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

1 comment:

  1. Jay
    There seems to be a lot of recreation and just all around fun things to do at Cape Hatteras. It is great to know you all are taking care of each other with the safety talks and the constant communication.
    Take Care Buddy