Saturday, July 28, 2012

Farewell to Mount Rushmore National Memorial

My final week at Mount Rushmore National Memorial certainly did not disappoint.  The fire danger within the area was still at an extreme high.  About every two hours or so rangers would drive to the high lookout points to check for any smoke around the park.  We made it through most of the day without sighting anything.  However, at about 5 in the afternoon a large smoke funnel was spotted a few miles outside of the park boundary.  The local Forest Service Dispatch was contacted and they notified us that six fire engines were already en route along with a few helicopters responding as well.  In the meantime the decision was made to close the Presidential Trail in case the fire spread in the park’s direction.  Once everyone was escorted off the trail we closed and locked the gates so visitors could not gain access.  Luckily the fire was under control and put out by the next morning without getting much larger.

All Summer I had been working on the proper techniques for holding, handling, and holstering handguns and the day had come to put all those skills together.  Ranger and Firearms Instructor Darin Oestmann took me down to the park’s firing range to work with the handguns.  I first shot from the five yard line to get a feel for the weapon.  Ranger Oestmann also gave me tips for switching out the magazines and making sure to always practice proper techniques to build good habits and muscle memory.  He also told me the importance of being able to shoot one handed in both dominant and non-dominant hand in case one gets injured during a fire fight.  I feel much more confident when working with firearms and now have a better understanding of how they work and should be handled.

Shooting left handed.
Shooting with right hand only.
My last day at the park ended my summer just as it had started: on the mountain.  I worked the early shift with Ranger Oestmann and first thing we hiked up to the faces, the chins to be exact.  All the rangers had been telling me all summer of certain sites that were a must-see and being at the base of the faces at sunrise was definitely on the list.  It is absolutely breathtaking to be standing next to a sixty-foot carving of one of our Country’s leaders and feeling so small.  The view alone was worth the climb and will be an experience I will never forget.  

My summer went entirely too quickly and the experiences I had would not be traded for anything.  I learned so much from every single ranger I worked with and had opportunities that I never thought I would have been presented with.  It is unfortunately an end to another chapter in my life but I can only imagine what has yet to come.  See you all at Leadership Camp!!

ProRanger Erin Langeheine      

Final Weeks at Prince William Forest Park

The past few weeks at Prince William were full of many more great opportunities to learn.  I spent most of this time doing ride alongs at the park with rangers, as well as having a chance to spend a day with a ranger at both Manassas National Battlefield and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.  Furthermore, I was able to gain more insight into the operations of the United States Park Police, riding along with them on a Friday night at District Three in Rock Creek Park.  Manassas was an interesting experience, as the park was larger than I originally thought, and I learned of the many trails and gravel roads that need to be patrolled.  Additionally, we did some patrol on these trails with an off-road vehicle, which are not easily accessible in the ranger’s vehicle.  I also learned about the horseback patrol they do at that park, and one ranger showed me how he takes care of and gears up the horses each time he takes them out on patrol.  When I rode along at Fredericksburg, it was much different from Manassas even though both are battlefields.  The set up of the park was fascinating too, with several different park units, Chancellorsville Battlefield, Wilderness Battlefield, and Spotsylvania Battlefield, in addition to Fredericksburg, being some what distant from each other, but a couple rangers showed me each one and the park’s jurisdiction.  At Fredericksburg, I did some traffic enforcement with one ranger who used a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) unit and explained to me how it works.  I thought it was great experience to have a chance to do a ride along at each of these Civil War battlefields and compare a shift there to one at Prince William Forest Park. 
            I was very glad to have another opportunity to ride with the U.S. Park Police in Washington, DC.  Last summer I spent a shift in District One, and I really enjoyed having the chance to see how enforcement operations work in another district and environment, in addition to seeing what types of crimes and violations they deal with in that area.  The officer made a number of traffic stops for various violations, and learned more about the importance of positioning the patrol vehicle and well as its lights to increase officer safety and obtain and hold a position of advantage on the subjects in the stopped vehicle.  Later in the night, we were driving down a side street in a known drug trafficking area, and the officer quickly spotted an illegally parked SUV occupied by two men and initiated contact.  Eventually the officer ended up arresting one of them for drug possession, after seeing marijuana in plain sight in the vehicle and through plain smell.  He then subsequently transported the individual back to the station where I observed the booking process.  I have read a little about contact and cover, and it was interesting to see how it worked and was applied during a contact with multiple subjects.  The contact officer talked with the subjects, was the only one using the radio, and primarily the one searching the vehicle, while the cover officers watched over the subjects and made sure they did not present a threat to any officer.  Overall, this ride along was an awesome experience, as I greatly appreciate what these officers do. 
            This past Wednesday, a few of us ProRangers visited National Capital Region Headquarters and the Department of the Interior building in Washington.  At each location we had the opportunity to meet several of the leaders of the National Park Service, and it was great to speak with them and discuss the ProRanger Program and our experiences so far.  Afterwards, we drove over to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.  This was very moving to see, and gave me sense of pride and appreciation for dedication of these officers who gave their lives for this country.  We looked up some of the U.S. Park Rangers and Park Police listed on the memorial and talked about the sacrifices they made.  This trip to Washington was great, as it was good to see other ProRangers and meet some NPS officials, and visit the memorial.  Now onto leadership camp! 

Charles Papacostas 

                                                 At the U.S. Park Police Rock Creek Station

Pro Rangers Go to Washington D.C.

Some of the Pro Rangers had the opportunity to take a trip to Washington D.C. to meet a very important person.  This person took the time out of her busy schedule to meet with us and displayed her passion for the Pro Ranger Program. This person is the Deputy Director of the National Park Service.  That's right, we met the one and only Peggy O'Dell! We introduced our selves individually and if only you could see the excitement and gratitude on all of our faces.  The Pro Rangers would like to thank Peggy O'Dell for meeting with us and showing great interest in our program.  We also met with Steve Whitesell, who is the NCR Regional Director of the NPS.  Everyone was very welcoming and were happy to meet the Pro Rangers as we were grateful to have met them as well.

PART_1343446163315.jpegOur great leaders of the Pro Ranger Program were there to greet us including Kim Coast, Will Reynolds and Dr. McGarvey.  Also Chief Ranger of Prince William National Forest Park Cindy Sirk-Fear and law enforcement ranger David Ballam were present as well. It is always nice to see our mentors come and support us.  Thank you to Kim Coast and Will Reynolds for treating us all to lunch.


Later on in the afternoon, we made our way to the National Law Enforcement Memorial.  Chief Will Reynolds shared with us the significance of this site and how these people put their life on the line to protect our nation and our people. Some of you might not know this fact but the actual memorial is managed by the NPS in partnership with the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund. Will Reynolds had us search for the names of law enforcement NPS rangers that died in the line of duty and to reflect as well.

It is important to remember these people for they protect us and we will one day serve and protect.  Not only is it significant to reflect on the law enforcement rangers who died in the line of duty but all of the NPS employees who passed away because every division is important to the mission and the overall well-being our national parks and monuments.  I would advise anyone who has not yet visited this site to go because it is a breath taking site to see all the names of law enforcement officers who died doing their job engraved in stone and remembered forever.  After we visited the memorial, we went to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund store to buy souvenirs because the proceeds go to the actual memorial.

Police Officer Gary F. Skerski | Philadelphia Police Department, PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia Police Department, Pennsylvania
While I was at the memorial, I found the name of a dear friend of the family who passed away on May 8, 2006 responding to an armed robbery.  Officer Gary Skerski (Badge #7379) was shot and killed by the offender.  Skerski is greatly missed by many. It was such a privilege to see his name engraved on the wall at the memorial.

This is to all the law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty...


Friday, July 27, 2012

 So the end of the internship is almost here, only a couple of days left till we leave for leadership camp. I’m pretty pumped for leadership camp and all of the activities were going to be doing.  These past 10 weeks have gone by really fast, but I’m really glad I was able to experience working for the NPS as a ProRanger.  For the last 5 weeks I’ve spent my time with the law enforcement division and its been a lot of fun.  During my time with the LE division I’ve learned a lot and done a lot of different things.  I started off with a lot of ride-alongs so I could see what all the LE Rangers do while on duty.  I was able to see a lot of traffic stops for violations ranging from speeding, driving with undo care, and even was able to see a DUI, which I thought was an awesome experience. 
While with the LE division I was also able to do some trail patrols with a few different Rangers which allowed me to really see what all Catoctin has to offer.  There are some really awesome views in the park like Chimney Rock, Wolf Rock, and Thurmont Vista.  Going on trail patrol is very important in our park because we have to make sure that there are no illegal activities going on within the park.  Going on trail patrol also allows you to go out and see parts of the park which you may never see while patrolling in your vehicle.  At Catoctin we do occasionally get people camping in unauthorized spots, or participating in illegal activities such as hunting or using drugs, so we must make sure that we patrol the woods to prevent these illegal activities from occurring to the best of our abilities.

Chimney Rock
Standing out on Cimney Rock
Basement Ruins of an old house
Young Fox

Old Barn for Regan's Horses

Old mile marker on side of road

Also while with Law Enforcement I was able to spend time with one of our rangers who is a armorist, and we were able to go over all the guns which the Rangers carry.  This was really cool because I’ve shot guns before at shooting ranges, but I’ve never taken them apart to clean them and see how they actually work.  It was really interesting how all of the parts of the gun work together so that the bullet can be fired.  Knowing how to take your gun apart to clean it and maintenance it is very important, especially for anybody in the law enforcement field.  Without having a clean firearm, it may not work properly and this can be exteremly dangerous while on duty.  You never want to have a firearm fail on you while responding to a call, or the situation could quickly turn for the worst, so having the knowledge to take apart your gun and keep it clean is very important.
Also while with the Law Enforcement division I was able to learn all about Tasers from my supervisor Barry Aldridge, who is a Master Taser instructor.  Learning all about Tasers and how they work was really interesting.  Barry was able to explain to me how the Tasers work on the body to help subdue individuals.  Watching a few videos on Tasers in use showed to me that a Taser is NOT something you want to be shot by, and showed just how efficiently they can get situations under control before they escalate too much.  Many people will become compliant very quickly when the threat of a Taser appears, and they have very good reason to.

Three different Sig handguns before maintenance

After taking Sig apart

This summer has been a lot of fun and has been a great experience for me.  I’ve really enjoyed my time here at Catoctin Mountain Park, and have been able to boost my resume from the different programs and activities which have been available to me through the ProRanger program.  For anyone who is seeking a law enforcement career in the future and likes being outdoors, I would definitely recommend that you check out the ProRanger program. A big thanks to everyone for a great summer here at Catoctin, especially my supervisor Barry Aldridge, Chief Coast, Regional Chief Ranger Will Reynolds, and Mr. Sweet.   See everybody Sunday for leadership camp!


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Last Weeks at Prince William Forest Park

As the summer winds down we got to spend some time with the folks at administration.  There are a lot of things that go into park management but they all come together at the administrative building.  We got a great overview of the general management plan and the parks initiatives and how they fit into the call to action.  One of the most interesting things we did was shadow the deputy superintendent for a few days and observe as he managed the new property purchases and all the compliance related issues that went into both making the purchase and maintaining the structures.  We also worked with the cabin camps team who manages the parks historic cabins and oversees the rental procedures.  With over 200 structures in the park it can be a lot of work making sure that all the cabin camps are in useable condition and making sure that when there are problems with either the structures or the groups who are renting at time that they are resolved in a timely manner. 

In the last week were able to participate in Basic CPR and First Aid Training which was being held at our park.  This was a great opportunity for us to learn skills that could come in very useful someday.  The course took the full day and there was a lot of hands on training as well. 

We rounded out the week with a ride along with the US Park Police.  This was an interesting experience and great opportunity to see how an officer in an entirely different setting conducts business.  We traded the quiet nights of Prince William for the hustle and bustle of DC streets, and in one night we saw many traffic stops, road closures, and even an arrest.  It was a really eye opening experience where we were able to compare the different scenarios that officers have to deal with based on location. 

This week was a very packed and we were able to do a lot of cool things.  We spent one day at the range and got some time shooting firearms, having never shot a gun before it was great to have the experience before we get to academy.  And boy do those vests get hot!
 The next day many of the ProRangers in the NCR got together at the Department of the Interior Building in DC and were afforded the opportunity to meet the Deputy Director of the National Park Service.  It was awesome to be able to meet her and talk about our experiences over the summer.  For the rest of the day we went to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and looked up the names of some of our fallen rangers.  It was our first time going and it reminded us of the seriousness of the profession and gave some time to pay our respects. 

The last two days at our park we hosted the NCR youth event, which was an overnight camp out for all of the youth working with park service this summer in the capital region.  It was a great way for us to meet folks of our age around the region and learn about the unique opportunities we have in the NPS.  The second day of the event we helped our Chief Ranger give a presentation on law enforcement, of course our part was to talk about the ProRanger program. 

These last few weeks were a great way to end the summer.  We learned a lot and met a lot of great people throughout the whole process.  We are definitely sad to see the internship ending so soon and were already looking forward to the next year. 

Antietam: July 17-21

Hello ProRanger and NPS Friends!

Last week Jay and I spent all of our time with the Maintenance Division here at Antietam. We had a good time. Can you guys believe we have one week left?! I can't believe it! I feel like I just here. I remember the first day I pulled into Antietam with my dad, his car packed with all of my "necessities". I was scared of the cows. Now me and the cows are friends (almost)! Time is going by sooooo fast.
 Anyhoo, our first day with Maintenance, Jay and I were put straight to work. We road around with Butch repairing falling railings in the fences throughout the park, as well as putting in new fence posts to replace rotten ones. It was fun riding around with Butch. He told us how he use to work for the Park Police in Washington D.C before he retired and took on work at Antietam. On our second day with maintenance, Jay and I worked with Scott and George, helping them repair the siding at the  Muma House. The Muma House is a historic house on the Battlefield which we now use for Education Programs. All the caulking and siding that Jay and I helped with was in preparation for painters who were coming soon to give the house a fresh coat of paint.

Our third day with Maintenance was the best. We spent time with Clay and Patrick working on one of the many historic barns on the battlefield. This barn was the Park Barn. Each barn that the maintenance division works on takes lots of tender, love and care to get back into good condition. The maintenance workers have to repair any rotten boards in the ceilings or walls of the barn, rebuild any collapsing stone work, and make sure that any objects that are displaced during the rebuilding of the born go back exactly in the same spot they were in during the time of the battle. Clay and Patrick taught Jay and me how to use stone and mortar to rebuild the uppermost part of a wall in the Park Barn. The mortar we used was made out of sand, water and a type of cement. Jay and I took turns placing the stones in certain combinations until we got them in a configuration that matched with the rest of the stones around them, then we sealed the places in between the stones with the mortar Patrick and Clay showed us how to make.

Our last day with maintenance was also a day to remember. We worked with Clay again and he showed us some the historic treasures in the park. In front of the Park House, there is an old hand dug well that is about 45 feet deep! Clay allowed us to take the covering off the well. He tied a flashlight to the end of a piece of string and knotted it off when the flashlight hit the ground. After we pulled the flashlight out of the well, Jay and Clay pulled the string straight and walked along side it to measure how many feet long it was. It makes you have a ton of respect for the people living during the Civil War; I mean, to dig a well that deep without any of the machinery and technology we have at our fingertips today! It's amazing!

To cap off our time with maintenance, Clay gave Jay and me some rabbit meat from his hunting stash for us to cook before we leave Antietam. I will let you know if it tastes like chicken!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Coming to an End: VaFo Eric Morgan x Lexus Ocampo

Seems like just last week we were pulling up to the park to move-in and begin the journey of this summer. It has been an awesome summer for us here at VaFo and this past week, Week 10, was one of the best we had here. The week began with a project for John Waterman. We had to make sure each patrol vehicle had the proper items in their EMS bags, replace expired items, and then created cards, laminated them, and began attaching them to the   countless pockets and pouches that make up the EMS bags. This way the Rangers would know what is supposed to be in there and can quickly find an item in a time of need instead of shuffling through cluster. It was a good learning experience to get familiar with all the items that should be within an EMS bag.

As Wednesday rolled around we spent the day with Natural Resources. In the morning we worked with YCC, a program for high schoolers, and did mile a minute weed pulling. It does feel like we are helping the forest at VaFo because we fill up over 20 bags each time with the weeds! Afterwards we got to try out cray-fishing to help stop the invasive species of the rusty cray-fish from taking over Valley Creek. Eric had no luck but Lexus caught a few! We also found another tipee in the words on a foot patrol with Ranger oh that has to be taken down.
Ready for cray-fishing

Aftermath of Mile-a-Minute weeding 

Ballistic Vest
Ballistic Vest
illegally parked/suspicious vehicle

Friday we were put on the night shift as we got set up with ride-alongs for the entire shift. Eric went with Ranger Bungard and Lexus with Ranger Blasco. We listened to everything the Rangers told us throughout the night because they were flooding us with information that is important to know for Law Enforcement. We were giving ballistic vests to wear as a safety precaution because you never know what is going to happen out there. While doing patrols with Ranger Blasco, Lexus got to learn about using the radar to check drivers' speeds as Ranger Blasco's vehicle was outfitted with the radar. The radar or physical observation of the Ranger is not enough to pull someone over. Ranger Blasco told Lexus that a Ranger should guess an upcoming vehicle's speed and if it is +/- 5 MPH of what shows up on the radar then it is fine to pull that vehicle over. This is to ensure accuracy of the radar and as a double-effort to show that the individual was in fact speeding. It was hard at first to guess the cars' speeds but after a little time Lexus began to guess within the 5 MPH range. Ranger Bungard spoke to Eric about the need for reasonable suspicion or probable cause to be able to pull someone over. Reasonable suspicion has less of a burden of proof than probable cause but probable cause is needed to arrest or issue a citation and while detaining in a traffic stop on a reasonable suspicion basis you need to think about if another Ranger with the same training as you and in the same situation would or could they act in the same manner. This is called objectively reasonable that both Rangers spoke to us about. This is also used in situations when force is needed. Was it objectively reasonable, would another officer like I stated before, use the same type of force in the situation you were in? Ranger Bungard also spoke about how duty sidearms always have a round in the chamber with a full mag and at least two extra mags on the belt while the large guns, shotgun and rifle, have a loaded mag but no round in the chamber. The information both Rangers provided us during the ride-along was awesome to learn about. These things we will learn about in the academy but it always good to get ahead start on things and doing ride-alongs helped us learn the in and outs of a Rangers driving patrol and how/when you're allowed to pull someone over. (this is very, very important to know about and be able to distinguish reasonable suspicion and probable cause). At the end of the night we helped close the park then had a quick turn around shift as we had to open the park in the morning. It was good to get a feel of working quick turn around shifts. See everyone at camp in a couple of days and we threw in a couple more photos from the field-trainee's scenarios.

ProRangers Eric Morgan and Lexus Ocampo

Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park

       My time here in Maine is almost complete and I am a little sad at the notion that I have but a few days left here in the great state of Maine.  Over the past month of have done many wonderful things and expanded my résumé as a ProRanger.  In the past month I have done the following:
 - Search and Rescue missions, along with a few medical calls to park visitors
 - Solo foot and bike patrols and a bicycle safety checkpoint
 - Ride alongs with LE Rangers in which I helped with traffic and parking regulations
          * Getting good with my verbal warnings and perfecting my command presence
 - Hiked to the summit of Maine's tallest point, Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park
 - Assisted in excavation of shipwreck and documented artifacts with archeologists
 - Assisted in monitoring of air and water quality program
 - Assisted in identifying Peregrine Falcon nesting sites from Park boat along sea coast
 - So much more....

       The last month here was very interesting and acted as a capstone for the internship, as I worked with the LE Division for the last few weeks.  The time spent with the LE Division only reinforced to me that the profession in which this program is based to serve is the perfect career choice for me or any one else that enjoys doing all these amazing things and get paid for doing it.

    Not to limit my entire time here in Maine to just Acadia and MDI, I took a weekend trip to Baxter State Park.  Baxter is a very remote, dirt road accessible and strict "Leave No Trace" park established by the late Maine Governor Percival Baxter.  His vision, much like that embraced by the NPS, was to set aside a valuable natural resource within the state of Maine.  Governor Baxter donated the park land to the State of Maine to create a park for the people that was void of a human presence and went as far to ban dogs as well.  The hike to Mt Katadhin is a very tiring and difficult event, but the view from its summit, Mount Baxter, is well worth the ordeal and at around an elevation of 5, 200 feet worth the scramble along its rugged and sketchy granite trail to stare over the vast scene before you.

   Among the activities I spent working outside of the LE Division the time spend with the Cultural and Historical Division was my favorite.  I spent a day with an archeological team who was mapping and excavating an old abandoned ship on the island's westside.  I was shown the basic in's-n-out's of how a site excavation works and then given the opportunity to assist in the documentation of a relic that was left at the site.  The process was very thorough and offered me insight into the time and energy one puts into in preserving our historical sites. 

    Upon completion of this event I returned to the park HQ and spent the afternoon with the director of the division.  As I have truly embraced the park and its unique history this was a very interesting day.  Among all national parks Acadia has a very unique story, this is based on the complex history of the parks creation from the idea's of its earliest visitors.  The main highlight of this day was my tour of the park's vault and the opportunity to see all the historical artifacts that were present.  My time was short with the director, but I could have spent days examining and reading the endless boxes of journals and historical items that were in this collection.

    On one very memorable day I was tasked in assisting the LE Ranger who is in charge of the Boat Program in bringing out the park's raptor program coordinator.  This was also an opportunity to work on my boat operating skills that I gained from my DOI Motorboat Operator Certification Course.  The task was simple, take the boat and its passengers to Iron Bound and locate any nesting sites that the peregrine falcons are using.  Immediately upon approaching the island we observed four bald eagles, then quickly heard the unique shrill of three peregrine falcons as they patrolled the jagged cliffs for their first meal of the day.  By trips end we did not locate any definite sites, but found a possible location.  As we began our journey back to the mooring in Somes Sound we witnessed a seal as he hunted along the islands coast and saw a few dolphins passing away time as they too hunted in the shadow of Cadillac Mountain.

   Well, just a few days to go until this chapter is closed out and a new story begins.  I'm glad I was selected to intern here as this is the kind of park that Rangers dream of getting and I got it right out of the gate.  I could only be so fortunate to be able to return some day to Acadia as a LE Ranger and carry out the duties that I've seen the current Rangers perform, well, minus the parking and dog off-leash enforcement and the questions about Thunder Hole and its lack of "Thunder."