provide a safe environment both for researchers and the public. These kinds of biological events can attract many people and this was definitely true on this occasion.

I'm sure at least some of you have seen the videos online of exploding whales. When an animal dies the gasses in the body can cause bloating. If the gas is not released properly there can be an explosive reaction. Thankfully the organization that helped with the autopsy of our large friend knew what they were doing and things went very smoothly. Anti-climactic you say? Perhaps but an investigation into how this marvelous best died was still to take place. 

Humpbacks can grow up to 50 feet long. Our friend was only around 25 feet. This helped the researchers discover the age and maturity of this particular whale. My role in all of this was to stand by and answer any questions from the public and to keep people behind the fence. There was a consistent flow of viewers and even some that brought chairs to gaze upon this glorious creature as the scientists ripped into its tough hide.

It was a long and very smelly day but after hours of taking samples and examination the initial findings suggested that the cause of death was boat strike. A prime example of the effect humans can have on the natural world. But this incident wasn't the only creature that I was assigned to work on.

Another day I was assigned to move two dead sea turtles that had washed ashore. This required a lot more of my participation than the whale incident. Alongside other members of the NPS staff I helped locate, carry, and deliver the two to the same foundation that was working on the whale.

Sea Turtle
This was also a smelly endeavor. Recently there have been Man O' Wars washing up on shore which might account for an increase of turtles in the area. This in turn leads to more sharks in the water. My supervising ranger said that he saw a school of Hammerheads just a day before these turtles washed up. I don't know their cause of death was but one of the turtles was missing its head and both front flippers.

If you want to learn more about sea life and the foundation that was assisting the NPS you can visit their website at:

Check back next week for my experience tracking deer and more SCIENCE!