Our 6th week at Prince William Forest Park was spent with Interpretation. Charles and I spent the first day learning how to open the visitor center. We began by counting the registers, turning on the lights, unlocking the doors, and raising the flag. I really enjoyed raising the flag, because it represents much more than the act of raising the flag. It represents the country.
We watched a few videos on the OSS or Office of Strategic Services and the Civilian Conservation Corps. We got roughly halfway through these videos and then departed for a ranger program on beavers with Sheila. I learned so much about beavers it was kind of astonishing. They can breathe under water for 15 minutes, they had flaps over their ears, nose, and throat that prevent water from entering, they are nocturnal, they have built in goggles (an extra set of transparent lids), and they have an outer layer of fur that is water proof. Who knew? I sure didn’t. The park service is so thorough with their presentations, I walked away knowing a significant amount of information about beavers.
After lunch we checked in inventory for the bookstore. This was an interesting task that reminded me of my days working in retail. We made sure all items were accounted for and priced and then set them up in the bookstore. After the inventory we learned how to check in campers and park visitors. We scheduled a few campers and rang them through the register. At the end of the day we did some reading about the park.
Day 2 with interpretation was a bit faster paced. We arrived and assisted with opening. We took a photo during the raising of the flag (shown above) and returned back indoors. We completed our Eppley course, Interpretive Talk, and took the exam to receive a certificate. After the Eppley course we attended an orienteering course with a group of cub scouts. Charles and I both enjoyed this activity. We used maps and compasses to walk a pre-set course which had markers at each destination. This skill will be useful in the future. We returned to the visitor center to continue working on the interpretive talk assignment. Charles and I are both doing our talk regarding cemeteries in the park. Are talks will be separate, but they will also flow together. There are 45 family-owned cemeteries within Prince William Forest Park. Charles will focus on the Canon/Reed cemetery and I will focus on the Muschette cemetery. There are some very interesting facts regarding these cemeteries that we are eager to tell people about.
We went back out with the cub scouts after lunch for another program called Home Sweet Home and Tree ID. Stephanie led the program and we followed. Any time a cub was misbehaving, they were sent to the back of the line to stand with Charles and I. We both found this quite amusing and humorous. At the end of the hike we departed from the cub scouts once more. Daniel, who I personally found to be the sweetest scout of all, came up to me for a hug. He continued on to Charles and Stephanie as well. This kind gesture made the entire program so much more than it was. You are appreciated as a park ranger, and that is important to us.
Day 3 began at the visitor center performing normal operations. Law Enforcement Ranger John Bueg and I raised the flag together. John gave me a few do’s and don’ts of raising the flag, which I didn’t know and appreciate learning. John also showed me a few more tips for using a compass, which will benefit me in the future. The day continued with Bridging the Watershed. We went to Pyrite Mine Road and traveled to the former pyrite mine to take water and soil samples. The new YCC members (Youth Conservation Corp) came along for this adventure. Our supervisor’s (Dave Ballam) son, Parker, is a YCC member. Along the way to the mine, Stephanie and Todd from interpretation gave us guided talks regarding the families and town that lived in the area as well as the significance of the mine to the surrounding communities.
We all returned from the hike having a new set of skills and a great experience. The park service is great with getting people new skills and learning experiences. Youth are very important to the future of the National Park Service. The remainder of the day was spent researching and putting together our interpretive talk.
On Friday, we spent most of our day at the Visitor Center. Friday and Saturday are the busiest days of the week at the VC, and we definitely got a taste of what is like to work there at those times. There was a constant flow of people looking for everything from campsites at the Oak Ridge Campground to buying a book from the VC store. In the evening, we were able to attend a night hike. Todd led this program, called the “Owl Prowl.” We drove up to the Oak Ridge Campground, where not too long after we arrived, a large crowd of families and boy scouts had formed for this hike. We first walked to a field where Todd played recordings of calls of several different owls, such as Skreech owls, Barred owls, and Horned owls, and he described each ones appearance, what they like to hunt, etc. After we all stood in the clearing for a few minutes listening for owls, we all ventured down one of the nearby trails. It was a decent hike to the next listening point, and Todd again played the recordings several times. Almost everyone was able to keep silent again, but only Amber and a few others were able to hear an owl respond at one point. It was very difficult to pick up and nearly everyone missed it. We then returned to the Oak Ridge Campground, and drove to the VC to close up, and then went home for the night. The “Owl Prowl” was nonetheless very fun despite not being able to hear nearly any owls, and we were glad that we could attend this event.
Saturday was an even busier day than Friday at the VC. In the morning, we took part in an arts and crafts activity run by Ranger Jenn Kays at the Pine Grove Pavilion. Butterflies were the theme of the activity, and we each made one of our own. We had two kids join us in crafting butterflies, and they really loved dumping lots of glitter all over the butterfly they drew on their paper more than anything else, and afterward, the table was covered in glitter. Even so, it was an enjoyable morning, and I never knew I could have such a good time creating a butterfly. After lunch, Amber spent time helping Jenn at the VC, while LE Ranger John Bueg asked for my help splitting wood. After this, I returned to the VC to continue to help out there and observe operations. The day went by too fast, unfortunately as did our week with the Interpretation Division. We loved the time we were able to spend with them, and it was great to do some research on the history of the park, as there certainly is plenty to dive into.