Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Visit #2: Prince William Forest Park (7/23-7/24)

On Tuesday morning, we broke down our camp, loaded up the van and started the 300-mile drive back to Virginia and Prince William Forest Park.  Traffic wasn't bad, but a stop near Williamsburg for lunch and gas turned into an adventure.  So, we arrived two hours behind our expected schedule.

Ranger Dave Ballam met us near the front gate and showed us the way and helped us to transport and unload our stuff.  Although Prince William Forest Park does have several campgrounds, we decided to stay in one of their historic cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.  They are rustic - but come equipped with a ceiling fan - so quite comfortable for sleeping!

Range Ballam presented us with several welcome gifts, including maps, patches, Smokey-the-Bear materials and a "spy" kit (an ode to PRWIs history as a site for training spies during WWII).  There was also a special gift for me:  a Law Enforcement challenge coin!

PRWI LE Challenge Coin

Arrival at Prince William Forest Park

Ranger Ballam bid us goodnight and walked off to his house since he lives within the park.  I envy his commute!  ProRanger Vinny Lemba took us on a brief driving tour of the park.  Since the park is over 15,000 acres, we stuck to the public, paved areas.  Nevertheless, we saw some wildlife - two deer near the side of the road.

Deer by the roadside.

We made a run to the local grocery store for more jiffy-pop and had a quick dinner.  Then, we returned to the cabin where I unsuccessfully attempted to start a fire.  Finn chastised me for not purchasing more ready-light charcoal.  So, we settled for some chocolate from the s'more supplies and headed to bed.  Despite the nearly full moon, the heavy cover of trees made it nearly pitch black and the air is much cooler in the park. And, although, there is no sound of the nearby highway, it is anything but quiet!  The sounds of the crickets, frogs and -- I don't even know what all those calls were! -- is surprisingly loud.  I worried that my city kid would be a little nervous, but he climbed into his sleeping bag and was out like a light!

Getting ready for bed!
Breakfast by the cabin!

The next morning, we met Ranger Ballam and ProRanger Vinny Lemba at the Visitor's Center and then headed over to park headquarters to meet with Superintendent Vidal Martinez and Deputy Superintendent George Lippert.  I am grateful for their time and support.  I appreciated the insights Superintendent Martinez shared with me.  Under his leadership, Prince William Forest Park has been a strong partner and supporter of the ProRanger Philadelphia program since its founding year and has been instrumental in providing exceptional summer experiences for our students. I was honored that Superintendent Martinez presented me with a Prince William Forest Park challenge coin.  Special thanks to Tracy Ballesteros for help in arranging my visit, providing toys to keep Finn occupied during our meeting and for taking the photo below.
Ranger David Ballam, ProRanger Vincent Lemba, Temple administrator Vicki McGarvey (Finn McGarvey), Superintendent Vidal Martinez and Deputy Superintendent George Liffert (L to R)

Prince William Forest Park Challenge Coin

From park headquarters, we headed back to the visitors center and Vinny worked with Finn to earn his junior ranger badge (#2 for the trip)!  Then it was off for a tour of the park's fire roads in the "mule", selecting some smooth stones along a creek bed, and then a lesson from Ranger Dave in skipping stones!

Working on junior ranger activities.
Congratulations after taking the junior ranger oath.

What a fun way to travel!

Hanging out in the mule!

Lesson in skipping a stone (from an expert!)
Cool bridge!

Mangy looking fox by the roadside.
We left the park for lunch. You can literally see the entry ramp for I-95 from the park entrance.   I was amazed at the quick transition from the serene quiet of the park to the traffic and bustle of suburban Northern Virginia.

When we returned to the park, Ranger Ballam taught ProRanger Lemba how to convert the mule to a fire vehicle and prepare it for use.  Vinny got a little help from Finn in filling up (and then emptying!) the water tank.

Loading the generator and tank onto the mule.
Fill 'er up!
Ready to fight the fire!

This is hard work!

After the fire equipment was restored, Vinny, Finn and I took a quick trip over to the National Museum of the Marine Corps before they closed.  The museum is less than a mile from PRWI and I recommend it to anyone visiting the area - you can't help feeling proud and moved by the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve.  I also had the opportunity to do a little Christmas shopping for my dad ("once a Marine, always a Marine!")  One the way out, we asked a passerby to take a photo of the three of us with the Temple Owls flag.  We learned that we had asked a Temple alumnus from SCT who is now a Pennsylvania State Trooper.  It's true:  "Temple Owls are everywhere!"   

National Museum of the Marine Corps
After heading back to the park, Vinny took us on a short hike to one of his favorite spots in the park.  We took some photos by the waterfall and bridge.  Then, of course, we climbed on the rocks for a while and, on the way back, investigated the droppings we encountered in a large meadow.

Scaring his mom by climbing on the rocks!
Watch your step!

Another cool bridge!
Pancakes for dinner!
After a long day, we headed out for some dinner  and a stop by the grocery store.  Thanks to the ready-light charcoal, I was able to successfully get the fire started and then add the wood!  We had some marshmallows and jiffy pop, played some card games and retired to our cabin for the night.  

See Mom - I told you charcoal is better than wood!
What is cooler than jiffy-pop?
On Thursday morning, we got up early for a relatively short drive to our next adventure. First, we headed off to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park for a morning with ProRanger Jennifer Pflugfelder and Ranger Mark Howard. Then it was on to Antietam National Battlefield to spend the afternoon with ProRanger Jess Cooper and Ranger Tom Jones.

While I drove, Finn contemplated whether he wants to stay in another cabin or to camp in our tent at our next visit to PRWI.  Thanks to Superintendent Martinez, Ranger Dave Ballam, ProRanger Vinny Lemba and all the other park staff - we'll be back!

Up next:  HAFE and ANTI.

Vicki McGarvey

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