Saturday, June 29, 2013

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 

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