Friday, July 31, 2015

Colonial NHP: Getting Caught Up

The past couple weeks I have spent wrapping up in other divisions, as well as completing my conservation project.  The week after fourth of July I started off doing graffiti removal with maintenance around the park.  We have one bridge specifically which is a problem where kids hang out and tag it from top to bottom.


Some of the walkway was re-leveled in some
places where it had become a tripping hazard

After my day of graffiti removal I started working with the HPTC (Historic Preservation Training Center), crew who have been at COLO for weeks.  For the majority of my time with HPTC I helped clean out the joints on the brick sidewalk to the Moore House. After they were cleaned out  the joints were then filled with envirosand, which prevents weeds from growing up between the pathways

In between my time with HPTC I worked with the Resource Division here at COLO.  I spent time organizing an old ARPA violation in which pieces had been separated from each other over the years.  I got the opportunity to GPS sample points around the park and work with the GIS system.  I also got to go bird marsh monitoring to monitor for endangered species.  It is part of a monitoring of the endangered birds up and down the East Coast.  At the end of the week I helped set up wild life cameras to monitor the beaver dam.  The beavers had started building a second dam in one of the ponds, we were interested in finding out why they hadn't repaired their old one and started a new one.

The time at Colonial has been flying by and I'm finishing up with the Protection Division, practicing handcuffing, and working on different scenarios.  

Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll + Birds

Law Enforcement
Hello my name is Nicholas Fitzke and I am the ProRanger currently stationed at Fire Island National Seashore.

A lot of my time here at Fire Island has been spent with the Visitor and Resource Protection division. This is the division tasked with enforcing the laws of the park. Fire Island is unique in this regard because of its complex jurisdictions. There are many other law enforcement agencies that have roles to play on the island.

I can honestly say that my time with VRP has been the most fulfilling. I have had the opportunity to see and experience what being a law enforcement ranger is all about. They are essential for the continued existence of the park system. They play many roles including EMTs.

So what does a LE ranger's day look like at Fire Island? First you need some background on the island and the types of crimes and violations that occur here. The first and foremost problem that LE rangers deal with is nudity. Certain areas on the island were traditionally nude. Post hurricane Sandy there has been a shift to enforce the existing New York State laws regarding nudity on park grounds. This has caused some backlash from the nudist community but people are adjusting.

Another problem on the island is sex in public. There is a tract of land in the park where people like to sneak off to get jiggy in. This of course is illegal. Being park property it is up to the LE rangers to patrol the area and to discourage any persons trying to get it on.

Warning Sign
These two things in combination with medical emergencies, drug cases, and resource protection keep the rangers on the island very busy. It is very important to read and fallow all signage on the island. If there is a sign telling you not to do something... don't do it!

This is the life of a law enforcement ranger on Fire Island.

If you want to learn more about Fire Island National Seashore check out their website at:

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Elusive Clocks

Aft Engine Room of the Cassin Young
This week I spent some time with Resource Management. The first day I received a sneak peak of what the annual inventory of collections might entail. It seems like a game of hide and seek but I would never get to hide. The inventory process sounded systematic at first, reading the location of the item, finding the item, matching the catalog numbers, and recording the item’s condition. Eventually, this information finds its way onto the Interior Collections Management System. However, there were a couple of elusive items that made for a bit of a patience building exercise. For instance, few clocks became much more difficult to find on the Cassin Young then I would have ever imagined. On the bright side, I thoroughly enjoyed crawling through hatches, to get the aft engine room in search of the ship’s clocks. It is interesting to think about how investigations into missing items depends upon the importance of the item. Personally, I am glad I am not the one that has to make those seemingly tough decisions. Although it may be something as simple as a missing pencil, but what if it were one of the missing clocks? How much of an impact has the clock made on today’s understanding of the way those aboard the Cassin Young told time? Many questions would need to be asked and hopefully one would be able to figure out the answers, making way towards a definitive answer for the missing item.

Blue board (left) and ethafoam (right)

During my time with Resource Management, I was able to help out with a preservation project that they have going on. Within the collections holding area, the items are held on top of ethafoam. It is a foam sheet that provides a bit of protection for the items as they sit on the shelves. Over time, ethafoam starts to deteriorate. This was unforeseen as an impending problem and has become an issue. The deterioration has made the sheets useless for protecting the items. After being touched, the sheets turn into a snow-like form upon touch. We spent a day replacing the ethafoam with blue boards. These blue boards are consistent with a card board type of substance. It provides support for the collections and will not deteriorate nearly as quickly as the ethafoam has proven to.

Myself and the SCA Curatorial Intern
Overall, Resource Management involved care-taking for the pieces of history that BNHP still has. I feel as though this division contains a large amount of appreciation for this role of preservation. Many pieces of America’s story can be told through these pieces of history and it was amazing to be a part of its preservation. 

Best of Both Worlds

Time at Monocacy National Battlefield is flying by! They say "time flies when you're having fun" and I can say with confidence that this is the case in my situation. The last two weeks have been a great experience with two very different divisions. My weeks with Maintenance and Interpretation reassured me that it takes many diverse skill sets to run a park effectively.

For my days with Maintenance, we would report to the visitor center early in the morning to make sure that the place is spotless. We would vacuum, clean exhibits, dust, and clean the bathrooms. It may not be the most attractive duty, but someone's got to do it. With that mindset, the Maintenance team does a great job. 
Cleaning toilets isn't fun, but Andrew showed
me how to do it with a smile from ear to ear.
People come in from walking the trails with dirt on their boots. We clean the visitor center every morning, and make sure that the visitor has a pleasant experience. 
Thankfully, I was also able to get outside. 
Keeping the arrowhead clean and welcoming.

During the days with the Maintenance crew, I was able to continue sharpening my skills with the weed whacker. Pictured above, we also cleared brush and were able to put it through the chipper. I loved being outside and working with the guys, but was pleasantly surprised with a trip to Philadelphia.
Pictured above (L-R): ProRanger Tim Greene (me), ProRanger Isaiah Lewis,
Chief Ranger Jeremy Murphy, and ProRanger John Hesdon.
It was awesome to see my former Chief Ranger Jeremy Murphy (now at Gettysburg National Military Park) and fellow ProRangers John and Isaiah. We were able to be a part of the Incident Command Team meeting, which was a great display of effective planning, unavoidable stress, and amazing teamwork. As a member of the National Park Service, you have many opportunities to take on collateral duties that can take your career on a different and exciting path. Having unique experiences like this will only help you grow as a ranger. 

As my time with Maintenance came to a close, it was time to switch gears and work with the Interpretive Rangers. I enjoyed my time at the Visitor Center because you are constantly communicating with visitors. I may not be able to answer every question about Monocacy, but I can point them in the right direction and give them a nice smile. Making sure that the visitors have a pleasant experience is key to the growth of our park. I also enjoyed sitting in on the Ranger Programs, which we host twice a day. 
Ranger Brian Dankmeyer giving a program. 
The Interpretive Rangers are all about customer experience. They are never bored on the job, because there is always something that can be improved. Pictured above, Ranger Brian is outside on a beautiful day. He is feeling fine while being well covered from the sun. However, it is clear that the visitors are a little warm and the sun was impacting their comfort. Instead of going along with the program and ignoring the uncomfortable situation, Brian asked them for advice. The end result:
Improvising in order to meet the visitor's satisfaction is an important skill.
The whole crew moved into the air-conditioned Visitor Center and Brian gave the program from an electronic map upstairs. This may seem like a small gesture, but the visitors were beyond pleased. This situation impacted me because even while giving an in-depth program, the visitor's comfort was still on Brian's mind, and he acted. Having a passion for pleasing the visitors is another priority that I have noted for my future.

I say that I experienced the best of both worlds because the Maintenance crew works physically and tirelessly to give the visitor a pleasant experience, while the Interpretive Rangers take a creative and passionate mindset to please the visitor. These two divisions complete very different everyday tasks, but have the same mission. Giving the customer a satisfying visit is the goal and I have been lucky enough to see talented people dedicate their time and passion to achieve this goal, while continuing to improve as time goes by. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Filters and Fountains

The foundations of the President's house, as seen from below
during a filter change
Changing a water pump
Last week was my second with the maintenance division here at Independence. The first week was spent with the grounds, custodial, and motor vehicles as they were preparing for the fourth of July festivities. I weeded the garden outside of the liberty bell, set up barricades, visited the maintenance and garage facilities, among many other things. This week I was stationed with the Buildings and Utilities Branch. B&U is responsible for the upkeep of the buildings in the park as well as the various heating, cooling, and electrical systems. They also do woodwork, masonry, and painting when the need arises. They are, as you can imagine, a busy group of guys.

Each member of the Utilities staff is very skilled in many different areas, and they are all capable of handling nearly every job that comes up at the park. For example, when shadowing the Park's Electrician, Jeff, I helped to: clean a fountain, dig holes for electrical covers, replace the head on a street lamp outside of Franklin Court, clean a different fountain, and hook up and place a water pump, all in a day and a half. The needs of the park are varied, common, and urban, and maintenance workers have to be equipped to handle all of them, single-handed if need be.

One of the most important needs of the park is the air filter systems. Most of the historical buildings have their own climate control systems for the sake of preservation. The air filters for the systems have to be replaced fairly regularly and as such this is a common job for utilities. I went along with utility member William to replace one such set of filters in the basement of the Independence Hall block.

Part of the maze under Independence Hall
All of the buildings on the block use one space to house most of their utilities, which means air, water, electricity, etc. for five buildings are packed into a relatively small space. The result is an elaborate maze of pipes, ducts, and wires that is impressive to say the least. It was very cool (if very cramped) to get to walk around down there, like being in a thoroughly planned out cave. I also got to see an example of how multi-talented the people in Maintenance are, as a routine filter change turned into a repair of an air pump and greasing of a motor, which were all handled by William.

The people in maintenance were very hardworking and incredibly talented, and I gained a lot of appreciation for what they do in my two weeks there.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Deer Trackers!

Deer With Radio Tracking Collar
Hello my name is Nicholas Fitzke and I am the ProRanger currently stationed at Fire Island National Seashore.

A large portion of my time with Resource Management was spent tracking deer. Deer are an overpopulated species on Fire Island and the scientists here want to learn as much as they can about their ecology and how they interact with the environment. This is no easy task as deer are often in places that regular folks wouldn't dare enter (swamps, forests, tick infested fields). Thankfully we are not regular folks and have a thirst for adventure!

Each deer that is a part of the study has its own tracking collar. This collar lets the researchers locate and even track behavior of these elusive creatures. To find the deer we use a Yagi antenna which looks like those antennas people use to get TV service. This lets us triangulate the radio signal that the collars emit. We also wear Tyvek suits to keep the ticks out of our clothes. It is often a strange sight to behold for the random passer by. We look like we are searching for aliens! One gentlemen we walked past screamed, "SCIENCE!" at us, to which I replied, "YES, SCIENCE!".

Tyvek Suits
Never a dull moment! Deer tracking really pushed me out of my comfort zone. At one point during the tracking we ended up in a salt marsh. This was a mosquito breeding ground. There were so many that my body locked up from discomfort. If there is one thing I hate it is mosquitoes! But when science is involved you need to do what must be done. Like Taylor Swift I just shook it off and continued my work.

This tracking was just one piece of my conservation project that included vegetation monitoring and post hurricane Sandy restoration. The theory being that deer populations have a direct effect on vegetation and regrowth post-disaster.

If you want to learn more about Fire Island National Seashore check out their website at:

Check back next week for some of my highlights with the Law Enforcement division!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A New Week in Boston

After spending a week with the Maintenance division of Boston National Historical Park (BNHP), I have been witnessing the unique relationship that this park has with the Navy.  For instance, I toured the dry dock to take a look at what sort of responsibilities the Maintenance division has within the area. These responsibilities have changed since the U.S.S. Constitution is undergoing restoration. Before this tour, I had no idea that the park took on such duties. For instance, the Navy built a completely new caisson specifically for the U.S.S. Constitution’s restoration. Meanwhile, BNHP’s caisson remains tied up along the side of one of the piers.

(The caisson is pictured right.)

The remainder of my week had been spent with the Law Enforcement division (LE). I had an opportunity to run through safety procedures with weapons and even clean out a side arm. Safety has been continually reinforced within all of the divisions that I have worked with so far. This experience, like many others, continues to prove how enticing this field of work appears to me. The realistic situations that BNHP encounter as an urban national park has been taking form by learning what makes up the different pieces of the puzzle that form the LE division as well as the entirety of BNHP. This includes the relationship that this park has with the navy as well as situations that may take place for visitors of this urban national park. Experiencing the variety among perceptions that exist between the park’s divisions has also helped mold my growing understanding of the Park Service.

A final piece of the week involves the Friday night Concert Series held in the Navy Yard. Since the event happened within BNHP’s jurisdiction, I had the opportunity to work with a LE ranger. We created an incident action plan (IAP) for the event in case of emergency. The IAP provides a systematic way of organizing different resources in the event of an emergency. It also makes important information accessible to all of the LE rangers. Before the event, I ran the briefing with the LE rangers before we dispersed into different positions (pictured right).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Salute to Independence

Antietam National Battlefield hosts the Salute to Independence around Independence Day each year, featuring music from the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and a tremendous fireworks display. It's a large event and has been happening since 1986. With that being said, these people know what they're doing and how things should be done.
Photo taken from
Visit their site for more info on the event and the Orchestra!

I was excited to head over to Antietam from Monocacy, as I was asked to help park cars and assist with the traffic while everyone was exiting the park. I was also looking forward to seeing fellow ProRangers Dan Bussell from Manassas and Isaiah Lewis from Gettysburg. With expected crowds of up to 20,000, it was important that everyone was on the same page.

The stage from afar and small crowd earlier in the day. 
Luckily, that is exactly how it happened. Upon arrival, we were given assignments for where and who we were working with for the evening. Dan, Isaiah, and I were all assigned to the same parking zone, so it was nice to catch up in person for the first time since Leadership Camp. We were working with employees from Antietam and through clear instruction and well mannered visitors, the time flew. Cars were parked, the sun was disappearing, and the fireworks show was amazing.
Fireworks never look as cool in a picture,
so you should check them out in real life next year.
Our supervisor was saying that it has been difficult in the past with the amount of people trying to get out of the area at the same time. Maybe it was beginners luck, but it was painless. We all spread out along the road, making sure the pedestrians and cars knew where they belonged for a safe exit. We stopped traffic when necessary, or asked pedestrians to wait for a car to pull out. All in all, it was a great experience that went smoothly while everyone worked as a team. 

I highly recommend that everyone attend the Salute to Independence at Antietam National Battlefield next year for great music, tremendous fireworks, and a patriotic experience surrounded by friends and family.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Exploding Whales and Other Sea Life

Deceased Juvenile Humpback Whale
Hello my name is Nicholas Fitzke and I am the ProRanger currently stationed at Fire Island National Seashore.

Warning: This article contains graphic images of dead and dissected sea life. 

It was a sad day when we heard the news that a young Humpback Whale had washed ashore in one of the 17 communities on Fire Island. After asking around I came to the understanding that sea life often washes ashore here, ranging from dolphins to sea turtles. The park service's role in these kinds of situation is to provide a safe environment both for researchers and the public. These kinds of biological events can attract many people and this was definitely true on this occasion.

I'm sure at least some of you have seen the videos online of exploding whales. When an animal dies the gasses in the body can cause bloating. If the gas is not released properly there can be an explosive reaction. Thankfully the organization that helped with the autopsy of our large friend knew what they were doing and things went very smoothly. Anti-climactic you say? Perhaps but an investigation into how this marvelous best died was still to take place. 

Humpbacks can grow up to 50 feet long. Our friend was only around 25 feet. This helped the researchers discover the age and maturity of this particular whale. My role in all of this was to stand by and answer any questions from the public and to keep people behind the fence. There was a consistent flow of viewers and even some that brought chairs to gaze upon this glorious creature as the scientists ripped into its tough hide.

It was a long and very smelly day but after hours of taking samples and examination the initial findings suggested that the cause of death was boat strike. A prime example of the effect humans can have on the natural world. But this incident wasn't the only creature that I was assigned to work on.

Another day I was assigned to move two dead sea turtles that had washed ashore. This required a lot more of my participation than the whale incident. Alongside other members of the NPS staff I helped locate, carry, and deliver the two to the same foundation that was working on the whale.

Sea Turtle
This was also a smelly endeavor. Recently there have been Man O' Wars washing up on shore which might account for an increase of turtles in the area. This in turn leads to more sharks in the water. My supervising ranger said that he saw a school of Hammerheads just a day before these turtles washed up. I don't know their cause of death was but one of the turtles was missing its head and both front flippers.

If you want to learn more about sea life and the foundation that was assisting the NPS you can visit their website at:

Check back next week for my experience tracking deer and more SCIENCE!

Friday, July 10, 2015

My Week with Interpretation - Independence NHP

This week I have been working with the interpretation division at Independence. It has been an interesting experience in one of the divisions I knew the least about going in.  I shadowed both a ranger, David Albert, and a guide, Jane Storsteen, earlier in the week. Interp. Rangers handle the tours of the various buildings while the Guides deal with more individual interactions with the visitors. I was surprised by how much and how often they moved throughout the day. Both guides and Rangers changed stations very often, usually only spending about 30-45 minutes at each location. This led me to every significant building in the park as I attended tours and helped with guiding visitors through the exhibits. 

I also got to see the printing press demonstration that is done every day in the print shop in Franklin court. The rangers use historically accurate equipment and presses to print out reproductions of different documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. After the plates are inked and the paper (made of the same cotton-based material as our money) is pressed, the document is hung from the ceiling to dry. At Ben Franklin's print shop the same type of presses were used to press a document every 20 seconds, something that would have been a sight to see if my visit was any indication (the average time for the rangers, in no rush obviously, was about 4 minutes). The press is a good way to show a historical object being used as it would have been and it makes for a fun exhibit.

Another event I was lucky enough to attend was a ceremonial reading of the Declaration of Independence on the 239th anniversary of its first presentation to the public on July 8th, 1976.

The reading, which happens every year, was attended by a large crowd and declarations were handed out so the audience could follow along. Following a brief introduction speech, the declaration was read in its entirety, complete with screams from both sides of the revolution delivered by park employees in costume and the occasional eager guest. At the end of the reading the presenter held his copy up to
enthusiastic applause and cheers. It was very cool to see the Declaration being read in front of a crowd and the park did a good job of establishing the atmosphere to really convey the weight of what was happening. It was a wonderful way to round out the 4th of July experience on the park.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Colonial NHP Weeks 4/5

For the past two weeks I have been working with the maintenance division and the protection division.  The first week I spent with maintenance shadowing different people around the division and learning some of their jobs.  I learned how to make signs, which we use all around the park,  mostly to inform visitors when roads are open and closed and what area of the park they are in.  I also learned how to make keys for the buildings in the park, change the light bulbs in the Jamestown visitor center, which are UV protected because of the artifacts that are in there and I helped get one of our seasonal houses ready for our new superintendent who started this week.  

One of the coolest things I got to do was go up 75 feet in the bucket truck by the Yorktown Victory Monument and overlook the Yorktown River and see the sunrise over the Chesapeake.

Fourth of July week I spent with protection.  Surprisingly the holiday weekend nothing big happened.  The Yorktown fireworks, which are held on the fourth were canceled  two hours before they were set to go off due to an impending storm.  This is a county event that we assist with.  I did get to see a DUI arrest with my supervisor the following night, which was really exciting, especially because it was not a simple arrest.  The guy also had two warrants out on him.  It was an exciting end to my week with protection.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Music, Trees, and Paint! BNHP

   Within the last few weeks, I have spent some time with the Law Enforcement Division (LE) at Boston National Historical Park. I got the opportunity to be a part of the operational planning for the Summer Concert Series. There will be concerts held at the Commandant’s House every Friday in July. Live music accompanied with food trucks allows families to gather on the lawn in the Navy Yard and enjoy the atmosphere. LE maintained a strong presence throughout the event where about 400 people had attended.


    The most recent division that I have started to work with is the Maintenance Division. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I started out with the custodial team, learning about the different struggles they face along with their safety standards and procedures. For instance, the lack of women in this division reduces the efficiency of the daily work that needs to be maintained. The amount of time it takes to clear the women’s restroom, shut it down, and secure the door can be longer than the restroom’s actual cleaning process.

    In addition to the daily work activities, I found that the National Park Service’s mission statement can be found in the way that the Maintenance Division carries out each of their individual duties. One example would be the grounds team. This team takes pride in the biological health of the park’s plants and trees. After digging up a water line for the irrigation system for repairs, I was able to walk around with one of the rangers to observe the health of different trees and plants. Ants milling up and down trees had been the first indicator that something might be stressing out the tree. From there, we looked along the bark for wounds and fungus. I found myself becoming as equally stressed out as the ranger beside me to find health issues with one of the crab apple trees near gate two. Before this experience, I have only noticed the exterior beauty of the plants and trees around the park. Now it’s hard to ignore any minor health concerns a plant or tree might have which can be kind of concerning.

    I have also started my restoration project for the summer. I will only give one hint - it involves the Cassin Young, WW 2 navy vessel, and the picture displayed to the right. More information about this project will appear in weeks to come. Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Fort McHenry National Monument & Historical Shrine- Week 3,4,5 & 6

For the past 4 weeks I have been mainly in the Law enforcement division help out with collateral duties, monthly bike inspections, alarm and sprinkler yearly inspection/inventory, lost and found log book, entering some data into the IMARS program, foot patrol/bike patrol around the fort and the park grounds, and also assisting with closing the park. I had the experience to enter the United States courthouse for some cases, but no one showed up. Also I had the greatest experience to be able to patrol and crowd control at the U.S Navy, Civil War and U.S Army Tattoos here at the fort!

United States Court House-Baltimore, MD

U.S Navy Tattoo

Civil War Tattoo

U.S Army Tattoo

Last week I actually started to work with the Resource Management division and what I did was go to the partner historical site which is Hampton Mansion, home of the most wealthy Ridgely family. I went and vacuumed curtains and drapes from the main bedroom. Also, I did some curatorial inventory on a lot of historical items from the fort and the mansion such as photos, letters, newspaper articles, items that have been found like broken glass, plates, ceramics, you name it. I also was able to read some of the letters that were send and by the commander of Fort McHenry who was Commander George Armistead in the battle of  Baltimore in 1812.

Overseer's house at HAMP

HAMP Mansion

Slave Quarters

Slave Quarters

This week I am currently with the Maintenance division and focusing mainly on the preservation, part of the division. I have been working at the Hampton mansion again with  masonry repairing some stones and bricks, that have been cracked or falling apart and we had to try to maintain its structure and historical look of course.

Next week I should be with interpretation division and focusing more on the history part of FOMC, volunteering in the living history portion and also helping out visitors with their questions and assisting the main desk.

In addition, I also got the privilege to go on and see the Pride of Baltimore II ship here at FOMC was docked for July 4th and 5th. This ship which is a reproduction of the 1812 era of the Baltimore clippers that helped America defeat the British in the War of 1812.

If you would like to know more information and history on the Hampton National Historical Site here is the NPS link:

Also, here is the website for Pride of Baltimore if you want to know more of the history of the ship: