Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Many Seasoned Sycamore

Salutations from Valley Forge! This is a picture of a sycamore tree that dates back before George Washington's Encampment. Many refer to this tree as the "witness tree" because it is said to have watched over the encampment. Not too many visitors know about the tree, which is located on the north side of the park, but locals and park employees frequently stop to gaze at the tree while others paint pulchritudinous masterpieces.

-Keith & Rosalia

Friday, June 25, 2010

Water Lines, Artifacts and Thoughts - GETT

A view of the battlefield from Gettysburg NMP.

Tuesday, I began my time in Resource Management by spending the day with Bert Herbert, our park's archaeologist. As I mentioned before, I was excited for the opportunity - because I'd finally have someone to "talk shop" with.

From my limited time with Bert, I gleaned that the park archaeologist in Gettysburg primarily works to protect the resources through ensuring compliance. This means that when our battlefields or properties are potentially disturbed, he steps in and acts as an overseer and consultant.

In fact, our first activity of the day was in relation to this exact function.

Our Spangler's Spring comfort station had been closed for some time due to the fact its 30's-era water line had become non-functional over the years. This year, the park is beginning a construction project to replace it and thereby reopen the comfort station. To give a simplistic explanation of the situation: The park intends to replace the water line by digging in the exact path of the old water line, replacing it in kind. Because the survey team discovered that the water line runs beneath a number of our park's defensive walls, and would require their being disturbed - it required a field visit from Bert.

Bert and I walked the entire length of the old water line, chasing the occasional blue line across the tall grass of the fields. At one point, we even had to venture straight into deep, overgrown thicket. Even though it was still early morning, it was about 90 degrees out and very humid. Trying to make my way through that thicket was probably the most intense hiking I've ever done in my life. If you're ever around some thicket and are curious about venturing off trail, I wouldn't recommend it. There's just too many plants with thorns and tangly vines and roots.

Blue line hunting in the thicket! You can see the trail we were following in the lower right hand corner, painted on a plant.

The water line intersecting one of our defensive walls.

Finally, we came to the tail end of the water line, and documented the path photographically. I later learned from Bert that this water line was originally dug by hand. Hand-dug trenches can be made to be very narrow and are much easier to "shape." This means that when our machines come in to "replace in kind", they have to be just as precise as the original scope of the labor in order not to disturb areas outside of the original trenches, so that the integrity of the battlefield is maintained. Extraordinary care will be necessary as the crews get near the walls and monuments, as well. Construction and preservation of historic sites is a very delicate thing. on one hand, you want to maintain and make accessible your resources - but on the other hand, once you've tampered with the original integrity of a historic resource, it can never be regained.

Bert and Dan (the supervisor for the project) meet to discuss the importance of using a very small diameter backhoe bucket and an experienced operator for the delicate excavation, and the best methods to preserve the integrity of the battlefield during the project.

After lunch, I was allowed to go into the wet lab and assist with the cleaning of artifacts that had been discovered at one of our building preservation sites, the Klingel house.

Bottles from Klingel. Very dirty bottles.
Cleaning the patent medicine bottles and broken plate was difficult. They were literally caked with hundred-year old mud that had hardened into a cement-like consistency, yet still demanded the kind of delicate handling an artifact ought to receive. I also was forbidden to use soap (for obvious reasons), so it was just me and a basin of water, primarily.

Water and a bucket. My tools for the afternoon also included a cup full of toothbrushes, pipe cleaners, cotton swabs, and tissues.

I invented a new tool to clean the bottle. I call it the field-expedient cottonswab and pipe cleaner apparatus - or FE-CAPCA - because I've also learned that the government really likes initialisms and acronyms

Generally, you can't use water on metal. Instead, dry brushes (seen on the right hand side of the picture) are used. The artifacts here are two nails and what I thought was a bell, but Burt said could also be some kind of censer (a kind of receptacle for burning incense).

This inscription, located on the back of a spoon handle, became visible once I cleaned the dirt off of it. It appears to say "RITAN" and has an image of what is either a crown of a chef's toque, and some small letters beneath. "KET", maybe? My guess is that it said PURITAN at some point in time.

"Guaranteed full 1/2 pint"! All clean. Thanks, FE-CAPCA.

Nothing like a basket of clean artifacts at the end of a day. These will eventually be cataloged and then make their way into storage at curation (which you can see in one of my earlier posts), but for now they have to dry.
Trying to strike that balance between conservation/protection and public use is probably the most complicated issue I've come across in my time at the park so far - and after spending the day with Winona Peterson (more on that later), one of our park's historians, I'm convinced there's no easy solution. The visitors come to see the resource - but visitor use can sometimes threaten the resource. Without visitors, there is no park - but without resources, there are no visitors.
Visitors enjoying Little Round Top; Ranger Ryan Levins patrolling.

I think the best thing that I can do as a LE ranger, then, is not just to demand rule compliance as if it were some grand arbitrary fiat - but rather take a page from the interp rangers and do some education. If visitors cutting social trails down the face of Little Round Top is causing the hill to erode (which they are - and it is), then it's probably beneficial to take them aside and tell them: "Hey, I understand you love this place and want to see more of it, but we only get one chance to preserve history. We get over a million and a half visitors in a year, and if they all walk down the side of the hill, then there's not going to be anything left of Little Round Top in the future." Or something like that.

Of course, sometimes people won't listen to you, or don't care, and in that case I don't think there's not much to do aside from punishing the violation by whatever means are appropriate for the situation. But discounting that, I think most people are reasonable and appreciate being treated as such. I'll definitely have to do more observations of conflict resolution styles, though. I've still got a lot (and by a lot, I mean everything) to learn!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Greetings from Prince William Forest!

Sorry that I haven't written on here sooner, but I was having trouble being able to post. However, Aaron just helped me figure it out. So far Aaron and I have been through Resource Management and Interpretation with a week in between the two with Law Enforcement. It has been a great time so far, but Resource Management was not for me. The week with LE was awesome. We got to go to Washington D.C. for a day, and we were able to sit at the secretary of the interior's desk (I will put up pictures this weekend). During our time with Interpretation, we have been working on a safety podcast that will hopefully be put up on the parks website sometime before we have to leave, but we are still in the process of trying to edit it all together. I have been having a great time down here in Virginia, and the people are amazing. I just wasn't expecting it to be so hot and humid everyday, but I think I might be starting to get used to it. I hope everybody else is having such a great time.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Aryan Nations rally remains peaceful despite threats (GETT)

National Park Service Law Enforcement prevent a group of anarchists from fighting a pair of Aryan Nation sympathizers as they attempted to get into their vehicle on the battlegrounds Saturday afternoon during an Aryan Nations rally and a counter-rally put on by anarchists groups.

Full story from the York Daily Record here:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

US Park Police Eagle 2 - GETT

Me and Eagle 2.

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of working with the Park Police again, and this time I got pose for a picture with Eagle 2. Sweet! This photo was taken on the ground just outside the old Cyclorama building.

Tuesday, I'll be starting my two weeks with Resource Management/Planning. As an Anthropology major, I'm excited, because that means I might get to spend a few days with our park's archaeologist.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Weeks 1-2: Resource Management

Greetings from Prince William Forest Park!! I am excited to finally have internet access, be able to post on the blog and let you know how things are going here at PRWI. In the next few days I will be writing up multiple post to update you on how things are going and what we have done here at PRWI so far. It has been an exciting few weeks! Our first two weeks were spent with Resource Management. We started our time with RM and underwent seasonal training with all of the SCAs that are here working in RM for the summer. It was very nice to have people our own age to work with. Our focus while we were in RM was invasive species management and water quality testing with a few other tasks thrown in here and there. Also while in Resource Management we went on many different resource hikes and were trained on GPS and GIS systems.

On the side of invasive species management we were trained on the proper use of herbicides and exotic plant identification. We were trained by Frank and Jeff from the Center for Urban Ecology (CUE). This was very hot and sweaty work but very rewarding in the end. By the end of our two weeks with resource management we had treated four areas that are being managed for invasive species one of which was hand pulling barberry bushes and if you know anything about barberry you will know that it hurts!! Everyday we would leave the park sweaty and dirty but it was alright because we felt a sense of accomplishment and that we had done our part.

While in RM we also have done a lot of water quality testing. In order for the park to keep the 5 lakes within it's boundaries open it must monitor the quality of the water. The two main test that are done are acidity and E Coli. These are both done by taking samples to the lab and either titrating them to determine the pH or using a bacteria test to determine the presence of E Coli. I find this work very interesting and looked forward to doing this after every rain storm.

GPS and GIS are used quite often in the NPS. From measuring the size of an area of invasive species that need to be taken care of to marking the spot of a hunting blind that you found while out on boundary patrol, these skills will be very useful whatever department you end up going into with the NPS. If you have not done so and have the opportunity to get familiar with this software I would highly recommend it because of the many ways you can use it in the field.

It was also very nice to get out and enjoy the woods of PRWI on our two resource hikes that we went on. It is a very beautiful park and has many hidden treasures, one of which is a plant on the endangered species list, Isotria. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time spent here at PRWI with RM it has been two very enjoyable weeks where we have stayed very busy and enjoyed spending time with people our own age. I look forward to the next few weeks where we will be spending some time with LE and Interp.


(Pictures to follow)

Monday, June 14, 2010

First Week of Maintenance

We are all now three weeks into our internships. The first two weeks were spent with interpretation and the last has been spent with maintenance. I have thoroughly enjoyed this past week working with maintenance. My schedule has shifted from a 9-530 day to a 7-330 day. By moving two hours of my workday from after lunch to before lunch the day goes by significantly quicker. In addition my daily activities in maintenance keep my mind and my body more engaged then my activities in interpretation. I have been with the gardening crew for this past week pulling weeds, pruning and trimming bushes and shrubs and planting flowers and new shrubs. I have learned much in this past week and have been able to take home a seedling of a ginko tree. This coming week I will be working with the painting crew and then the custodial crew. It promises to be another week that will fly by. Pictures and videos to come.........

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Week 3: Natural Resources And Artillery Weekend At Antietam National Battlefield

Travis and I have been very busy down here at Anti. After our orientation week, we were put to work. This past week I spent my time with the Natural Resources Division. The week before we helped out with trail maintenance but this week was a different challenge. Near the historic Poffenberger Farm, we had an invasion of epic proportion. An invasion of noxious weeds and plant matter.

Included in these noxious weeds are Johnson Grass and Ailanthus trees, aka Tree of Heaven. They are considered noxious because they are not native to Maryland and more important they were not present during the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. The mission here at the park is to preserve and protect. t our duty to preserve the battlefield so a visitor will see it the same way a Civil War soldier would of seen it all those years ago.

After a morning of hard work, we successfully cleaned up this problem spot. Unfortunately, this field has been overrun. In order to to get the land usable for farm use, like it would of been back in 1862, we had more work to do. We spent the rest of the work week cleaning up the invasives in this farmland.

This week ended with quite the bang! It was one of the artillery weekends here at Anti. One of the most popular programs of the year, men from Civil War Living History Groups come to put on a show. They fire cannons and explain how the canons worked and were used during the Civil War Era. The men of the Baltimore Light Artillery Group came to give the demonstration.

On a hot friday afternoon, I spent time making artillery rounds for the show. For obvious safety reasons, we make use real canon rounds. As a substitute, we make rounds out of aluminum foil, tape, peat moss, and one pound of black explosive powder.

Here I am fulling a round peat moss and to the right is Ranger Christy molding rounds for me to fill.

I am now molding the round so it can be used for the artillery weekend. After we fill a round with peat moss, we then make another round and fill it black powder. We then put the peat moss round inside the black powder round and mold the whole thing together to make it look like an authentic civil war artillery round.

Of course, this is very dirty work.

But it was well worth it in the end because I got to fire a real civil war canon! KaBoom!

Till Next Time!


Cattle Corraling - GETT

A small portion of the calves from the herd. The older ones are far less curious.

Well, in all honesty - it was just one calf, but still . . .

Gettysburg has a lot of fields and fences, some of which we lease to farmers who in turn work the land. I don't really know anything about the agricultural leases or how they work, so I can't say too much about them unfortunately - but what I can say is that we maintain the historic fences around these farms, and that portions of them (usually just the top beam) do on occasion fall down or get knocked over by the animals grazing inside. This in turn tends to lead to escaped farm animals.

This morning, we were called over to one such leased farm to corral a calf. This particular calf - #997 - had already escaped on numerous other occasions in the past. According to our Park Watch volunteers, he even jumped clear over a fence on at least one occasion.

Ranger Ryan Levins secures the gate afterward as the calves watch.

Once we get the cattle back to where they belong, search for and repair any fence damage, we usually notify the farmer. Until that point, however, getting the animal back where it belongs is our responsibility since it's on park property.

It was an interesting way to start the morning. I got to run along side a calf while holding a video camera, with my arms spread out so that it wouldn't try to turn backwards or towards me.

"He doesn't know what's about to happen." Ranger Levins and I coerce the calf back into the pasture.

Being Safe

Colonial National Historical Park is enriched with natural beauty. I don't exactly remember what the name is for this body of water, only because we have so many.

Asphalting takes a long time and requires a lot of patience. Doing this in 90 degree weather is hard, but add a few extra degrees for humidity and heat from the asphalt.

Be cautious during every activity, you never know what's going to happen. I'm on the Colonial Parkway (23 miles long connecting Yorktown & Jamestown) picking up trash and OTHER things. Roadkill is all too common on the Parkway.

The Powhatan Bridge as you see is this picture was struck by a boat last summer. It is one of COLO's massive project to fix the bridge and do some additional road repair. In this picture Tim (Civil Engineer on the right ) is talking with a subcontractor (left).

Always wear the necessary equipment. This is COLO's Civil Engineer, I had the pleasure of shadowing him for a few days. He too is named Tim. COLO has anywhere from 5 to 10 big projects occurring at once. We are currently at a site that is for the Glasshouse, Jamestown location.

Be familiar with the equipment you use. Never use a piece of equipment you are not comfortable with. I am on a "roller" after laying the asphalt I was given instructions to use the equipment and was later allowed to use it.

Many of our maintenance vehicles have orange hazard lights. Since the accident at the Appomattox Court House, all vehicles including riding mowers will have orange hazard lights. This is especially important to our park because we have a 23 mile parkway that is used daily by commuters. This is COLO's trash truck.

Unfortunately, the National Park Service had suffered a loss not to long ago. For those of you who have not heard a Park Service employee at the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park in VA lost his life during a tragic accident. This post is to emphasise how safety should be at the top of list, even while conducting routine activities. Be safe and be smart.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Volunteers - GETT

The 18 Venturers of Crew 615 clear brush along the area of the High Water Mark known as "The Angle," one of our most-visited and visible areas of the park.

I've mentioned before about how incredible the attitude of the people within and around Gettysburg is, but I don't think it can be stressed enough just how dedicated the people who work here and the visitors are to this place.
I was fortunate enough to work with Angel De Jesus today, inside the administration of our maintenance division. He administers the Adopt-a-Position program in the park, among other things, and is an incredibly busy man. Despite this, he took some time to explain to me some of the ways the park takes advantage of the massive volunteer support it receives. For example, in 2008, Adopt-a-Position volunteers logged nearly 7,000 hours of work maintaining the grounds of the battlefields. Our Park Watch program (which works alongside the Law Enforcement Division), as well, recently celebrated completing its 100,000th patrol hour.

Angel told me that he likes to meet the volunteers personally, taking pictures as they work and e-mailing them to the volunteers afterward. This helps reinforce our park's relationship with the volunteer groups, and lets them know how important they are to us. Here, he photographs some of the crew working.
Early in the afternoon, I was able to follow Angel as he met with Venturing Crew 615, which had traveled all the way from Augusta Georgia in order to complete a service project here at Gettysburg. In just one day, the 18 of them completed 54 hours worth of very hard labor, manually hacking overgrown weeds and tangled honeysuckle bushes down with clippers and swing blades near historic stone and wooden fences along areas too delicate for our mowers to reach. This difficult work helps us maintain the historic appearance of the battlefield in order to honor the fallen and the men who fought here.

Carlos Garcia and Angel De Jesus (far background) supervise the crew as they work The Angle.
I keep hearing that once you work at Gettysburg, you never leave - and I'm starting to see why. The people love this park and their enthusiasm is infectious. During the busy season, we have multiple groups of volunteers who come from all around the country (some of our Adopt-a-Position VIPs travel all the way from California) every day for the specific purpose of helping maintain the battlefield. Personally, I love these people. I think they're fantastic and the work they do is phenomenal.

Being able to work and have contact with these volunteers is incredible. Their enthusiasm and love for the park is just so apparent when you talk with them, and their eagerness to put in hours of very hard physical labor on their own time really rubs off on you. If you're ever having a bad day or feeling off for whatever reason, talking to a volunteer for just a couple minutes really sets things right again and puts everything in perspective. We're very fortunate to have such proactive supporters, and working with and for them to maintain and protect these cherished places is nothing short of a great honor.

Keeping the park neat and beautiful

This week I am in the maintenance department at Independence and I must say I have a whole new respect for gardeners. I never thought that I would enjoy gardening but I have. I have had so much fun learning the ins and outs of the different departments. I'm loving every minute of this.



This week I am in the maintenance department at Independence and I must say I have a whole new respect for gardeners. I never thought that I would enjoy gardening but I have. I have had so much fun learning the ins and outs of the different departments. I'm loving every minute of this.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reconstructing the Barn at East Cavalry Field - GETT

The barn: my workplace for the past few days.

This past week I've been working in the maintenance division, helping to reconstruct a historical barn out near East Cavalry Field.

One of the most interesting things about the building of this barn is that the NPS and the carpenters I've been assisting have a real dedication to maintaining the historical appearance of the barn, from the meticulously-matched custom paint on the outside all the way down to the structural beams on the inside.

Any time you take a tool to a medium, it leaves evidence of its use. Normally, this isn't much of a problem, but since we are interested in preserving a historical structure rather than simply building a modern facsimile, the traces of the modern tools we use have to be removed so that the restoration is as seamless as possible.

Old and new beams.

To this end, the carpenters here try to re-use as much of the original wood as possible, stripping, moisturizing (with a linseed oil and turpentine mixture) and re-painting it when it is structurally safe to do so, and replacing it when it is not. Some of the larger structural beams were in bad shape and fell into this latter category, but before they could be placed inside, they needed a bit of touching up.

Modern-cut plank. You can see the circular saw marks along its surface.

Wood cut with a modern circular saw is usually covered in visible arcing furrows caused by the teeth of the blade passing through as it is cut. These have to be removed using a planer.

This planer saw a lot of work. As you pass it over the wood, it levels the surface, eventually removing the furrows completely, until the face of wood is smooth.

A comparison of the original beam and its replacement.

Planing is good, but not good enough. If you look closely at the aged beam in this picture, you can see a number of lateral (perpendicular to the beam itself) gashes going up its side. These were caused by the original carpenters using axes (not planers) to level the wood.

The carpenters recreate this notched appearance by taking a small axe and striking the wood at an angle. I got to strike at a beam myself on Tuesday, which I found to be very therapeutic. As a special bonus, I'll know that there's a beam of wood inside the barn that will have my unique series crosswise gashes on it for, hopefully, another two hundred years or so.

Maybe I'll take my children to see it someday. I bet they'll be super impressed. Or not.

Gary recreates a historic wood joint used to hold beams together, using the original beam as a pattern. Many thanks to him, by the way. I didn't know anything about barns or carpentry until he took the time to teach me.

It hasn't been all axework this week, however. There's louvers to take care of. Louvers are the slatted "windows" you see on a barn. They allow airflow into the structure. This is important, because is a pile of hay or whatever plant-stuff you're piling needs to be able to "breathe" in order to dry properly. If it is not able to dry, much like a compost heap, it will steadily increase in temperature as the organic material is broken down. When it gets hot enough, this can potentially lead to spontaneous combustion.

Louvers! Already painted, so I have nothing to do here!

Since nobody wants the hay in their barn to suddenly explode into flames, and louvers also let in of light which can help you find your way around once inside - you'll probably spot louvers or some similar manner of ventilation systems on most storage barns.

Stripping the louver. I start the day out in coveralls, but by the time I get to painting, it's too hot to work like that and they end up half-unzipped. Oh well. The thought was there.
The louvers on the barn were in need of some love, so I got to strip the crusting old paint off of them, dust them off, prime them with oil-based paint - and then paint them over with a lovely green latex paint.

A stripped, upside-down louver.

Getting the paint off of the slats is actually kind of difficult. If you're trying to be conservative with the centuries-old wood, you're not going to be able to get all of the paint off. This is OK, though. We really only needed them smooth.

Painting the louvers with mint-green primer.

Like I mentioned before, it's really good to see the attention to detail put into the restoration of this barn. While I didn't do much other than paint louvers and siding (that's really all I'm capable of anyway, since I'm no carpenter), helping a with project as massive and visible as the reconstruction of a 1850's barn is a very gratifying experience - the measure of work you put into it is immediately visible to the same degree.

Testing the Radar - GETT

Allison, me and Ryan at the visitor center here at Gettysburg, ready to answer questions. Picture only tangentially related to the post below.

Last Saturday, I was able to ride along with my supervisor during patrol. Up until now, I'd only ridden in one of the big the SUVs - but since today was Park Day and we had a massive amount of volunteers show up to work on reconstructing the historical fence line along either side of one of the park roads, we wanted to make sure the work zone was as safe as possible. Therefore, it was time to take one of the interceptors and watch for speeders.

Tuning forks which vibrate at the speed marked.

The people driving through the park were pretty well-behaved, so we didn't make any stops (which is good.) - but I did get to see how the radar is tested before use. It involves little tuning forks, which when struck vibrate at a specific frequency (35 and 65 MPH for the two in the picture) - if the radar accurately detects the vibration of the forks, then it's good to go.

Ranger Ryan Levins, testing the radar unit.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in. ~George Washington Carver

What kind of snake is this? My last day with the maintenance division was really interesting. after a long day of labor, one of the six snakes I saw that day decided to make friends and wrap around my boots. luckily, I was fast enough to grab it before her teeth got any closer to my skin.

While I was working on some paper work, I observed a fox hunt for Squirrels and Chipmunks to keep her young ones healthy. The fox had built a fox whole behind the ranger station where our law enforcements officers are stationed.