Saturday, September 29, 2012

Week 10: Resource Management

Week 10: Resource Management,  Pt. 2

This week I spent some more time with the department of Resource Management; they deal specifically with environmental affairs within the park. I was welcomed by Ranger Sarah Koenig who took me across the battlefield as we tested several water courses flowing through the park. We tested the water in these creeks and streams for several variables, including oxygen levels, nitrogen content, and temperature. Each of these factors help the National Park Service determine the cleanliness of their watercourses and how well they can sustain local wildlife. I was impressed to know that many of the creeks and streams that flow through Gettysburg are improving in their overall quality and support a diverse ecosystem of fish and reptiles. Throughout the day with Ranger Koenig I also learned more about the local plant-life within the park. We even took time to eat some wine-berries right off the bush! She also pointed out several examples of invasive species of plants throughout the park. These species, while appearing harmless, actually pose significant risks to native plants within the park. These invasive species also interfere with biologists attempts to preserve the historic appearance of the park as it did at the time of the battle in 1863. Despite the best efforts of Resource Management to curtail them, many of these invasive plants continue to find their way into the park.
          I also had the opportunity to explore       “Lost Avenue” with Chief Ranger of Law Enforcement Ryan Levins. Lost Avenue is not a road but a clearing with several Civil War monuments from decades ago. These monuments were placed here by Civil War veterans in accordance with park regulations stating that monuments could only be placed where their historic units were located. At the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, these units were located far to the rear of where the major fighting took place. As a result, veterans were forced to place their monuments in this out-of-the-way location. Since the monuments were established along Lost Avenue, they gradually became forgotten and remain hidden at the far corner of the battlefield. Surrounded by private property and without any easy means of access, “Lost Avenue” remains an isolated stretch of land protected by the National Park Service. In many ways it is a hidden jewel, holding a unique presence, far-removed from the major trails and roadways of the battlefield. This particular day, the sunlight glistened through the tress and the woods were largely silent, creating a tranquil stillness across “Lost Avenue.” I was impressed by this ambiance, as well as the detail and craftsmanship that went into these long-forgotten monuments.

Around the same time that I was exploring Lost Avenue, the Law Enforcement Rangers discovered evidence of digging within the park near Culp's Hill. Gettysburg is occasionally the target of souvenir hunters who cross the battlefield looking for war relics, such as bullets, buttons, and other items leftover from the battle. Chief Ranger for Law Enforcement Ryan Levins and I went out to mark the dozen spots where the relic-hunter was digging. Ranger Levins showed me how he set up the investigation, mapped the area of the dig, and notified Resource Management about it. Battlefield relics are a big business both in Gettysburg and across the United States, leading some people to scrounge for them on battlefields across the country. Not only does relic hunting damage the park's grounds, but it also disrespects the park's historical integrity and its role as a memorial to Civil War soldiers.

            Overall, my time with Resource Management reminded me of how much detail goes into preserving the environmental integrity of the park. Issues like water-management, protecting lost monuments, and preserving the battlefield from relic hunting are key components of the National Park Service and important for me to learn about as a future ranger. Law Enforcement Rangers help investigate any environmental or cultural damages to the park and work with Resource Management to create solutions for them. This week really reinforced for me how small minutia often makes up key components of the park; for instance slight differences in watercourses' temperature can mark the difference between life and death for many plants and animals inhabiting them. Also, if a small instance of relic hunting is not investigated, it may open the park up to more damaging instances of digging for souvenirs. For this reason, Law Enforcement Rangers need to continuously coordinate with Resource Management, for they often hold valuable information that can keep the park in pristine condition.

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