Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Many Weeks of UPDE and Much More!

Since our last blog post, William and I have been traveling from state to state, racking up the certificates and working hard! It’s been an exceptional couple of weeks and there is a lot of ground to cover in this post. We spent a week from June 4th-9th at the beautiful campus of the National Conservation Training Center, better known as NCTC. This was an amazing opportunity and one that I really enjoyed. We worked closely with representatives who work in Public Risk Management and spent several days in the classroom talking about ways to identify and manage risk.
About twenty other interns from the Student Conservation Association were there as well for the training. These other interns are working in National Parks like Yosemite, Lake Mead, Valley Forge and Oregon Pipe this summer, so it was great to get to know each individual and learn about what they will be working on this summer. One day, the class took a trip to Harpers Ferry and had the privilege to hear from the Superintendent, Chief Ranger and Chief of Interpretation about how they manage risk in their park. We went over a couple of different scenarios and how these issues need to be solved by using the mission of the Park Service, but also keeping the public’s opinion in mind. At the end of the day, we had a little time to wander around Harpers Ferry, and I met up with fellow ProRangers Renee and Jackie, who gave me a quick but very enjoyable tour.
The entire week at NCTC culminated with a project on the final day. My Chief Ranger, Joe Hinkes, and a Law Enforcement Officer from UPDE, Kevin Reish, came for the last couple days of NCTC and presented us with our project for the final day. By acting as “role players”, Joe and Kevin presented the entire group with the problem of how to better understand and control the drowning incidents at UPDE. I worked closely with three other group members to construct a plan on what could be done to better target the common age group of drowning victims and presented a new strategy for getting warning signs and more Rangers on the river. We only had one day to create the project, but my group and I worked very well together, and took all of the information that we learned about throughout the week and had a very solid presentation. It was a great chance to work in a group setting and move towards a common goal. Between the exceptional housing, buffet meals, beautiful campus and the friends we made, NCTC was an amazing week!
After a travel day and a couple days off, we returned to UPDE to attend the Motorboat Operator Certification Course, given by Kevin Reish. For three days, we reported to Lake Wallenpaupack for this training. On our first day, we were in a classroom setting learning the ins and outs of powerboats. We talked about things like which boats have the right-away, how to steer, how to inspect the engine, what are some signs of danger, how to avoid obstacles, how to tie different knots to tie down the boat, when to use an anchor, which color lights on a boat mean what, and much more. We then went to a pool to practice putting on different life jackets and trying out different floatation devices. We practiced throwing Type 4 floatation devices and how to huddle in the water for warmth. On the second day we finally got to drive the boat! The instructors set up a star shaped course in the water and we had to navigate the course by breaking the plane of each section of the star. I am proud to say that I got it on the first try! We also got a chance to work on pulling the boat on a trailer. This is a difficult task for a first-timer because when a trailer is attached to a vehicle, and you need to go in reverse, the direction that the trailer moves flips on the steering wheel; left is right and right is left. After a little practice, however, I felt more comfortable with my ability to back the boat into an access. The third day we put the final touches on our powerboat skills. Ranger Reish set up a serpentine course and we had to navigate through it as quickly and safely as we could. Needless to say, I was flying around the turns and enjoying myself quite a bit. We also worked on parking the boat and loading individuals from shore. At the end of the day, we took the final test and both William and I passed to receive our certificates. We can now drive any government boat that is 26 feet or less! This opportunity was one that I was really looking forward to since the start of my internship, and I am very grateful to everyone who helped set it up for us.
After MOCC, William and I traveled down to Fort McHenry for the bicentennial celebration of the War of 1812. Along with many other ProRangers and individuals from nearby parks, the event went rather smoothly and we all enjoyed the trip! Once again, we were treated well with room accommodations and ate out every night with fellow ProRangers, which was a great chance to catch up on how everybody else’s summer internships are going.
On my first day there, I was stationed at the Main Gate of the park. Everything went well throughout the day; I was enjoying greeting visitors and only had two responsibilities: keep visitors off the sidewalk and not letting bicycles in. However, once the Blue Angels Airshow finished, a large amount of the 17,000 visitors that attended that day decided to leave the park. There are only two exits out of Fort McHenry, and the main gate became swarmed with visitors looking to catch the shuttles back to the Inner Harbor and the Stadiums where additional parking was provided. Keeping the large crowd off of the road and trying to get the busses through was a truly a monumental task. As soon as a bus would open its doors, the crowd would swarm. Despite many unhappy individuals who were trying to beat the heat and get on the busses as quickly as possible, myself and the few Rangers that were outside of the Fort’s walls were able to keep the crowd under control and eventually got everyone on a bus. I ended up staying an hour overtime to make sure that order was kept. Even though it was the first time I ever had visitors upset with me and the way that NPS officials we handling the situation, I believe that we did our best to combat the unexpected mob and overcame the challenges that it presented. Thankfully, on my second day at the Fort, I was stationed at the Star Fort fence-line. My main duties were to provide information to visitors that came up to me and not allow anybody to cross over the fence. I made friends with one family that set up their blanket for the airshow in front of me and really enjoyed my day in the sun with the visitors. I got to catch a large amount of the Blue Angels Airshow and the Navy Seal boat demonstration, which were both spectacular!
Up to that point, Fort McHenry was the first time that I really had to talk to a large amount of visitors in one day, and I learned a lot about how to answer questions properly and how to meet and greet visitors of our parks. The entire trip was a great chance to see the way that Incident Command functions and was an opportunity for us to meet NPS Rangers from parks all over. One experience that I will never forget from Fort McHenry was when they sang the National Anthem. Standing amongst my fellow Americans, I held my Stetson to my heart and watched a replica of the flag that Francis Scott Key looked at when he wrote The Star Spangled Banner. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud to be an American than at that moment. When we returned to UPDE, William and I had two days of work with Administration. Like many of the departments up here, the Administration group is rather small but full of hard workers. We were showed how to work through different systems that keep the park running. We were showed how time sheets are done and how to enter in proposals for new projects. The Chief of Administration also explained to us how the Park’s budget is created and how it is dispensed to the different divisions. Seeing how the reporting systems and data collection in the park is conducted will definitely be useful information as we move forward into our careers. We are glad that we had the chance to meet the individuals who work in Administration and see how important their work is in keeping the park running. We then worked two days with Law Enforcement on the 23rd and 24th. We were shown parts of the park we had not yet seen and got a closer look at what the L.E. Rangers do on a daily basis. One particular story that I would like to share involves saving a Red Tail Hawk. On the 24th, we were split up between two Rangers and were doing ride-alongs. We received a call on the radio that a hawk had been pulled from the river by a visitor and could not fly on its own. William and Ranger Grindle were first on the scene and decided that the hawk needed to be transported to the Raptor Center about an hour and a half away for rehabilitation. As Ranger Grindle drove, William held the hawk stable for half of the trip, until they met up with Chief Ranger Joe Hinkes and I.
The two of us took the hawk the rest of the way. I am happy to say that despite its nasty injury to the back, the hawk should be rehabbed and eventually put back into the wild. After that, we worked three days with the Maintenance Staff. On the first day, I wondered why they started their day at 6:00am, but quickly found out that one of the main reasons is to beat the heat and get the majority of the hard work done in the early morning before visitation increases. The staff showed us around the park and explained their daily routines of what they have to open and inspect, like opening the parks public bathrooms and inspecting the Roebling Bridge. We worked hard on the first day to clear one of the major trails in the park of downed trees. After one maintenance staff member sawed up the trees, William and I moved the logs off to the side where they were not in the way.
The next day, we replaced several hundred yards of gravel at the beginning of the trail. This included flattening the gravel and moving any big rocks that were in the way. After a quick mow of the grass, the trail was opened back up to the public!
On the third day, William and I were shown how to operate the mowers and were given a chance to try them out! We drove up to one of the main accesses at Skinners Falls and mowed the grass there. With the two maintenance workers weed whacking and William and I mowing, we made quick work of the job and were able to mow three other accesses that day! After Maintenance, we spent two days of the busy Fourth of July Weekend at Skinners Falls. There, we helped monitor the rocks were hundreds of people hangout for the day and watched as boaters came through the major rapids.
Thankfully, three National Canoe Safety Patrol members were stationed there and performed all of the rescues on boaters that flipped in the rapids. Thanks to them, we avoided drowning incidents and helped many visitors get back into the vessels. William and I also continued to work on creating a basis for our Life Jacket Observation Study for UPDE. This study will help the park determine which spots people are not wearing their life jackets, what age these individuals are and where we need to focus more of our attention.
For several hours of that day, I took one of the canoes out above the start of the rapids and made sure that everyone had their life jackets on as the went through the white water. That particular spot has seen its fair share of drowning incidents over the years and I am glad to say that I helped prevent an incident that day! On the second day, William and I went out on the powerboat with Rangers Grindle and Reish and patrolled the river. I got a chance to use my powerboat skills and drove the boat for the first time on the river. It was a hot day on the river that consisted of giving out a couple of tickets for not having life jackets onboard and checking fishing licenses. Ranger Reish and I also helped one group flip their canoe back over, which was my first “rescue”! In our down time and days off, we have been exploring nearby areas like Bushkill Falls, taking extra river trips on the Delaware, fishing for bass, having campfires in our backyard and playing softball every Thursday with NPS employees from UPDE.
It’s been a jam packed couple of weeks and I cannot believe that we are already over halfway through the summer! I am really looking forward to these upcoming weeks and keeping everyone updated as our adventure continues! Until next time.

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