Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Driving a boat is easy but docking it....

Hello all, Isaiah again, stationed at Virgin Island National Park.

My third week here was spent with Ranger Ludric Smith and we basically got into the same things we did the week prior. We were out on the sea a lot and we checked permits for boats allowing them to be there, made sure there was no anchoring, no boats in the boat exclusion zone, and other things related. Everything was pretty standard that week except with one thing. I started my training to operate a boat under Ranger Smith.

Boat patrol in progress ...

Those MOCC classes I took prior to my summer internship really helped a lot. But at the same time, it was just a class and seeing everything I was taught in person kind of brought it full circle. I had to revisit some of the things I learned to remind myself on boat operation and laws of ocean traffic. All of what I learned was coming back to me and it was slightly overwhelming. But Ranger Smith is a very good teacher and explain everything to me and even gave me a few tips on operating boat. He let me know some common mistakes that people do when operating a boat so I don't make them myself.

Just salt water...for miles..and miles...
Operating a boat. Easy? Yes and no. It's yes because all a boat has is forward, neutral, and reverse for gears. The exact same concept as driving a car except you have to take into the account waves and wake water when you drive a boat. Wake water is the ripple water left behind by a boat's propellers that can make for a bumpy ride if not navigated correctly. It's depicted in my first picture. In regards to forward, neutral, reverse, and steering the boat. easy peasy. The hard part is docking a boat. I've learned that wind can play a huge factor in the difficulty of docking a vessel. Ranger Smith can do it with his eyes closed driving the boat with his legs. I can't. It's hard. Getting a large object like that into a specific spot when water is never being still is difficult. You also have to move swiftly once you get the boat into that spot and tie the lines or else it will float away. I struggled with it at first. But entering into my fifth week at the park, I'd have to say it significantly easier than it was before. I still mess up and have to circle around to do it again but, I have gotten a lot better.
Peace Hill
During my week 4, I was with Ranger David Horner, That blog is coming soon. Stay tuned. (rhymed)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Island Ranger

This week I worked with the two Law Enforcement Rangers here at Christiansted NHS.
It was a very Buck Island oriented week and you know what that means. I got to practice and polish my boating skills, which have improved greatly with my continuous and constant training with Ranger Rivera. 
ProRanger with Ranger Laurencin at Buck Island.
My week started with me working as a back up officer for Ranger Gabriel Laurencin, the other Law Enforcement Ranger at Christiansted NHS. We patrolled Buck Island Reef National Monument, walked the West Beach and had non-law enforcement contacts with the visitors of the Park. On this day, I drove the vessel to and from Buck Island, and I also did the docking of the vessel with minimal inputs from Ranger Laurencin, which is a good thing because it shows I knew what I was doing. Also, we patrolled Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve. We checked the position of our site cameras and retrieved them to check for any trespassing in the area.

ProRanger at the Observation Platform
Later in the week I worked with Ranger Rivera and I experienced patrolling Buck Island Reef NM early hours. We were out in the ocean as early as 05:30 looking for fishermen or any park violators. We patrolled the island for a couple hours and I also got the chance to do more boat training like the “man-overboard” and “anchoring”. During one of our patrols of the island this week, we hiked the only trail on Buck Island to the observation platform.


My week ended with me aiding in the burial of a dead green turtle with Ranger Rivera. We went on a Buck Island patrol as usual, only to get a call while patrolling from our sister agency (USFWS) regarding a dead green turtle that was lying by the beach. We helped transport the turtle from the beachside to the deep ocean. The turtle had three cracked vertical lines on her shell, which the representative from USFWS said would likely be from a vessel’s propeller. It was good seeing how the National Park Service assists other agencies like the USFWS. It was sad that the turtle was dead, but it was good seeing and feeling a turtle up-close; she was EXTREMELY heavy to lift.

P.S. if you get stranded at Buck Island you could live off these berries that are local to the island, just be careful plucking them off the top of the cactus plant.

Getting to Know Colonial - Week 4

It took me four weeks but I now can say I know more about the events of both Jamestowne and Yorktown than the majority of people who come to these sites. This is of course all thanks to spending a week with COLO’s interpretative rangers. As I met with Paul Carson, chief of interpretation and education at COLO, on Monday morning I knew I was in for a knowledge-packed week as soon as he said he wanted me to be treated as a visitor for the first couple days. Up to this point I really hadn’t had a chance to thoroughly tour the entirety of the unit and to take my time reading all the signs. For the entirety of both Monday and Tuesday I had the chance to accomplish both of the tasks I just mentioned.

The theater at Jamestowne
I spent Monday at the Yorktown side of COLO participating in all of the activities a visitor would do if they truly wanted the full package. I watched the introductory video, toured the museum, and joined along for the 45 minute battlefield walking tour. Then in the afternoon I embarked on my own and drove all 16 miles of the tour roads, stopping at each sign to read about the significance of that particular spot. A volunteer was manning the Moore house, in which the surrender document was drafted, so I made sure to make a stop there. Another volunteer was also stationed at the Yorktown National Cemetery Lodge. During my visit here I was able to learn about the events that took place in Yorktown during the Civil War. To wrap up my day I toured historic Yorktown and took in the sights and read the signs outlining the history of this storied town.

In the ruins of a church during an archaeological tour

My day on Tuesday followed a similar format with a change in location. I made the forty minute drive out to Jamestowne and played visitor there for the day. I started out with a ranger-guided tour around the Newtown and Oldtown (the fort the settler’s initially built and inhabited) areas of Jamestowne which gave me a solid introduction to the events that occurred here. I then decided it was time to spend some time in the AC and watched the introductory video and toured the museum. I then began the afternoon by partaking in an archaeological tour led by Preservation Virginia (an organization that shares ownership with the NPS on Jamestowne Island). This tour provided me with insight into the history that we’ve gleaned from excavating and studying the artifacts left by the settlers. I finished the day up with a drive through Jamestown’s tour roads and then made my way back home.

On Wednesday and Friday Ranger Carson deemed me ready to partake in some interpretation. On Wednesday I worked the information desk at Yorktown’s visitor center and on Friday I did the same over at Jamestowne. Being on the front-lines tested my knowledge and I had to redirect those with specific questions to a more knowledgeable ranger on multiple occasions. However, the experience was very enlightening and I learned more about the both the park and those who visit it.

Adrian and I striking a pose at the entrance to Jamestowne
I skipped over the events of Thursday because they were a bit out of the ordinary for me. On Thursday I had the pleasure of having visitors. Our very own Ranger Adrian Fernandez and his family stopped by for a day at COLO on their way to Florida. We started off the day with a very productive meeting with COLO’s Chief Ranger Steve Williams and I then spent the rest of the day trying to show them as much of the park as I could in the little time we had. We then wrapped up with a meeting with my supervisor Ranger Krebs and they were back on the road. My week in interpretation was another productive one and I’m glad I finally got the chance to get to know the park and learn the specific details of events that were so important that their legacies are now being preserved by Colonial National Historical Park.

A Week full of LE Learning

This past week has been amazing. It started out at Minute Man National Historical Park. I was able to learn the history of this park as well as how the law enforcement rangers help ensure the park is safe at all times. I toured the park and saw the jurisdiction of the park, we did walk-throughs of many of the parks’ “witness structures” which are buildings that were standing during that time period (1775). It was really great working with a different park and seeing the similarities and differences between Boston National Historical Park and Minute Man National Historical Park. After this the Rangers and I headed to the range. I was able to safely observe their shooting practice from behind the control table with earmuffs and safety goggles. The rangers were really helpful in explaining firearm safety. They also went over the requirements for shooting accuracy in the Park Service. I was able to learn a lot during my time spent at Minuteman National Historical Park.

The rest of my week was spent working with my supervisor in law enforcement. I learned the different components that made up the patrol vehicle. I helped set up the patrol car for the day. We drove around from building to building and ensured everything was in order. We responded to calls about exhausted people who had attempted to climb the Bunker Hill Monument, and were unfit to do so. I observed the entire procedure of how the rangers dealt with a suspicious package from finding it, to having Oscar, the explosives detective dog sniff the back pack. Luckily everything was ok, it was really neat to see how this issue was dealt with.  This was a week full of learning and observing. I really enjoyed working with the Law Enforcement rangers this past week.     

Program Visit: SLBE

My expectations for the “most beautiful place in America” (according to Good Morning America) were pretty high.  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (SLBE) and its staff did not disappoint me!  I was joined on this visit by junior (pro) ranger Finn.  We visited during the second week in June while it is still pretty cool up in northern Michigan.  

We started the visit with a trip to the Visitor’s Center to pick up the junior ranger book.  ProRanger Tim Greene and Finn started working on it right away!  From there we proceeded to the Leelanau District Ranger Station and met up with Tim’s supervisor for the summer, District Ranger Andrew Blake. 

Tim and Finn working on the junior ranger workbook.
Tim Greene presents District Ranger Andy Blake with a plaque on behalf of the ProRanger Program.

Then we all headed to the park headquarters for a meeting with Deputy Superintendent Tom Ulrich and Chief Ranger Phil Akers.  This is SLBE’s third summer participating in the program and during our meeting the support for the program from the park’s leadership was clear.  They also provided some helpful feedback and suggestions for future improvements to the program.

Ranger Blake, ProRanger Greene, Chief Akers and Deputy Superintendent Ulrich

Then we were off for a whirlwind tour of the park!  As we toured the park, Ranger Blake pointed out areas of the park for Tim to be aware of, he reviewed the law enforcement challenges they typically encounter in various areas and the types of assignments Tim will be getting later in the summer.  He also took the opportunity to quiz Tim on our location on various roads and geographic areas to be sure that he was learning the park’s geography and would be able to accurately call in his location or respond the correct location in the event of an incident.  

Finn dug a "sitting hole" and relaxed to observe the sights

Ranger Blake also made several visitor contacts during the course of our tour while Tim observed.  Following each contact Ranger Blake explained the circumstances of the contact:  why he initiated it, his strategy for handling it the way he did and what he hoped to accomplish from the contact.  He also shared whether it was a typical contact for that area and what other ways that Tim could expect that interaction to unfold.  Some of these contacts included waving down a visitor who was clearly exceeding the park’s speed limit, educating some dog walkers about the areas where they could take their dog (they were about to enter an area where they could not), observing the activities of a known park tour group leader, among other contacts.  This was in addition to answering dozens of questions from park visitors about directions and making recommendations about the park’s highlights.

One of the 3 bays in the park

We ended the day with a demonstration of SLBE's UTV used for rescues!
Day 2 of the visit included a visit to the Platte District.  We were there on a cool, overcast weekday morning early in the season.  The Platte River looked calm and serene.  It was hard to imagine the huge crowds that will cause near gridlock on the river on an almost daily basis later in the summer.  Ranger Blake described the many law enforcement challenges they have there and the opportunities that Tim will have later in the summer to be a part of several "saturation" days where multiple law enforcement agencies will be coordinating their activities in order to keep the chaos in check.

Platte River entry point

No sign of the crowds to come

No visit to SLBE would complete without climbing some dunes!  We finished up the visit with the completion of the junior ranger program and a swearing in and presentation of the badge!  
Proud junior ranger

The dune climb!
Then we walked.  And walked.  And walked. It was a cool day with relatively small crowds, but Tim got a taste of the search and rescue challenges he’ll be seeing when the weather gets hot and the crowds get bigger.  He was already strategizing about some of the preventative search and rescue (PSAR) work he’ll be assigned to. 

Cherry pit spitting
 Olympic size cherry pit spitting arena
Lest you think the visit was all work, we spent the evenings enjoying the towns of Empire and Glen Arbor.  This area of Michigan is famous for its cherries.  So, we sampled a lot of cherry-flavored food (cherry salsa anyone?).  And, who knew that cherry pit spitting was a thing?  I was dubious, but it turned out to be pretty fun!  

After dinner entertainment

Something you don't see every day:  Fox running down the road with a hot dog and egg in its mouth

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t cooperative and we waited for those striking sunsets that never materialized, but we engaged in some competitive games of cornhole and enjoyed the beachside playgrounds (and the fact that it stayed light until nearly 10pm!).  There’s always next year!  
Sunset over Lake Michigan from Empire's town park
Thanks to Tim for being a great host, organizing a great visit and for being a great role model for an 8-year old.  Thank you to Ranger Andy Blake for his enthusiastic mentorship of Tim, his hospitality and for taking time out of his schedule to make our visit both productive and enjoyable.  And, thank you to SLBE Deputy Superintendent Tom Ulrich and Chief Ranger Phil Akers for their leadership and ongoing support of the program.

Up next:  Fire Island

Sunday, June 26, 2016

"A Whole Lotta #Cray in a Small Area" - Ranger Pat

Valley Forge has several initiatives that work together to keep the ecosystem at Valley Forge in check. Among these is the Crayfish Corps, an initiative that works to rid Valley Creek of the rusty crayfish, an invasive species of crayfish from the Ohio River Valley Region. The rusty crayfish are larger than native crayfish which means they not only out compete them for space but also for food. Rusty crayfish have harder exoskeletons as well which makes them more difficult for predators to eat and they are also less nutritious than native species.
Native Crayfish
Rusty Crayfish
The rust crayfish are easily identifiable (for the most part) by a couple of signature features. Both the native and the rusty crayfish have orange bands on the tips of their claws, however the rusty crayfish also have a black band around the tips of their claws. The rusty crayfish are also named as such for a reason - they have rusty colored spots on the sides of their carapaces.

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if it is a native or invasive species of crayfish, however usually looking for both the black band and the rusty spots gives a pretty solid indication of species. It is important to correctly identify the crayfish because the rusty crayfish are removed from Valley Creek to be measured and cataloged, while the native species are left to reproduce. The goal of the Crayfish Corps is to maintain a ratio of 1 or fewer rusty crayfish to every 4 native crayfish.

The Crayfish Corps goes out every Saturday with nets and waders for approximately 2 hours to catch crayfish. You position your net directly downstream of a rock you think crayfish are under and when you turn the rock over the current carries the crayfish straight into your net. Recently, Ranger Pat devised a new method of crayfishing where you stretch a drag net across the stream and turn over rocks for about 5-10 feet ahead of the net. The current carries everything down into the net and then we sort through everything in the net to find crayfish. This is a more effective method of crayfishing and can net several dozen per try. On average, about 15 people can find 100 crayfish an hour in Valley Creek.

A trip to Valley Creek can also allow for sightings of several other aquatic animals. On my last trip out, for example, we caught a fairly large bass and we saw a water snake sunning itself on a rock. The water snake is nonvenomous and allowed us to take a few pictures before sliding off the rock and heading towards shore. Other animal sightings include chipmunks, deer, waterbugs, other species of fish/snakes, and scuds.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Fences, Floors, and a Familiar Face

Fence line at Antietam National Battlefield

               Virginia Snake Line, Worm-rail, or Zigzag fencing…I’m not sure what to call it anymore. However you might name it, I spent most of the week string-trimming it. It was definitely work, but very rewarding to see the direct contribution to the battlefield’s appearance.  My coworkers in the maintenance staff were an enjoyable bunch. They managed to bring me up to speed with some hysterical in-house jokes in a few short days. When I wasn’t working with the trimming crew, I was shadowing the battlefield’s custodian. We were back and forth between the Visitor’s Center and whatever assignment we had planned for the day. Some of those tasks were maintaining the Education Center at Mumma Farmhouse, cleaning the battlefield’s gym, and stocking cleaning supplies. Once again, it was nice to know that I played a role in the aesthetics and maintenance of Antietam.
               On Tuesday, Tony came to visit Antietam National Battlefield. The previous day he visited with Nick at Gettysburg National Military Park. So in the short span of 48 hours, he was zapped with quite a few of the electric facts of the American Civil War. I enjoyed that I was able to ask him about some comparisons and differences between the two Civil War Battlefields, and also that he was up for hiking the Battlefield’s Union Advance Trail on a particularly humid day. The meeting was not all fun in games though, we had to collect the logistics needed for the ProRanger Program. For that, we needed to stick somewhat to the visit’s itinerary. Most of the needed data was accumulated during a meeting between Tony & I, my immediate Supervisor, ANTI’s Chief Ranger, and ANTI’s Superintendent. I was ecstatic throughout the visit to share all the knowledge I’d acquired over the past few weeks with someone I knew from outside of the experience. All in all, the visit was a great way to spend a day of my first internship.   
Tony and I on the battlefield