It is difficult to imagine not being at Prince William Forest Park anymore, but this is our second to last week. The reality is kicking in as we wind things down for the summer and begin to search for a way to say goodbye to all of our friends and family. This week was our second and final week with maintenance and we had a great time. Another week has granted us a tremendous wealth of knowledge.
Day 1 was a slow paced day. We stayed in the office with Gordon and Venna most of the day learning about the FMSS program. FMSS stands for facility management software system. The program is unique in that it tracks all of the property the National Park Service owns. Within each file it shows you the CRV or current replacement value, the square footage, and the current monetary amount of maintenance projects that need to be completed. FMSS was created by congress to ensure that the money given to the national park service is being used for the projects it is allotted for. There are different sections of FMSS for each type of financial cost. There are locations, which are the sites themselves. There are assets, which are windows, doors, refrigerators, etc within the site locations. There are also labor costs, which accounts for the employees who are doing the work. Gordon and Venna showed us the ins and outs of financial tracking for maintenance projects. Although we were in the office for so long, we didn’t get bored or even tired of listening, because the program is so complex. We found so many ways to relate it to what we’ve experienced and we asked them numerous questions throughout the morning. In the afternoon we drove around with Gordon and did site visits around the park to see what maintenance was doing with projects. We revisited the bathroom we saw last week and the progress on this building is neat to see. We got to see unit 65 in cabin camp 2, which was a significant project for the park last year. We had only viewed photos and finally got to see it live and in person. After work we met up with Program Manager Don Sweet, his wife Victoria, Chief Ranger Cindy Sirk-Fear, and Regional Chief Will Reynolds for dinner. It was a good time and I’m happy to have been there.
Our second day with maintenance we spent with Paul Owens. Paul took us out to a ball field and brought very large machinery with him. We drove the backhoe 410J, the front loader, and some fancy lawnmowers. This was my first time ever driving a “tractor” and I picked up a log, dug in the dirt, and drove around the field. We rode the lawn mowers around for 20 or more minutes to get the feel of the “steering” components. We got the hang of it and started doing figure eights around two metal poles. Charles and I had a wonderful time and feel like we really learned something substantial in a small amount of time. Paul is a great teacher who put safety first and trusted us to handle the heavy machinery. After the heavy equipment training we went to lunch, and then to a federal highway meeting. We attended this meeting our third week at the park, too. It was beneficial to see the progress the road crew has made in repaving scenic drive.
Our third day was another diverse day at the park. We went out with roads and trails and built a bridge. The bridge was rotting and no longer safe for visitors. The crew removed the bridge the previous day. Today our goal was to install the new bridge. This became a difficult project, because we had to place 10” x 10” x 21feet down to nail the boards on top of. If you can imagine, these are very heavy beams. Due to their weight, Paul Owens brought the backhoe down to assist. He also dug the installment area down further so the beams weren’t sticking up over the dirt path and creating a trip hazard. Paul is very skilled with heavy machinery. We went to lunch and returned to fill in some areas with gaps around the bridge. We also cut the edges that were hanging over the beams. Charles and I mostly observed the bridge installation, but we learned a lot and have no regrets. Bruce came and picked us up and took us to the shop to work on repairing and cleaning chainsaws. We took the saws apart and used the air machine to clean them. We stopped and went over to remove a tire from a truck with an air drill? It was a learning experience, because I’ve never changed a tire that large. I’ve changed countless tires in my life, but this thing was huge. And it was stuck. So Bruce showed us how to get tires in such condition off the vehicle. We went back to the saws and I installed a new blade and chain on my saw and put it back together. I worked with chainsaws last year at Monocacy, and it was great to have a refresher. This was our final project of the day and we ventured home.
On Thursday, we spent the morning doing custodial work with Brent Raines. After our morning meeting with the maintenance staff the three of us drove out to the Oak Ridge Campground to clean the bathroom in the A loop. After completing the task there, we moved on to the other two bathrooms at the campground at the B and C loops. Following this, we traveled over to the bathroom at the Turkey Run Education Center. Soon after we started cleaning, Brent called us outside, as he found a copperhead snake on the ground right near the entrance to the men’s bathroom, and had it clamped with a tool to restrict its ability to flee. Since we were next to the Resource Management office, Chief Ranger Cindy Sirk-Fear went in there and brought out a box used by the Resource Management staff to temporarily store live snakes, and Brent promptly placed the copperhead in the box. A member of the Interpretive staff, Victoria Martin, was also present and she volunteered to take the snake to another part of the park and release it there, thus removing any threat from that copperhead. After finishing our work there, we moved to the law enforcement office to pick up and few items that needed to be discarded, and by then it was time for lunch. For the afternoon, Roads and Trails Supervisor Chuck Ayres had us go to the bone yard with Paul Owens and cut logs with chainsaws. I was really looking forward to this because it was my first time using a chainsaw, and it is an essential skill to have. Paul ran down some safety procedures with us, and then demonstrated how to position the saw when cutting and various techniques to cut the wood. We spent a couple hours out there cutting logs and it was lots of fun to finally learn how to use a chainsaw. Handling it was much easier than I originally thought, and I was surprised by how smoothly it cut through the wood. I greatly appreciate that Paul was able to take the time and instruct us in this valuable skill.
Friday came so fast, and we had fun working with maintenance and doing many different things every day. We spent our morning with Chuck and safety officer Kathy Caudill who wanted to show us a couple bridges in the park that neither Amber nor I had ever seen. The first, the arch bridge, was not too far from the dam at Cabin Camp 5. This wooden bridge was built over twenty years ago, and the architecture is amazing to look at. The second one was down North Orenda Road, and it was called the swinging bridge. It was recently reconstructed last year after years of flooding had damaged it, and thus it was in need of repair. In the afternoon, Chuck had the two of us go back to the bone yard with Paul Owens to get some instruction on how to load a dump truck with a front-end loader. This process requires a great deal of awareness as it is obviously extremely important that the loader or the scooper does not crash into the side of the dump truck. Before we attempted to put any gravel into the truck, Paul had each of us get several repetitions scooping and dumping gravel with the loader to get a solid feel for the different controls. We both were able to dump several loads into the truck, and after a couple of reps I was starting to feel comfortable with the machinery and the whole process in general. We thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to use the heavy machinery again, and to see that it does take lots of practice not only to get a really good feel for the equipment, but to smoothly and swiftly scoop up dirt and gravel and load it into a dump truck. We loved having the chance to learn how to operate this equipment, and it was definitely a great way to end the week.