Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Week 5

Hello all,

Throughout the past week I have been working with Cape Hatteras's Natural Resources Division. Natural Resources primary duties here at Cape Hatteras are watching for sea turtle nests, searching for sea bird nesting sites, and protecting and observing the animals once they hatch. The Natural Resources staff has to carefully monitor sea animal nesting areas and close sections of beach where the nests are located. Each species has its own buffer area, which is required to keep the species safe and protect them from human interaction.

Sea Turtle tracks, leading to and from the ocean. This was a Loggerhead Turtle.
On my first day with Natural Resources (Tuesday), I was assigned to the "North Run" turtle patrol. The North Run covers the northern area of the parks beaches, where several sea turtles have already nested. Turtle patrols are conducted every morning, before the park visitors arrive at the beaches. The Natural Resources Rangers use UTV's (Utility Vehicles) in order to drive the beaches and spot the tracks of a nesting sea turtle. When the turtles enter the beach to nest, they leave behind distinctive tracks. These tracks lead to the nest site, where the female turtle can lay as many as 200 eggs.

On this day, the Natural Resources Ranger and I discovered one turtle nest. Once we found the nest, we began to hand-dig the sand in order to uncover the eggs. We removed the top egg for testing, and left the remainder of the eggs untouched. Before covering the nest, we took measurements of the egg depth, and took photos. Then, we set up a perimeter around the nest, which will keep curious visitors from disturbing the area. Next, we marked the immediate area with "washover" markers, that will allow Rangers to locate the nest in case of a washover.

Turtle Nest enclosure. 
After our turtle patrol, we returned to the office to enter data and record our findings. This included the data and location of the turtle nest, as well as observations that we made about sea birds during our patrol. On this day, we watched the American Oystercatcher and observed the behavior of its nesting pairs. Once our data was completed, we finished cleaning up the UTV, and restocked our supplies for the following day. I took advantage of some extra time to complete my QuickTime (Payroll Program) training and begin my yearly fire refresher.

On my second and third days with Natural Resources, I had the opportunity to work with the park trapper, Troy. On these days, we made the drive to nearby Bodie Island in order to check predator traps and install a predator fence on the Bodie Island Spit. The predator fencing will help keep nesting birds safe from animals such as coyote and fox, and will allow the Natural Resources crew to better understand predatory animal movements. During my two days at Bodie Island, we constructed over 800 feet of fencing. This was quite a task, because all of the material had to be carried in over the dunes and to the fence location. Fortunately, there was only a limited amount of brush in the area, lessening the time spent clearing a fence line and installing fence posts.
Bodie Island Fencing.

After we finished constructing the fence, we returned to the Hatteras Island office. There, Troy showed me various traps and trapping techniques and taught me how to set the traps. We also repaired a few broken traps, and prepared traps for painting. I concluded my time with Troy by taking inventory of the parks traps.

Repairing trapping equipment. 
On my final two days with Natural Resources I was assigned back to turtle patrol. On Friday, I joined another Natural Resources Ranger on the "South Run" patrol. On this day, adverse weather conditions forced us to patrol in one of the parks four-wheel-drive vehicles. Despite the harsh weather, we were able to locate 2 sea turtle nests and 2 "False Crawls". A false crawl is when a sea turtle enters the beach, but decides not to lay her eggs and instead returns to the sea. One of these false crawls was witnessed by an early morning jogger, who called the park to advise us of the occurrence. Unfortunately, the turtle quickly returned to the water before we could witness the event.

On Saturday, I conducted another turtle patrol with the Natural Resources staff. We patrolled the Buxton area beaches, which also includes watching for recently hatched Piping Plover chicks and American Oystercatcher birds. We did not find any turtle nesting activity in the Buxton route, however, we were called to assist with a possible turtle nest near the Cape Point area. Upon arriving at the nest, we began to hand-dig the area and search for any signs of sea turtle eggs. After nearly 45 minutes of excavation, we were unable to locate any eggs. Therefore, the nest will be designated as a "False Crawl".

The Saturday turtle patrol concluded my time with the Cape Hatteras Natural Resources Division. It was a great experience to be able to observe the sea turtle nests as well as the rare sea birds that are found at Cape Hatteras. Without the work of the Natural Resources Rangers, these species would have a very difficult time surviving in a visitor populated environment.

Next week I will be returning to the Law Enforcement Division. I hope you all have a happy Fourth of July!

Thank you for reading!

Jay Copper

Antietam National Battlefield Week 6

Hello everyone!

I am enjoying my time at Antietam National Battlefield greatly. Every day I go into work and I never know what I will find myself doing or getting involved in.

Just Monday, I thought it was going to be a normal quiet day at the park. I began my shift riding with Ranger Rory Moore and was informed about something I missed/forgot because of my week at wildland fire training. IT’S SUMMER VACATION. As you all know from reading this blog, we have no summer vacation. I almost asked him if he could define "vacation", but from talking to my younger sister, I remember that students have three months off to do whatever they please. Students in Sharpsburg like to visit their nearest park (ANTI) and families heading to Gettysburg like to make a stop here first. So with that knowledge, I was ready to get in contact with some visitors and have a busy day.

The first item on our agenda for the day was to check out the various locations that were sure to see a high amount of visitors: the middle bridge and the swimming hole by the campground. When we first got there, we cleaned up some of the trash that was left by past visitors and Rory took me on a foot patrol of both locations. I also got to do some more radio action when we were going on foot patrol.

After getting back from our two patrols, Rory showed me how to do some valuable things regarding vehicles. Besides letting me patrol around the park with him, he showed me how to jump start a vehicle and "break in" to one when keys have been left inside. We also went over the proper protocol when contacting a visitor who has left his or her keys in the vehicle. We used the "big easy" kit and it isn't all that easy. Especially in the sun. And especially when you're 5'4 and working on a Ford Explorer. But it's in the office so I'll definitely be practicing whenever I get the chance.

Later in the afternoon, Rory and I went back out to the sights to do some foot patrols when the thought people would be out. It looked like there was going to be a storm and I was getting concerned that we wouldn’t be making any contacts. BUT WE DID. It was like a scene out of a movie. Rory and I walk up to the youth hanging out at the swimming hole and come in contact with an underage local kid doing something underage local kids should not be doing, especially in national parks. Throughout the contact, Rory did what a good ranger does: inform. He told me earlier that not everyone is aware that the swimming hole at Antietam Creek is part of the park so they do not know they are committing federal offenses. Because the kid did not try to hide anything and was fully cooperative, Rory let him off with a warning after explaining to him why what he was doing was wrong. It was great seeing an interaction between a ranger and a visitor; I was taking mental notes the entire time.

Also this week, I spent some time with the Cultural Resources staff and learned about what they do and the importance of their jobs. I met with Chief of Cultural Resources, Jane Custer, who told me about the various projects her staff is working on. One thing she is most proud of is the restoration of the Miller Farm House in the northern part of the park. It has been in the works for quite some time and is due to be finished by next month. I can't wait to see how it turns out.

Tablets ready for prepping

One really important feature that Jane's staff does is take care of all the tablets and monuments that are here in the park. Before the National Park Service even took over the battlefield, the Department of War (now Department of Defense) put up cast-iron tablets around the park at various locations to detail the Battle of Antietam from the standpoint of the soldiers who were there. There are over 300 tablets in and around the park (and even a few at Harpers Ferry) and they are all so detailed that it would take a few days to read them all in their entirety. Regardless of how detailed and old they are, they Cultural Resources staff takes good care of them. I had the opportunity to help Jane's staff take a few that had paint chipping off to repair and replace a few that have already been repainted. Out of some of the tablets that were in the shop, I watched as I was shown how to prep one for repair and had the chance to prep one myself. It is a lot of hard work to prep and repaint one tablet, as it takes about a week to do it properly, but visitors appreciate it when they come back out looking brand new. And after working with them for a few days, I appreciate it even more. And now I know why some tablets are missing and what those pink ribbons mean. So it was a big learning experience for me.
After prepping

Tablets ready for first coat of black paint

I finished off my week with an epic return to the Natural Resources team. Friday morning I went out with intern Carrie as she continued her bird survey in various locations around the park. When we got to each location, she would set up a microphone and observe the area and we would stay there for about a half hour taking in the scenery and birds. That task took about three hours and it was a great deal of fun. I told her that I never really knew the difference between the different types of birds and she taught me some simple ways on how to identify them. I assisted in her observation by handling the binoculars and checking the wind. And by providing peanuts. When Carrie finishes her field work, she heads back to the office, puts her recordings on her computer and listens to them back while taking notes. There have been bird surveys done at Antietam before, but none as extensive as hers. She even plans on going during the night and early mornings. Friday I realized how interesting birds are and I can’t wait to see the finished product of her research.

Most of what I have been doing this week during my “down time” has been thinking about our event July 6th. Now that we only have one week before our big summer event, I expect to be as busy as the other employees. For next week's post, expect to hear about the preparations and Salute to Independence 

Till next time

-Jess Cooper 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sleeping Bear, First 10-Day Trip to South Manitou!

From the ferry, looking at the village on South Manitou Island.

This blog will be a bit different from my first couple posts. From 6/13 to 6/23, I spent my time working on South Manitou Island. For those of you who haven't read my previous posts, South Manitou is one of the two islands that Sleeping Bear Dunes has under its control. The island operation is interesting and ever changing. Based off of the time of the year, South Manitou, currently, will have as many as one Law Enforcement Ranger, two interns (including myself) and three maintenance workers during the week (one on the weekends). South hold many different important resources, including natural and cultural history. Visitors can be found taking a Lighthouse tour, hiking the sand dunes, kayaking, swimming, fishing, or exploring the historical farms and visitors center. There is much to see and do on South, and this blog will cover some of the highlights of my first 10-day work schedule on the island. 

The ferry coming in to the dock.
On my first day, 6/13, I took the maintenance boat out to South, departing from the main harbor at Leland, Michigan, just north of the park. It was a smooth ride and thankfully I did not get sea sick! Usually I do not have an issue with this, but on certain boats and with larger waves, my stomach will get a little unsettled. I arrived to the island, quickly unpacked and got ready for the day. On a normal island day, we have a somewhat regimented schedule. In the morning we start our day at 9am. I usually work on some homework for my ProRanger summer class or work on some other projects until I need to call the ferry at 10. Ranger Chalup uses this time to work on incident reports. Once I call the ferry to see how many day trippers and campers they are bringing, and ask what time they are leaving (usually they leave at 4pm, but sometimes they have to make a quick turnaround because of the weather), I go out to the boathouse, which also serves as a rallying point for visitors, and update the signage. We have to signs that tell visitors when the boat will be departing and the days weather. After that, I usually stay out and chat with visitors until the ferry arrives around 11:30am. We help tie off the boat, unload the passengers and their gear. Next, we register all of the campers in the boathouse and mark off which campground they will be staying at. There are three different campgrounds on South and they are on a first come, first serve basis. Next, we run through a camper orientation that covers safety and informational knowledge for the campers staying overnight. Afterwards, they are free to start hiking into their sites or explore the island. We make sure that the visitors taking the motorized, guided tour of the island are good to go and then we take lunch. Usually, during lunch I will enter in the visitor statistics for the day into our monthly spreadsheet. Lighthouse tours start at 2pm and run until 3:45pm. We usually do anywhere from 3-8 tours of around 10 (maximum) people. After these tours, we make sure everyone is back on the dock in time for the ferry departure and see the boat off! We stay on until 5:30pm and work on whatever projects or reports need to be done. The island is interesting though because even though you are technically off duty at 5:30pm, we never really are. Often times, we will patrol the campgrounds at night around sunset (the best time to catch offenders) or have visitors knock on our door with any number of questions or concerns. We are the primary contacts for any EMS calls on the island and are the first people that visitors come to for help. There is no doctor, hospital, grocery/drug store, etc on the island, so if there is any type of issue, we are the ones to find. 

Unloading camping gear from the ferry.
Writing out campers permits.
Giving camper orientation.
On my second day, we got into some good Law Enforcement contacts. At 2pm after the boat was unloaded and Lighthouse tours were being conducted by the other intern, Ranger Chalup and I patrolled into the Bay Campground. Sure enough, one large group of young 20 year olds were making quite a bit of noise and drinking alcohol. We started our contact by warning them about the noise and music, and then Ranger Chalup asked to see identification for all of those who had drinks in their hand. Three of the individuals turned out to be underage and did not bring their identifications to the island. It became clear that the group had been longtime friends and had met up in Leland before leaving on the ferry as a annual reunion trip to South. Each person had brought their own alcohol, so Ranger Chalup only confiscated the underage individual's drinks and had them come back to the station with us. We ran their history and issued them tickets for MIP (minor in possession). Later that night, Ranger Chalup and I patrolled the Weather Station Campground (perhaps the busiest on the island). We stayed on the main path through the campground and observed activities on the campers to see if there were any violations. We came across one group that were having an interesting conversation in their tent about drugs and bringing them to the island. We assumed that they had narcotics and stayed to see if we had probable cause to search their gear. Sure enough, I smelled the marijuana and we saw them use a lighter. We entered the site and told them to exit the tent. Within plain view was the marijuana and other paraphernalia they had been using, as well as more marijuana and a bong in the pocket of one of the backpacks. One individual did have a medical marijuana card and was confused about why he couldn't smoke on Federal land. Despite the fact that he couldn't do this, we still would have gotten him for sharing with other individuals. We ended up charging two of the campers for possession. It was a busy day for Law Enforcement on the island.

On the 15th and the 16th, visitation numbers were high. We continued to conduct our normal activities and patrol the campgrounds throughout the weekend. One day, things were a bit slow and I decided to offer my services to two of the volunteers that were working on the island doing odd jobs. That day, they were mowing lawns at the farms and I offered to help. Together, with two mowers and and weed whacker, we were able to get a large portion of the farms mowed. These two volunteers were outstanding workers and I'm glad that I got the chance to meet and work with them. Volunteers in our Parks do an enormous amount of work and I don't know where we would be without them. We have a large amount of volunteers come out to the islands because they love the area and understand the mission of the NPS. Many also have family ties to the island and love to come back to do upkeep.

Saw this little guy while weed whacking.
Me with my protective gear during weed whacking and mowing.
Starting from after the ferry left on the 17th, I was the only Ranger on the island until Ranger Chalup returned on the morning of the 22nd. Sure enough, on the night of the 17th, I received an EMS call from the mainland. One of the large groups on the island staying at the Weather Station Campground had called the mainland Ranger Station with concerns of one of their campers who was having difficulty breathing, most likely due to a bite or sting. I got all of the information that I could form the Ranger on the mainland. I grabbed up one of the maintenance workers as I was heading to get the truck and we quickly drove as close to the site as we could. Unfortunately, somewhere along the passing of information, I was given the wrong campground. The reporting party said that they were in site 6 near the beach, which is impossible because site 6 is not at a beach access. I checked the site and there was nobody there. I then thought that maybe they meant 16, so I proceeded to that site. Again, it was not the correct site. I remembered a bit of island knowledge, when is doubt, head to the beach... you can find just about anything from the beach. I ran about half a mile of the beach that connects to the campground and found a group of the reporting party that I remembered from orientation. They showed me where the girl and one of the camp counselors was located and I proceeded to offer my services. I told them that the Glen Lake Fire Department was on their way form the mainland and that we needed to get the patient back to the dock for examination. We double checked to make sure that she was OK to walk and made sure that they had everything that they needed for overnight (since they could have needed to go back to the mainland hospital) and proceeded to drive out of the campground. I drove while the maintenance worker, Art, received radio communications from Glen Lake. By the time we got to on of the intersections in the middle of the island, Glen Lake was already waiting with two paramedics. I handed the situation over to them from that point out and stayed to provide any services that I could. They checked out the patient and said that medically, she was OK. She was probably just feeling under the weather because of the drowsy Benedryl she had taken and the several mosquito bites that were concentrated on her leg. Mosquitos have been a major problem on the island so far and I can understand how having several bites concentrated in one area on a 13 year old girl could make her feel uneasy. We called her parents and they said that it was OK to keep her on the island. We double checked with the group counselor who came and he was OK with her staying the night. I transported them back to their campground and gave them our phone number for the Ranger Station and my personal cell phone number just in case another issue arose. The next day, the group came for a Lighthouse tour and the girl was doing just fine. Thankfully, this was an easy first EMS call for me and was a great learning experience.

The old truck that we use to get around the island. We joke that the NPS sent it to the island to die, but it is a reliable vehicle. I used this truck on the EMS call.
During my days alone on the island I was responsible to performing the daily routine. I met the ferry, registered campers, conducted camper orientation (about a 10 minute speech), and did lighthouse tours (which include a synopsis of the history, use and life style of the workers of the lighthouse). I also worked on fixing up some of the display boards in the boathouse, which is the first building that visitors see when they arrive. Because of this, I thought it was important to fix up some of the outdated material and make the boathouse look as presentable as could be. Interp. has not been on the island for several years because of budget cuts, some much of the material needed to be updated. I spent several hours working on signage for the one board and scanning some of the old pictures of the island that are in the Ranger Station. Today I printed out these pictures at headquarters and will be putting them up on one of the empty boards on my next trip to the island. There are still many things that I want to fix up in the boathouse and it will be a continuing project throughout the summer. 
Registration desk before...
Registration desk with the new Weather Board! I also plan on redoing the Ferry Info sign later.
Info Board before...
Info Board after!
After work, I have been exploring the island and learning its history. There was once a thriving industry on the island thanks to it being the only shipping harbor on the way to Chicago that ships could use as protection from storms and to refuel. When ships ran on woods powered engines, the logging industry was extensive on South and much of the island was logged over. One of the popular spots on the island is the "Valley of the Giants", which holds world record sized cedar trees that escaped the saws of the time period. Farming also came to the island and award winning rye was harvested there for many years. Together with the life saving service and the coast guard, there is much history to the island. I spent many nights reading the history book in the Ranger Station and exploring. One night I took out the kayak to try and find one of the old shipwrecks, the Three Brothers. I've also been working out in our makeshift workout facility in one of the boathouses and taking runs on the main trials. On top of that, going up and down the Lighthouse several times a day makes it easy to stay in shape. I've definitely lost some weight since the start of the summer!
Our workout facility. Sorry, the lighting isn't so great, but not a bad view while bench pressing, eh?
On Tuesday, the 18th, my Chief Ranger and the safety committee came out to the Island. Chief Akers oversaw my orientation and visitor contacts and took some great pictures for me. He checked over some of the buildings on the island and patrolled into one of the campgrounds. The safety committee checked all of the buildings for code violations and thankfully everything was good to go. All we had to do was dispose of a few old smoke detectors. It was great to have them come out and see some familiar faces on my day alone on the island.

Ranger Chalup returned to the island on the 22nd and we continued with our daily routine. I was happy to get some help and company back after my time alone. He showed me another project that the Superintendent wants completed by the end of July that I will be working on. The project includes mapping a potential trail that connects the Lighthouse area to the area of the Weather Station Campground. The purpose is to create a hiking trail that runs parallel to the main road in order to keep hikers off of the road that is often used for park vehicles. This will be a project that I will be working on, so keep reading for more updates on this.
My last day was on the 23rd. We performed our usual duties and then I got all my things together to catch the ferry off of the island. I asked the ferry captain if I could ride in the wheel house with him and he let me. It was great to talk with him and learn about his daily responsibilities. The ferry is a privately owned company that acts as a vendor with the park to bring visitors to the island. The family that owns the ferry has a long history with the NPS, and it is important to keep those working relationships strong. 

I am currently off from the 24th until I head back to the island on the 28th. Our usual schedule for the island is 10 days on, 4 days off. After working ten days, it is great to have a few off. Today I met with the Deputy Superintendent to interview him for a paper for our ProRanger Summer class and worked on a few other projects at headquarters. I restocked on food for my next trip to the island and am catching up on some sleep. I'm looking forward to getting back out there! My next blog will be similar to this one; a recap of my trip to South. Bellow are some other random pictures from my trip. Until next time!

The SMI Visitors Center
Boardwalk leading to the Lighthouse.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Week 4.5

ProRangers and Followers,

Following my time with the Interpretation Division, I was assigned to the Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Permit Office for the remainder of my work week. The ORV Permit Office is a major component of park operations here at Cape Hatteras. This office has been created over the last two years in order to issue permits for beach-driving inside the park. Visitors who are interested in obtaining an ORV Permit are directed into this office, where they can purchase a Weekly or Annual beach-driving permit. Before purchasing a permit, visitors are required to present their Vehicle Registration and Drivers License to the ORV Rangers. Then, they are instructed to fill-out the necessary paperwork and they are shown a 7 minute film that outlines the rules and regulations of beach-driving.

Preparing for a Night-Climb!
During my time at the office, my primary responsibility was to staff the front desk. At this position, I greeted the visitors and checked their information prior to issuing them the required paperwork. Next, I completed the "Official Use Only" sections of the paperwork and escorted the visitors into the ORV film area. It was then my duty to start the film and monitor the visitors while the movie was playing. This was a great opportunity to interact with visitors and experience a fast-paced work environment where many tasks need to be completed at once. Additionally, it allowed me to see the "other-side" of the ORV Permit process. Prior to working in the ORV office, I was only exposed to the ORV Permit-holders once they got to the beach. Now, I am more familiar with the entire process, which will certainly benefit me for the remainder of the summer.

My next assignment here at Cape Hatteras is with the Natural Resources Division! Stay-tuned for a new blog towards the end of the week!

Thank you for reading,

Jay Copper

Antietam National Battlefield Week 4

Hello everyone, Jess here giving you all an ANTI update. So far I have been here for a month and I am still enjoying every moment; that’s got to be some sort of a sign, I’m sure.
My fourth week at Antietam National Battlefield began on Tuesday June 11 at 8:30AM. As usual, Tom picked me up from my housing to start our day. Before he left the ranger station to get me, he received a call from maintenance workers doing gardening at the cemetery. While they were gardening, these employees ran into a family of possums that was out during the day. THE DAY! That is obviously a matter of security because possums are nocturnal and should not be out during the day. When they are, there has to be something wrong with the animal and should be taken care of. By the time we got to the cemetery, there was only one possum left still awake hiding under a bush. Tom decided it would be best to capture the animal so he found a groundhog trap and put some fruit in it to lure in the possum. Throughout the day, we checked on our possum and saw that it stayed tucked under the bush all day. The next morning Tom and I checked again to see if the possum either moved or was trapped and found that it just moved. We figured that there was nothing terribly wrong with the possum, but it got disturbed by the weed whackers and mowers in the morning and went defensive because of the baby possums. After realizing that, Tom and I returned the trap back to its original place and went on with the rest of our day.
Later that week, Tom and I went in work a little later than our normal times. Because of the ranger who usually closes on Thursday being out on leave, we had the task of working 1:30 to 10 in order to assist later visitors and closing the park. A project that we had that day was changing batteries of emergency exit signs in the Visitor’s Center. First we had to head over to the nearby city of Hagerstown, also home to NCR dispatch (see Week 2), to purchase the batteries that were needed. Once we did that, we headed back to the park to do our current job. Once we got to the Visitor’s Center, we ran into a few visitors who just got to the park. Unfortunately for them, by the time they got there the VC had closed and they were not sure what to do. Tom gave me a park brochure to give to them and they were very appreciative. I remembered what Tom told me earlier in the summer: “You can always make a visitor’s day by giving out a map” and it looked like he was right. That short interaction with a visitor made me realize that I was in the right position, being a public servant.
After we changed the batteries at the VC and I collected the money from the donation box Tom and I headed back to the Ranger Station to get ready to do a final patrol and close the park. Once we got prepared (with our flashlights) I drove the two of us around so that we could lock up and check on anyone else lurking in the park. It was pretty cool driving around the park and closing; it’s like I work here.
The next two days I spent helping out at the Visitor’s Center. I arrived at 8:30AM (when it opens) and shadowed the workers for about an hour, then jumped in to the action. After a while of working the front desk, I went along with Ranger Stanczak to the Mumma House for a program she did for kids from a summer camp. Because of the large group, the kids were split between age groups. I helped out the younger kids as a volunteer told them about the Mumma family during the time of the Battle of Antietam. She explained to the kids how young children like them and like the Mumma’s did during the late 19th century. Afterwards, they partook in activities that they would have during the time and I helped with it all. At first I was very nervous to interact with young children. I haven’t seen people that small in a long time and I haven’t been that small in a really long time. It turned out to be fine and I was worrying about nothing; children are just miniature adults.
The next day with the Interp staff was spent at the VC and on a tour of the battlefield. During the late morning, I went along on a Battlefield Tour with a ranger and two new volunteers. The tour was really interesting because it was in the form of a caravan that we got to lead. Visitors would follow us around the battlefield as we would stop at the three main points of the battle and the ranger would explain why each was significant. During that time, not only did I learn more about the Battle of Antietam, I also had the opportunity to interact with visitors from all over and that’s my favorite part of being a park ranger.
Hope to have more for you all in the coming weeks and thanks for reading.
Till next time,
Jess Cooper

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Independence NHP #4


  Sunday evenings are my first shift back from my three day weekend. I am excited to see what kind of things I will do and learn this week. I begin my shift in the Ranger stations main office after I put on my uniform in the men’s locker room. In the office I log onto the computer and start putting the finishing touches on my blog post. I removed, then added a few things and uploaded the post to the Pro Rangers blog page.  To complete my blogs I add a few pictures to show my readers the beauty of the park that I get to see daily. I post my blog and then move on to my next assignment.  While online I  log onto DOI-learn and complete the third course given to me by my supervisor. I take the time to read every page and module because I know that there will be a test at the end of it. I complete the Government Ethics course and print out a copy of the certificate for my personal records.
My Lock and Locker at 339

  I was told by my supervisor Ranger Snow that I will need to pick up my radio one day soon, and I could come in earlier to do so. Also Ranger Snow and I reviewed my time sheet and made changes to it. I’m glad he was able to help me because completing spreadsheets are not my strong points. We finished my time sheet and then emailed it to HR.I was given permission to walk around the park, so I left 339 and headed toward Independence square. While patrolling the park I ran into a few individuals who were asking for directions. I kindly gave them as much direction as I could and they were on their way. I arrived at Independence Square, where I spoke with two Sectek guards and an LE Ranger. I asked these guys about the events that occurred in the park earlier and for the most part they informed me that nothing eventful had happened. I stood outside Independence Hall, protecting it from visitors and watching people walk by. Standing in one spot can get boring so I’m sure the guards appreciated my conversation.  I was called over the radio to report to 339.

  Once I arrived at 339 I was escorted by Ranger Dottie to the evidence room. In the evidence room I created a list of unused property to add to the list I had already created. In the evidence room Dottie helped me find and move things around that did not belong. With the things I found, I wrote down their serial numbers, property number or anything detailed that could be used to describe it. With Ranger Dottie’s help we were done in no time. I returned to 339 for my next task and Dottie ended her shift. At 339 Rangers Juan and Martina escorted me to Franklin Court. At Franklin Court we navigated through the buildings to find the Visitor and Resource Protection office. We ended up finding a storage room with riot shields so we took the shields and placed them into the cruiser to transport to the equipment room in the ranger station. The two rangers left me in Franklin court so I could complete the inventory of property in the V&RP room. It took me a little less than an hour to document all the property onto my list but it was necessary. For the rest of the night I added information to my next blog and clocked out at 0230.

  On Monday I arrived at the Ranger Station 339 a little before 1700 to change into uniform and still be on time.  As always I log onto the computer here at 339 to check my emails. I decide to walk around the park and make some contacts. I was able to again give directions to a few visitors but mostly I spoke with the Sectek guards again. A lot of the guards are curious about the Pro Ranger Program and I always tell them how awesome a program it is. I explain to them the application process, and the P.E.B requirements. One of the guards informed me that he was a police officer in PA.  While talking to him he told me how much he enjoys working in the law enforcement field.  After the conversation with the Sectek Guards I did some more exploring.

 While patrolling a visitor had stopped me while I was walking an informed me about a potential safety hazard. He said that there was a metal board that covers a hole on the corner of 4th and Chestnut that had been moved slightly and needed to be placed back to cover the hole correctly. I spotted the area he was talking about and Ranger Juan adjusted the board correctly so it wouldn't move and no one could potentially hurt themselves.

Not too long after that all the rangers reported immediately to the open field directly next to the LBC (Liberty Bell Center). I was the last one to arrive on the scene but I had no idea what was going on so I kept my distance. From a distance I saw the LE Rangers assisting a man who had been lying on the ground. I walked a little closer just to show the rangers I was there, In case there was any way I could help. The rangers had large medical/jump kits with them so I assumed they were on a medical contact. After they escorted the guy into the Cruiser I was able to communicate with the rangers and they told me that the man was intoxicated and may have medical issues.  Two rangers took him to the hospital and I walked back to 339. At 339 Supervisor Snow gave me more detail about the incident.
                                                                  Medical Contact

  As the night progressed I completed building checks with Ranger Melissa, we cleared the Pemberton complex and 2nd bank.  To end the night Ranger Juan helped me deliver some mail to the M.E.B and we parked a government vehicle in the parking lot. I ended my shift watching the rangers cite a visitor for drinking over the legal limit and destroying park property. I left INDE around 0230.
On Tuesday 6/18 I came into work at 1530. I immediately reported to the dispatch building to meet with Ranger Drake. Ranger Drake is in charge of the radios and alarms here at INDE. This day was the day I was issued my radio, so that I can communicate with the Rangers and dispatch better.  While meeting with Ranger Drake, he also gave me a crash course on using and protecting the radio issued to me. This was my first time meeting him and he was very friendly, funny and informative. I am pleased to be working with the diverse group of Rangers here at INDE.  A lot of people here come from different places and are skilled in different area, and I have taken note of that. After my meeting with Ranger Drake, I step into the Dispatch office to meet the two dispatchers whom I hadn’t met yet and headed over to 339.

  At 339 I greeted all the Day shift rangers and headed to the locker room to properly put on my full uniform and equipped my gun belt with my new radio. Once I’m fully dressed I went down to the main office in 339 and talked with the day shift rangers. When my supervisor arrived he gave me another key. I put the key on my key ring and sign a document regarding me receiving it. This key will give me access to lock and unlock the doors of 339. A few moments late ranger Trouper gives me a few tasks to complete during my shift and I return to the office to log onto the computer. Online I read and reply to emails and jump on the Pro Ranger Blog page to see if there were any new blog posts.                               Hazard

  On this particular day, the weather wasn't so good. It rained for most of my shift. I stayed indoors, worked on my blog and did research online for my supervisor. I also started my fourth online learning module on DOI-learn. I did not get to finish the course but I will certainly finish it as soon as possible. I got away from the desk for a few hours and patrolled the park. Near the Pemberton complex Ranger Melissa noticed a potential hazard. One of the flat stones in the ground used for walking on was not stable and someone could fall if they stepped on it. She put in a work order for it and then she and I went and placed an orange cone with yellow caution tape to mark it. I took a lunch and spoke with two Sectek guards who were also taking a break. After the conversation ended I returned to the ranger station and worked on my blog. I briefly left 339 to assist Ranger Juan in obtaining light bulbs for our office from maintenance. Riding around the park with Juan is always interesting because he always shows me something new. The remainder of the night I worked on the inventory task. I used some of my pt time at the M.E.B and ended my shift with a great work out. I worked on both my upper and lower body and then got in some cardio to complete my work day. I clocked out at 0200.

  On Wednesday I arrived to work at my regular scheduled time 1700 and immediately put on my NPS uniform. Soon after I got to work on Quick time training, which was recently assigned to me. Quick time training is definitely appropriate because every employee should know how to submit their own Time and Attendance. It took me about an hour to complete the course. I spoke to a few Rangers who were also interested in taking the training. So I showed them how to access it. Around 1930 the LE staff at INDE had our weekly briefing in the east wing. During the briefing the supervisors shared information about upcoming events that need coverage. 

    Later in the day I worked on a report of survey form in which I added the property from the unused property report I made last week. I submitted it to my supervisor and left 339 to check out the activity in the park. Like most nights it was pretty slow. The rangers kept themselves busy by completing reports on the computer and checking areas in the park. At 0020 I went over to dispatch. Radeam, Will and Rob were there so I greeted all of them and introduced myself to Rob because it was my first time meeting him. Observing dispatch is always interesting because I like the constant communication and professionalism they add to the park. If anyone needs information they usually ask dispatch because they are very informed about the activity here and if they do not know then they help finding out. I headed back to 339 to update my blog with the things I had done today. I then headed to the M.E.B around 0225. In the gym I used the free weight dumb bells to compete a few sets of upper body exercises. I want to tone up so those weights help my upper body. I use the mat for stretching and sit ups. Last but not least I used the elliptical for my cardio workout. I finished my shift and headed home for my off days.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Week 4

 ProRangers and Visitors,

 Over the last five days here at Cape Hatteras National Seashore I have experienced a wide range of activities, field programs, and interpretative dialogue as I worked with the parks Interpretation Division. The Cape Hatteras Interpretation staff is responsible for many of the visitor contacts that happen throughout the day. As Interpretative Rangers, their duties include staffing the park visitor centers and museums, supervising the Lighthouse climbs, and conducting educational programs. Through these duties, the Rangers are able to make connections between the visitors and the park, and promote future stewardship of our National Parks. Often, Interpretative Rangers become the “face” of the National Park Service. When visiting a park, visitors’ first interactions take place in the visitor center where a Ranger will describe the important themes of the park. Next, the visitors are instructed on how to learn more about the park through interpretative talks and Ranger Programs.

During my time with Interpretation I was able to experience the majority of the Interpretative Rangers duties.  My week with this division began at Sandy Bay, near North Carolina’s Frisco area. While at Sandy Bay (Pamlico Sound), the Rangers and I conducted a Seining program for the visitors. Cape Hatteras has several “water programs”, that allow visitors to experience the park in a new way. Seining is an ancient fishing method that involves skimming the water with a large net. The process involves two people (one on each side) and resembles dragging a Volleyball net across the water. This method is quite effective, and we caught numerous small fish, a few crabs, and even a shrimp. After Seining, I experienced my first shift in the Visitor Center, and also spent time in the Museum. These opportunities allowed me to feel out the interpretation style of the park and gain insight into how the division functioned. To finish the day, Ranger Steve and I traveled to Hatteras Village and Coast Guard Station Hatteras Inlet. The Park Service works in conjunction with the Coast Guard to provide Ranger led tours of the Coast Guard Station. This experience was really enjoyable, and I was able to learn more about Coast Guard operations in the Outer Banks.

My second day with Interpretation was spent in the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is possibly the most talked about piece of history at Cape Hatteras, and can see over 1,000 climbers each day. The Lighthouse is operated by three Interpretative Rangers at all times, with each Ranger staffing a different location in the structure. The first Ranger that visitors will speak to is known as the “Base” position. While at the Base, Rangers are responsible for answering questions, collecting tickets, and giving the required safety speech. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is America’s tallest Lighthouse, with visitors negotiating 257 stairs on the way to the top. In turn, safety is a major concern of the Lighthouse staff. I began my day at the Base position, and after listening to a few safety briefs I was cleared to give my own safety talk. This is a great responsibility, but it is also a great opportunity to interact with the visitors and make sure that they are safe during their climb.

Following my work at the Base, I moved to the next position in the Lighthouse. The “Floater” position is stationed near the middle of the Lighthouse in order to guide visitors during their climb. While working this position, it is important to constantly monitor visitors and insure that they are physically and emotionally well. The height of the Lighthouse can effect individuals with a fear of heights, as well as stress the visitors’ physical limits. In addition to monitoring visitors, the “Float” Ranger is also responsible for monitoring weather conditions inside the Lighthouse. Every 30 minutes, this position is required to report the internal temperature and humidity of the Lighthouse. These readings are important to both the safety of the visitors and the staff. During my time at the Lighthouse, the readings stayed relatively normal, with temperatures around 75-80 degrees and humidity near 75 percent.

The final position in the Lighthouse is fittingly named “Top”. The Top position is located on the balcony, 165 feet and ½ inch above the North Carolina soil. This Ranger has many duties, including answering the many questions about the Lighthouse, taking photos of visitors, monitoring the health and safety of all climbers, and recording the weather conditions at the top. Similar to the Float Ranger, the Top Ranger must record the weather conditions every 30 minutes. The Top position records the sustained and gusting wind speed in the balcony. If at any point the winds become too strong, it is the duty of the Top Ranger to close the balcony and keep visitors inside the Lighthouse. Also, the Ranger at the Top is the last Ranger to leave the Lighthouse at the end of the day, when they are tasked with closing all of the doors and making sure that they are secure.

I truly enjoyed my time at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. In the words of the Lead Interpretative Ranger, the Lighthouse is the “bread and butter” of the divisions operations. With that said, I am honored to be able to work in the Lighthouse and experience the magic of the facility. Throughout my week with Interpretation, I returned to the Lighthouse several times in order to gain more experience at the site.

On my third day with Interpretation, I began the day with a bird walk. This was a unique opportunity to see the birds of Cape Hatteras during an early morning hour. Following the bird walk, I returned to the Sandy Bay Soundside area in order to assist with a snorkeling program. This was an excellent program, which allowed visitors without snorkeling gear to see the various species of fish other animals that live in the Pamlico Sound. The park provides all of the equipment for this program, and it caters to beginner snorkelers. During this program, we found several Blue Crab, as well as a few fish and many seashells.

Day number four with the Interpretation staff started off at Haulover Soundside access. Here, Ranger Abe and I administered a Cast Netting program. According to the Park Volunteer (an excellent Cast Netter!), Cast Netting is one of the oldest forms of fishing in the world. Cast Nests are thrown near a school of fish, and open up to enclose the fish in the net. Then, the Cast Netter can pull in the net, and open it once they are ready to remove the fish. During this program, we caught a few Pin Fish, as well as some Blue Crab Sheds.
The second part of my day was spent at the Weather Station program. The Weather Station is located in Hatteras Village. This station was built in 1901, and was responsible for monitoring the weather along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Today, the station serves as a museum and tourist information center. The Park Service periodically conducts tours in the building, and allows visitors into areas of the structure that are closed during normal operations. An interesting fact about this Station is that it received the first distress message sent by the Titanic after the ship hit an Iceberg in 1912. The message was found during renovations, and is now on display at a local museum.

My fifth and final day with the Interpretation Division was kicked-off with an early fishing program on the Atlantic Ocean. As with the other Ranger field programs, the Park Service provides the licenses and equipment for the visitors and conducts a beginner’s course to fishing. After conducting safety messages, we explained the fishing process to the visitors and allowed them to spread out on the beach. Once each visitor had a spot, they began fishing. During our two hour program, the visitors caught several Sea Mullet and a few other species of fish. Following the fishing program, the other Rangers and I cleaned and repaired all of the equipment. Next, I reported to the Museum to gain some more experience in that setting. I completed my day at the top of the Lighthouse, a perfect position for my last assignment with the Interpretation Division.

Over the next few days I will be working with the Fee Division in the Off-Road Vehicle Permit office. This area of park operations is very important and very well known to the public. I am looking forward to working with the ORV staff and experiencing how they conduct their operations.

Thank you for checking-in and reading.

Jay Copper

Harpers Ferry NHP Entry No. 2

Recently I have been able to work with the other divisions in HAFE for training and educational purposes. I spent three days at a seasonal orientation with most of the new interns who have come to park this summer. This training was centered around Interpretation and the skills a ranger would need for delivering information to park visitors. We discussed the proper way to interpret historical events of the park, while involving relevant and intangible meanings to the facts in order to connect the visitor to the park and promote stewardship.  We went over universal concepts, interpretative opportunities,  the three different parts of communication, the process model for a well thought out interpretative talk, informal visitor contacts, the "Visitors' Bill of Rights," and of course the many layers of history behind HAFE. This training was very helpful for me because, although I will not be giving my own interpretative talks, I will constantly have contacts with visitors throughout the duration of the day. Knowing the proper way to give educational information to them while trying to promote stewardship is a skill that any US Park Ranger should have. Each day of the orientation, we took a tour of our park, learning about the history of different areas available to visitors. During one of our lunch breaks, we made pizza the old-fashioned way in a brick oven with the Living History division.
Making pizza with fellow interns
In front of Jefferson Rock

The view from Jefferson Rock
John Brown's Fort

Another division I was able to work with was Administration. I worked with the Contracting Officer and learned the process behind buying things for the park through the General Services Administration, or GSA. She had to buy a few items for Visitor Services, so she took me through all of the different steps to obtain the items through GSA Advantage. We discussed the difference between the daily operations funding and project funding. I also worked with the Administration Officer. She explained her duties and responsibilities to me, as well as went over how to write a position description. Each employee of the NPS has a position description and knowing how to write your own is a good asset to have. 

I also worked with workers from HPTC, the Historic Preservation Training Center. HPTC is a part of the NPS that has trained professionals who expert in maintenance and construction of historic sites in order to keep everything historically accurate. They are currently working on the investigation stage before stabilizing an alcove on HAFE property that lies adjacent to one of our parking lots. They had to dig underneath the stone walls to figure out if the foundation was live rock, which is bed rock, or if it was just built on top of the soil. Every time soil was dug out of the ground, it had to be carefully sifted through in order to find any possible artifacts. Every thing is important in telling the history of the land, so once something was found that was not rock or plant material, it was carefully put into a bag to be given to the park archaeologists.

I have been fortunate to participate in many different training exercises. I went to a First Aid, CPR, AED training hosted by Jefferson Medical Center and became certified for two years. I also went to a fire extinguisher training course ran by Citizens Fire Co. out of Charles Town, West Virginia. This was very informative for me because although fire extinguishers may seem simple to some people, I have actually never had to use one before or even practiced with one.  I also had field training for wildland fires at Catoctin Mountain Park. We went over the different tools used and created practice fire lines. We also went over the different hose set ups on the fire engine they have at the park. At HAFE, I continued my fire training with my supervisor who is the Fire Management Officer, FMO, here in the park. He taught me how to properly use a fire shelter and administered my pack test. The pack test was set up on the part of the C&O Canal that runs adjacent to HAFE. I was educated on and given all of the fire gear that I will need if we are able to go out on a fire at the end of July.

While with Law Enforcement, I learned many valuable lessons that I will need in my future career as a US Park Ranger. During slow times, the LE rangers here helped me practice traffic stops. They role-played as the driver who has already been pulled over for a speeding violation. I practiced inspecting the surrounding area and the car on my approach, making initial contact with the driver, speaking to the driver about the violation, educating why it is a violation, obtaining the license and registration, filling out the citation (pretend citation),  and finally re-approaching the driver with information on the actual citation and how to pay it. The LE rangers critiqued my performance and gave me advice on how to make it a safer contact for myself and the people in the car. I am very grateful they took the time to practice this with me, as I feel I will become a lot more comfortable with it by the end of summer. I also practiced calling in to Central over the radio about illegally parked vehicles. I practiced the alpha-codes for calling in tag numbers and license numbers. I also practiced asking for driver's license information (10-27), vehicle registration (10-28), and wants or warrants (10-29) on my own vehicle and license for practice since I am not commissioned and cannot ask for this information on an individual or car legally. 

My supervisor introduced me to a very useful tool called the "Big Easy." This tool is used to open up cars that people have locked themselves out of. The tool set consists of a small wedge to pry open the door, an inflatable pouch with a hand pump to create spacing between the door and the body of the vehicle, and a long metal rod to slip through the space and hit the unlock button on the car door. He showed me the proper way to use it on one of our own government cars, and then he allowed me to practice using it. He instructed me to ask the driver to show their proper identification and registration to ensure that it is the correct owner and that the car has not been stolen.  Also, one of the LE Rangers who is also the taser coordinator, trained me on the taser. I learned how it works, how it affects the body's nervous system, and how to properly fire one. The rangers here use the X26 model. I practiced discharging the X26 on a cardboard dummy at the ideal target zones on the suspect's body. 

Big Easy Kit