Friday, May 24, 2013

Sleeping Bear Dune Week 1

Sleeping Bear Dunes from Empire Beach. 
 Hello everyone! This is my first blog post of the summer, and I wanted to explain how I will be doing things this year. I figured since there are less ProRangers to blog this summer, you all would appreciate longer posts and more detail about what we are doing! With that in mind, I decided to write a journal entry for every day of the week that I work. As you can see, many of these entries are quite long, but I hope you enjoy them! 5/17- Well, here I am on another adventure, except this time it's further and an unfamiliar place. Today I left the comforts of home and my good friends for a three month long internship at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Northern Michigan. The drive was long, but easy. 350 miles on interstate 76 and 150 miles on the Ohio turnpike leaves much time for the mind to wander, and wander it did. I found myself thinking of an array of things, from my duties this summer, to what the people in north Michigan will be like, to which Pandora stations to listen to on my never ending drive. Several times, I was pleasantly reminded of how beautiful our country really is, and how bad some drivers are. Finally, I reached my destination, the Hilton in downtown Detroit. Interstate 75 seemed to drive right into the heart of Detroit, and the struggling city gleamed and called me in. After checking in, I walked around the city a bit and realized that there is much to love about this town, despite its bad reputation. Detroit has style, which is often hard to come by, and their sports stadiums were my main focus. What a lucky guy I am, to be able to travel the United States for a job that I deeply love. Surprisingly, I’m not nervous for what lies ahead. Maybe it's because it will be my second go at this Ranger thing, or maybe it's because I truly don't know how this summer will play out. Sure, the websites and phone calls to my supervisor painted the picture, but even he said that pictures don't do Sleeping Bear any justice, in more ways than one. So here I am, full of room service dinner about to fall asleep at 9pm after a long day’s drive, ready for the second leg of my drive and what lies ahead. We always want to have a "summer to remember", and maybe this will be mine!  
Welcome to Pure Michigan!
5/18- Now this is a National Park! After a comparatively quick 4 hour drive from Detroit, I arrived at Sleeping Bear Dunes. My first look at Lake Michigan came during my drive through Traverse City, a very nice "city" with amazing views, stylish beachfront hotels and great places to eat. The Lake was stunning, but it did not even compare to some of the views that I would later see in the park. Upon arrival at the Visitors Center/Headquarters in Empire, Michigan, I was met by my District Ranger, Chris Johnson, and Ranger Paul Chalup. Both were very welcoming, and provided me with a quick tour of some of the main Park Service buildings around Empire, and then brought me to the first of the two places I will be staying this summer. Located on "the hill", my house is a three bedroom, one bath, single floor home that was built in 1953. Despite its age, the Park Service has kept it very nice and I was pleasantly surprised with all of the essentials that were already here. I didn't even need to bring dishes, furniture, or cleaning products! I will be living with two other interns here, but I was the first to arrive, and consequently, the first to choose a room (sorry future roommates!). My room is quite spacious with a comfortable twin bed, a large dresser and two closets... It will be more than enough space for what I could pack in my car. After I had settled in, it was still only 3pm, so I decided to go on some spontaneous park wandering. Driving through the park was care free, unlike my drive to the park, and I found an awesome radio station that will probably be my favorite throughout the summer. As I jammed out, I found myself driving by one of the most popular trails in the park, the Dune Climb. Chills ran down my neck when I saw the dunes, and I decided that they needed to be climbed. As I worked my way up the first hill, I realized that this was not going to be an easy task, much like how the website warned. I got to the top and turned around to see a stunning view of Glen Lake. Now, this view would be satisfying for most, but I knew what lay at the other end of the 3 mile long trail of hilly sand dunes- Lake Michigan in all its glory! Naturally, I kept on walking, barefoot on the warm, fine grained sand, finding only sand dune after sand dune, until I first saw the vast view of Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands. It was all a tease though, because the Lake was still over a mile away. I kept climbing until finally reached the beautiful site I had been waiting for. The Ranges were right when they said that pictures don't do Sleeping Bear any justice, and that's all I can say. The return trip was equally as strenuous and I was unbelievably happy that my ranger senses kicked in before the hike and reminded me to bring water; I drank the whole bottle before I got back to my car. I then proceeded to drive along route 22 and 109, through the historic Glen Harbor. I cannot wait until the park opens up some of those old buildings (such as a blacksmith shop, an old coast guard station and a general store) to the public in a couple of weeks. I drove back down to Empire and decided to see what the beach that's 2 minutes away from my house looked like. Again, I was stunned; this beach was even nicer that the one by the dunes. It was decided that running on this beach was going to be my morning run for the summer. After a quick walk on the beach and a trip to the small grocery store in Empire (which, again, is a very well kept, quiet and simply town that one can easily fall in love with) I found myself home and tired as can be. So here I am in my new house, in a new park, and even more excited than I was 24 hours ago. 12 hours of driving later, I'm exactly where I want to be. I can tell that this park is going to forever change me, and that this will, indeed, be my summer to remember!  
At the Visitors Center

 5/19- These dunes are huge! That's what I'll remember from my trip through the park today with Ranger Chalup for quite some time... How massive the dunes looked from atop outlook #9 on Scenic Drive. Hopefully, what I won't remember is how my day started. I forced myself out of bed at 7am to go for my first run on the beach, and what a mistake that was. I've never been a morning workout person, I prefer to workout late at night, and I was reminded of this during my run. About a half mile in, I nearly threw up into Lake Michigan, but was able to keep it down. It could have been a combination of things, but I think it was my body telling me not to try this again... From now on, I'll run after work! Ranger Chalup picked me up at 9am and issued me some awesome gear for the summer, including a backpack, binoculars, flashlight, water bottle, digital camera, radio and the ever important bug repellant. We hopped in the car and he drove me around the park for a couple of hours, telling me about their operation here and answering all my random questions about the park. We also talked about what my duties will entail this summer and the high amount of responsibility that will be placed on me. I was informed that there will be days when I am the only ranger on the islands and that I will have ranking over some of the other interns. I was surprised in the amount of trust they placed in me, but realized the amazing opportunity and am ready for the challenge! We drove as far north as the town of Leland, and then back down to the Scenic Drive, one of the most popular spots in the park. This drive is currently closed to the public, so being able to drive through it was a great opportunity. I've been told that during the summer, it gets very busy on the drive because it's an easy way to see the best views from atop the dunes without having to hike anywhere. The views did not disappoint, and I could now see why the Today Show ranked Sleeping Bear the most beautiful place in America! Again, the pictures that I took don't do the views any justice. From atop the 450 foot dunes, it's hard to tell just how big they are until you see a person on the very bottom... They're just a speck! I can't wait to go back and take on the challenge of walking down, and back up, that monster. We then went to headquarters for the start of our week long training, a TASER refresher that I was able to sit in on. Ranger Nate Mazurek conducts the training, which included a classroom presentation, a test and qualifications. I learned a lot about TASERs and their use, and when it is appropriate to use one in the field. The qualifications were also great to watch because I had never seen a TASER fired in person. After the training, Ranger Chalup drove me home where I enjoyed playing with my new gear and prepping for uniform for tomorrow. I plan on ending my night with a little sunset over the Lake and a good night’s sleep.
Sunset at Esch Beach
 5-20- Today was by far one of my most favorite days as a Ranger so far. Today we kick started our week of Law Enforcement refresher with a bang. We had the privilege of having Mr. Bob Eggle, the father of Ranger Kris Eggle, a park ranger who was killed in the line of duty at Organ Pipe, and preciously worked at SLBE, speak to us about our duties as a ranger and the overall goal of officer safety. Mr. Eggle is an experienced army veteran who shared many of his stories from the army and the tragic loss of his son with myself and the LE Rangers from SLBE and other parks in attendance. He often travels to different parks to speak during their Alerts, and often speaks at FLETC. Mr. Eggle commanded the room during his speech and spoke from the heart, telling us that we owe it to our families, and most importantly, ourselves, to take the issue of LE safety seriously and to always be prepared to the best of our abilities. His emption speech talked about what he experienced firsthand what it was like to lose an outstanding Ranger, but most of all, an amazing son. The memory of Ranger Eggle is still strong in this park and many lessons have been learned from his tragic death. Afterward, I told Mr. Eggle that this was not only a great start to our season here at SLBE, but an important reminder for a young man like myself, who is entering a dangerous profession, about the importance of being safe on the job. His speech really opened my eyes to the importance of officer safety and it will be something that sticks with me for the rest of my career. After Mr. Eggle's speech, we watched a presentation from Chief of LE at SLBE, Phil Akers, on an off-duty shooting that he oversaw at his former park. Situations like this are very rare within the park service and this incident has provided, at the expense of the Ranger involved, many learning opportunities for how these situations need to be dealt with in the separate divisions, and what lessons can be learned from this particular shooting. Next, we were lucky enough to hear from two Sheriffs from the counties within the park, Sheriff Mike Borkovich from Leelanau County and Sheriff Ted Schendel from Benzie County. Sheriff Borkovich talked about a problem that has been plaguing his county within the past year, which is, unfortunately, spilling into the park- the misuse of prescription drugs. He informed us of different drugs that have become popular and what signs to look for when searching a car or an individual for narcotics. He also spoke of some officer safety tactics when searching and confronting drug users and dealers. He shared many of his experiences during his long career and I joked with him that I learned more in his 45 minute speech than in 3 years of college criminal justice classes. Sheriff Schendel spoke of the operation that they conduct down in Benzie County and their recent problems with DUI. This year, the park rangers will serve as backup and first officers on scene for many of the DUI cases within Benzie County. This partnership between agencies is critical to the success of our mission and the overall welfare of our visitors and the local citizens, and I will be seeing these two men quite often throughout the summer. As if this all was not enough, we then moved on to a refresher on conducting Field Sobriety Tests (FST's). A representative from the Michigan State Police, Sgt. Natalie King, presented us with the information. She started with discussing the different phases of OWI (or DUI): vehicle in motion, personal contact, and pre-arrest screening. We then moved into different tests to use when checking an individual's sobriety. We went over how to conduct three of the most popular tests: the Horizontal and Vertical Gaze Nystagmus, the Walk and Turn, and the One Leg Stand, which are all involuntary movement tests. We also covered tests like countdown, finger count, and reciting the alphabet. Her main point was to stress the importance of making a decision of arrest based off of these tests, instead of relying on a PBT (breathalyzer), which could predetermine actions and lead to faulty reports. She noted that a PBT should only be used to confirm the suspicion of alcohol after these other tests are conducted, and that it should not be used as a decider on whether to take someone to jail or not. We were also lucky enough to put our skills to the test during a Wet Lab (where individuals are drunk under controlled situations). Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to take any pictures because I was very involved in the training. I was told to take field notes on the individual’s personal information, the contact between him and the officer, any statements that the individual said, and what happened during the different FST's. The notes that I took were done on a form that is very similar to what a Ranger would actually use in the field. After watching the Rangers polish their skills, I was able to conduct some tests myself and see firsthand how individuals react to your commands. We worked in groups of threes and my group, consisting of Ranger Chris Johnson and Ranger Pat Schad properly arrested the three individuals who were over the legal limit and let go the one individual who had not been drinking. This was an amazing opportunity for me because I had only seen one FST done in the field before and knew next to nothing about how to conduct these tests. Now, I can help to properly assist a Ranger in the field and remind them when they might skip a step. In general, what I learned today will stay with me for the rest of my career. I met some amazing individuals in Law Enforcement and connected to Law Enforcement, and learned a great deal from them. In one day, we covered everything from officer safety, off-duty shootings, partnerships with local PD, recent narcotic and DUI problems, and FST's. I can't wait to see what tomorrows training and other activities have in store!  
 5/21- Today was a long day. I finally got the chance to take a boat out on Lake Michigan with Ranger Chalup and Ranger Seybert. We picked up the "raptor" from the shop and put it on the lake for the first time this season. Ranger Seybert drove us along the coast to make sure the boat was running fine because we may be using it this weekend. It was thrilling to be out on the vast lake and have the wind blowing through my hair yet again... I had missed that feeling. I was also able to put on a survival suit, which are used for cold water boating, for the first time. I felt like a Coast Guard rescue diver as I put on the suit, but realized its importance; nobody would survive long in the cold waters of Lake Michigan, even in the spring May weather. Afterward, I drove down to the range with Ranger Johnson and Ranger Schad to observe qualifications for pistol, shotgun and rifle. I watched as rangers from SLBE and other parks went through the different stances, cover locations, and distances during their quals. I was able to help set up the range and got some new tips on shooting and gun safety. Next, we went down to the Platte River Ranger Station for a presentation by Ranger Lachowski on Tactical EMS situations. He discussed more officer safety scenarios and what to do when an officer is shot or critically wounded in situations that are not safe. We went over how to use a tourniquet (or a band wrapped around the leg or arm) to stop blood loss. We also went over how to stop less severe bleeding with gauze and how to stop pneumothorax (a condition where a lung is ruptured and air escapes into the chest, causing organs to be shifted out of place and a severe difficulty of breathing) by using a catheter. We were able to test out using a tourniquet on each other and using one on ourselves, and we brought in slabs on beef ribs (and used an inflatable balloon to represent the air pocket) to test our skills on inserting a catheter. Mastering these skills could save a life someday. Tactical EMS should only be used on fellow officers. Next, we all went out to dinner and tried out a local restaurant in Empire where the burgers are fantastic! Have I said that I love this little town!? After that, we went back to the range to qualify for reduced light shooting. All in all, today was a long, but worthwhile, day. Again, I learned quite a bit through today's training and am ready for a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow should be an interesting day!  
One of our boats for patrol.

 5/22- Today was another great day of training. We started at 8am in the Empire Town Hall with a video done by an officer named Hindi, whom has researched and tested duty belt orientation extensively. His video went over the proper locations for everything on a LEO's duty belt in order to maximize speed, safety and efficiency. His main goal was to make non-lethal and lethal force weapons for accessible to LEOs during fights with a suspect. The orientation of his duty belt allowed all weapons to be accessed by both hands and allowed multiple weapons and tools to be accessed at the same time. This design, called the Hindi System, is becoming very popular in the Law Enforcement world and is used by many large agencies across the country. The Hindi System is widely supported and will save many officer lives down the road. Afterward, many of the rangers thought about their own duty belt orientation (something that is not really taught at the academy or regulated within the agency) and many decided to change positions of weapons or add certain items. We then spent the rest of the day learning defensive tactics, and the court cases that support use of force, from Supervisory Ranger Steve Chorba from Indiana Dunes. I watched as the rangers worked on their cuffing, baton, OC spray, TASER and firearm skills. We went over different methods of controlling an individual from a defensive standpoint, stressing the importance of keeping personal space and working angles. Different methods of cuffing were practiced as well as different kinds of baton hits. Voice commands were also practiced on each other. The days training culminated with Ranger Chorba putting on a full body padded suit and allowing the rangers to run scenarios on him (he was acting as a disgruntled camper who was going to attack the officer). Each ranger had to use their different weapons properly (sometimes being told that their baton was dropped, or TASER malfunctioned, which made them switch weapons) and keep their personal space. Ranger Chorba really put a day’s work in, taking on around a dozen different rangers one by one, who gave it their all to gain control of the fight and get him in cuffs. All of the rangers were successful and were grateful for the very real-life opportunity to polish their defensive tactics. This was a great opportunity for me to learn some new defensive tactics moves and understand what to do when an officer is engaged in a fight. This training was something I had never been exposed to, and will definitely see in the academy, so I was thankful for the opportunity to observe. Despite the rain and the inevitable drop in temperature, today was a great day!

5/23- Today was the last day of the law enforcement refresher. We started the day off with another Sgt. King (Michigan State Police) presentation on the proper use of radar. Many of the patrol vehicles in the park are fairly new to radar and the officers were reminded of some of its abilities and limitations. Next, we went over how to write an accident report and what to do at the scene of an accident, including fatal accidents. We talked about the key locations to take pictures (around the car, far from the scene, close to the scene, through the windshields, tire marks, tire treads, seat belts, car control locations, etc) and how to measure out a scene in a grid, using several reference points, so that the scene can be recreated and properly analyzed in court. I learned a lot about how to approach accident scenes from a safety perspective, how to document the crash site, control victims and onlookers, retrieve statements from witnesses and how to photograph the site. We then went outside to a fake accident. We had to run through the steps of how to approach the scene and how to document the situation. After lunch, we all went to the range for officer-down scenarios. We started with practicing a few ways to carry an officer out of harm’s way, both by yourself and with the help of a partner. Some carrying methods allowed officers to still use their weapons and others did not. The rangers split off into groups of fours and entered the range (which was set up as a mock campsite where an officer had been shot and needed immediate medical attention). For the first simulation, the rangers were told that there was a shooter still at the site, but upon entering they only found the down officer. All groups were successful in getting the officer medical attention and getting him away from the site. Next, the rangers were outfitted with protective masks and gear, and given hand guns and a shotgun that resembled their field weapons, but held paint bullets. They were told that they were entering another campsite where an officer was shot, but that is all they knew. I was lucky enough to play the role of the down officer as Ranger Lachowski played the role of the armed camper (he was carrying a paintball gun). As the rangers entered the scene in their respective formations and spread out cover-fire locations, they found me withering in pain from a gunshot wound to the leg and to the shooting arm, deeming me incapable of walking, crawling, and shooting from my dominant hand. Once they got close enough, the shooter (Ranger Lachowski) would come out from his cover (unless discovered before) and a gunfight ensued. Not all of the rangers made it out without paint on the arms and legs (but in many of the situations, Ranger Lachowski would get hit and keep shooting to get the most out of the scenario) but all got me to safety, treated my wounds, apprehended the shooter, and got me out of the campsite. During the scenario, I would throw in curve balls, such as telling them that there was more than one shooter so they had to be on a constant lookout, telling them different body locations that I had been hit (making them use different TEMS skills), and losing consciousness (causing them to have to work faster). This training was another amazing opportunity and one that I was glad I got to be a key part of. Again, I learned quite a bit from being right in the middle of the action and saw firsthand how to get a wounded officer out of a terrible situation. These scenarios were a great ending to our week of training, and I was sad to see some of the rangers who came up for the training from other parks leave. This while week was a great chance for me to meet rangers from other parks and see how everyone in the NPS has their own talents and specialties (many of the Rangers were the ones teaching and instructing the classes and scenarios). On an unrelated note, my third roommate, Jon, moved in today and he is a great guy. We hit it off right away and I showed him around some parts of the park. We went down to Joe Friendlys in Empire for dinner and watched the Blackhawks vs. Red Wings game. We have a lot in common and I think that we are going to have a great friendship. Tonight I packed up, to the best of my knowledge, for our weekend trip to South Manitou tomorrow. It is memorial day weekend and this will be our first trip to the island. The ferry leaves from Leland harbor at 7am and I am excited to finally see what these islands are all about!
 5/24- I've reached the island! South Manitou Island, that is. We left on the 7am NPS Maintenance boat from the Leland Harbor on the mainland and headed for the islands. It was very cold this morning (I had frost on my windshield, and the Islands are always colder than the mainland). I’d say it was around 35 degrees in the morning. The ride was pretty choppy, and for a moment I felt a little sea sick, but I will get my sea legs back soon. We arrived on the dock around 8am and unloaded our things. The island is very large, and there is on a small "village" where the park service workers stay while working on the islands. There are no stores and no paved roads. The place that myself and another intern will be staying is right above the ranger station in an old Life Saving Service (later the Coast Guard) station. The building is large, with the station on the first floor, a large kitchen, EMS room, and living room. Upstairs are three bedrooms with 10 beds, but for the summer we will each have our own room. Those beds will only be occupied if a lot of maintenance workers or fire responders need to stay on the island. We then went around to the different buildings to understand what their historical significances were and opened the visitors center. The first ferry (the only public transportation to and from the island) to arrive came at 11am with around 75 passengers, roughly 50 of which are planning on camping in one of the three campsites this Memorial Day weekend. We met the ferry at the dock and helped unload everyone’s gear. Ranger Chalup led the orientation for the visitors, reminding them of things to do on the island (visit the lighthouse, visitors center, and the sand dunes) and the parks rules and regulations for camping. He then collected every camper’s registration forms and we later cataloged these into a park stats program. At 2pm, we started lighthouse tours (a job that the other intern will primarily be doing) and got two tours through. Many of the visitors went straight to their campsites, many of which are a long backpack hike away from the dock, to settle in. At 4pm, the ferry left for the mainland with the visitors that only came for the day. We then got one of the few NPS vehicles on the island and took a little tour of the "farm loop" around the island to see some of the history, which includes a once thriving farming community and a logging industry for boats to pick up fuel on their way to Chicago. We also explored the old cemetery and Ranger Chalup told us a few of the islands ghost stories. Working on this island will indeed be a unique experience. Since my living quarters are right above the ranger station, I will pretty much be always on the clock. We are expecting another full ferry tomorrow morning with more campers, so tomorrow should be a real look into how the rest of the summer will go. Ranger Chalup told me that there will be days when I will be the only ranger on the island, so I will be responsible for all of the park visitors and making sure they are settled into their campsites properly, as well as greeting and docking the ferry and other private boats. This will be a large task and I am ready for the responsibility and opportunity to manage such a large area. I have not mentioned how beautiful this island is, with its white sand beaches and clear fresh water. Our village is right up against the lake and the lighthouse provides stunning views from the top. Being on this island only furthered my understanding of why this park was voted as the most beautiful place in the nation. It is shaping up to be a fantastic summer!
From the dock on South Manitou
From the top of the lighthouse.

1 comment:

  1. Wow Jordan! Sounds like you are going to have a great summer. I can't wait to hear more from you (and from the other ProRangers, hint, hint)! After the last week, the academy is going to be a piece of cake for you!