Thursday, June 30, 2016

Down By The River

Week 4 was the most action-packed week in terms of law enforcement experience. A total of 8 agencies took place in the Platte River Saturation Patrol on Saturday, including the NPS, DNR (Department of Natural Resources), Benzie County Sheriff's Office, Michigan State Police, and Traverse Narcotics Team. The Platte River is a popular destination for people on kayaks, canoes, and tubes to float down and enjoy a day on the water. It is the ideal environment to bring your family and friends for some relaxing time in the outdoors. The goal of the saturation patrol was to help restore the friendly environment that has fallen victim to underage drinking, drug usage, and glass bottles.

Platte River Saturation Patrol
I learned a lot of great skills during the patrol. I was stationed with Ranger Mazurek, Ranger Chalup, and Ranger Westenfelder, who are all extremely experienced and were quick to show me the ropes. Ranger Mazurek was on the lookout upriver and would communicate to me what he sees through radio, and I would pass that information to Ranger Chalup and Ranger Westenfelder. They would then make the necessary contacts in our attempt to clean up the river.

Being a ProRanger, it is always a balancing act of what we can and can't do because we aren't the typical ranger. Being very involved while having a direct impact on who gets contacted, taking notes on ranger's observations, and communicating under stressful situations was exceptionally rewarding. Just during one day, we witnessed multiple cases of PCS (possession of a controlled substance), MIP (minors in possession of alcohol), public intoxication, and even responded to a heart attack.

Not too many pictures were taken due to the high volume of people, contacts, and being engaged in the task at hand.
The Platte River Saturation Patrol was a great way to show that rangers are out and about. In no way is this operation a secret, and the overall public response was positive. Protecting the parks is the responsibility of everyone involved, and hopefully because of these patrols, more people will be able to enjoy this place in a healthy manner. My week continued as I was able to patrol with Ranger Mazurek. 

Being here for 16 years, Ranger Nate Mazurek knows this park like the back of his hand. He knows where people like to hang out, where illegal activities happen, and most importantly, where to get the best snacks. He has been a great mentor to me, and I am excited to spend more time with him. In addition to daily patrol, he also gave me the opportunity to see the Leelanau County Dispatch Center. 

Multi-tasking professionals.
Leelanau County Dispatch Center
It was nice to see the faces of the voices that I have heard for the past month. The dispatchers do amazing work for the park and county, and I can't stress the importance of their job. During my hour at dispatch there were multiple 911 calls, and a large amount of miscellaneous calls such as traffic stops and location check-ins. It takes a special and talented person to work for dispatch. 

The days at SLBE are still exciting, action-packed, and rewarding. Plus, it doesn't hurt to unwind at a bonfire on the beach with friends after a day of work. 

"Pure Michigan"

A Week at Valley Forge

For my summer internship at Valley Forge I switch to a different division each day. In general, every Monday and Tuesday are my days off, Wednesdays are spent with Law Enforcement, Thursday and Friday are spent with Maintenance, Saturday is spent with Natural Resources and Sunday is spent with Interpretation. This system is nice because it allows me to work closely with each division every week and ensures that everything stays fresh in my mind.

Wednesday: Law Enforcement
My days with law enforcement are varied and interesting. I've sat in on taser refreshers, gone out on patrols, hosted a cookout and park-wide cleanup, helped conduct a PEB, sat in on court proceedings, and much more.

Thursday/Friday: Maintenance 
The days I spend with maintenance are a little more routine than those with other divisions, but there are differences depending on where we work and if it's raining or not. Usually if it isn't raining I will weed-whip all day, but if it's raining I can either do custodial or work on odd projects around the shop. It is also necessary to log the work hours and mileage on the government vehicles each month.

Saturday: Natural Resources
Natural resources is a very interesting division in the park. They do a lot of different studies and public programs to help better the park and maintain the park's mission statement. Not only do they have programs like Weed Warriors and the Crayfish Corps discussed in my previous post, they also have interns working on several projects such as coyote, box turtle, butterfly, and bird studies. Natural resources is also the home to Valley Forge's Archaeology department. I've worked with archaeology twice now - once to map where digs should be conducted for a township project and once to sift through two digs at Hopewell Furnace for a study being done on a barn.

Sunday: Interpretation 
While working with interp isn't always the most fascinating, it's an integral part of that National Park Service's mission. The first few times I was with interp I did several of the tours the park had to offer - Ranger led tours, the car tour, and the trolley tour. This gave me a wealth of information about the park before I dressed in period garb and spent time in front of the Muhlenberg huts speaking with visitors. Currently I am working on a ten minute presentation from the perspective of a Camp Follower to give to groups and trolley tours.

Odd Jobs:
In addition to my main divisions, there are other divisions I work with and other experiences I'm electing to participate in. There is a 2016 Find Your Park Summer Challenge which aims to develop and strengthen ties between departments. A few of the tasks are working with the curator, doing kiosk updates, and sitting in on a senior staff meeting. One of my goals for the summer is to complete every task on this list. So far I have completed 5 of the 17 tasks with 5 more definitive dates for other tasks. I can't wait to complete more of the tasks and get a better handle on how the various parts of the park work together.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Slightly misspelled name, but it still counts
We're talkin' gators at Big Cypress.
Last Thursday I participated in UTV training outside of BICY headquarters. I learned how to drive and handle Utility Task Vehicles, an important tool used by the staff to patrol and maintain the backcountry. In addition to a (thrilling) online course beforehand, I had about 4 hours of practical training and am now officially certified to drive in our upcoming backcountry trip.
On the same day, I was called to assist my supervisor, Ranger Drew Hughes, in relocating an alligator that had become troublesome near one of the campgrounds. With the assistance of the resource management division the gator was drawn out of the water and had a snare fastened around its neck. After the gator wore itself out a towel was thrown over its head to calm it down, then the resource management biologist Annette Johnson hopped on the gator’s back to hold its jaws closed. Using ropes and duct tape we then restrained its mouth, tail, arms, and legs in descending order of danger. Rendered fully immobile, it was placed onto a board and into an RM truck.

Well-contained alligator
After we reached the designated release location, a ranger substation called Go-lightlys, the gator board was taken out of the truck and placed next to the water. The resource management specialist again got on the gator’s back and the restraints were cut in the reverse order they were placed on, at which point we all quickly, but gracefully, hopped back. In order to encourage the gator to get back into the water paintballs were fired at its tail, for marking purposes as well. This was ineffective, as the gator appeared to barely feel them, so we resorted to a good old fashioned stick-poking, which worked wonders. The alligator was released happily back into the water, hopefully staying away from campsites in the future. This was obviously an incredible experience to be a part of and it showed me one of the wide range of activities LE rangers can be called on to do, in addition to showcasing great teamwork between park divisions.

Backcountry Check Station
I closed out the week by going solo and collecting data from the backcountry entry points, to be used in trail decisions in the future.

Keep an eye out for Program Manager Tony Luongo’s blog on his visit here to Big Cypress this past weekend, it should be a good one.


Hello my name is Nicholas Fitzke and I am the ProRanger currently stationed at San Juan National Historic Site.

Week 4 has come to a close. This week I got some valuable knowledge about drones or as the Federal Aviation Administration calls them, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). 

Alongside my chief ranger and other members of law enforcement  from the surrounding agencies (Forrest Service / Fish and Wildlife) I attended a meeting at the FAA officer here in San Juan.

This meeting was very informative about the new regulations of lark there of regarding UAS use. The most important note I took away from the meeting were that there is no state or local laws in Puerto Rico that prohibit the use of UAS. Although there are some federal regulations for how UAS should be used and areas they are prohibited. 

Me meeting LE from other agencies.
But despite all of these regulations there seems to be no real way for the FAA to enforce these rules. This was troubling because as the NPS looks to the FAA as the experts on UAS regulation and management there was little example of action we should take against violators.

There is a service wide deceleration that UAS are prohibited in the parks but this doesn't provide any real system for managing the ever growing UAS use. It seems that park law enforcement will just have to think outside the box when it comes to enforcing this directive. It also seems that the FAA's main directive now is to push education.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Driving a boat is easy but docking it....

Hello all, Isaiah again, stationed at Virgin Island National Park.

My third week here was spent with Ranger Ludric Smith and we basically got into the same things we did the week prior. We were out on the sea a lot and we checked permits for boats allowing them to be there, made sure there was no anchoring, no boats in the boat exclusion zone, and other things related. Everything was pretty standard that week except with one thing. I started my training to operate a boat under Ranger Smith.

Boat patrol in progress ...

Those MOCC classes I took prior to my summer internship really helped a lot. But at the same time, it was just a class and seeing everything I was taught in person kind of brought it full circle. I had to revisit some of the things I learned to remind myself on boat operation and laws of ocean traffic. All of what I learned was coming back to me and it was slightly overwhelming. But Ranger Smith is a very good teacher and explain everything to me and even gave me a few tips on operating boat. He let me know some common mistakes that people do when operating a boat so I don't make them myself.

Just salt water...for miles..and miles...
Operating a boat. Easy? Yes and no. It's yes because all a boat has is forward, neutral, and reverse for gears. The exact same concept as driving a car except you have to take into the account waves and wake water when you drive a boat. Wake water is the ripple water left behind by a boat's propellers that can make for a bumpy ride if not navigated correctly. It's depicted in my first picture. In regards to forward, neutral, reverse, and steering the boat. easy peasy. The hard part is docking a boat. I've learned that wind can play a huge factor in the difficulty of docking a vessel. Ranger Smith can do it with his eyes closed driving the boat with his legs. I can't. It's hard. Getting a large object like that into a specific spot when water is never being still is difficult. You also have to move swiftly once you get the boat into that spot and tie the lines or else it will float away. I struggled with it at first. But entering into my fifth week at the park, I'd have to say it significantly easier than it was before. I still mess up and have to circle around to do it again but, I have gotten a lot better.
Peace Hill
During my week 4, I was with Ranger David Horner, That blog is coming soon. Stay tuned. (rhymed)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Island Ranger

This week I worked with the two Law Enforcement Rangers here at Christiansted NHS.
It was a very Buck Island oriented week and you know what that means. I got to practice and polish my boating skills, which have improved greatly with my continuous and constant training with Ranger Rivera. 
ProRanger with Ranger Laurencin at Buck Island.
My week started with me working as a back up officer for Ranger Gabriel Laurencin, the other Law Enforcement Ranger at Christiansted NHS. We patrolled Buck Island Reef National Monument, walked the West Beach and had non-law enforcement contacts with the visitors of the Park. On this day, I drove the vessel to and from Buck Island, and I also did the docking of the vessel with minimal inputs from Ranger Laurencin, which is a good thing because it shows I knew what I was doing. Also, we patrolled Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve. We checked the position of our site cameras and retrieved them to check for any trespassing in the area.

ProRanger at the Observation Platform
Later in the week I worked with Ranger Rivera and I experienced patrolling Buck Island Reef NM early hours. We were out in the ocean as early as 05:30 looking for fishermen or any park violators. We patrolled the island for a couple hours and I also got the chance to do more boat training like the “man-overboard” and “anchoring”. During one of our patrols of the island this week, we hiked the only trail on Buck Island to the observation platform.


My week ended with me aiding in the burial of a dead green turtle with Ranger Rivera. We went on a Buck Island patrol as usual, only to get a call while patrolling from our sister agency (USFWS) regarding a dead green turtle that was lying by the beach. We helped transport the turtle from the beachside to the deep ocean. The turtle had three cracked vertical lines on her shell, which the representative from USFWS said would likely be from a vessel’s propeller. It was good seeing how the National Park Service assists other agencies like the USFWS. It was sad that the turtle was dead, but it was good seeing and feeling a turtle up-close; she was EXTREMELY heavy to lift.

P.S. if you get stranded at Buck Island you could live off these berries that are local to the island, just be careful plucking them off the top of the cactus plant.

Getting to Know Colonial - Week 4

It took me four weeks but I now can say I know more about the events of both Jamestowne and Yorktown than the majority of people who come to these sites. This is of course all thanks to spending a week with COLO’s interpretative rangers. As I met with Paul Carson, chief of interpretation and education at COLO, on Monday morning I knew I was in for a knowledge-packed week as soon as he said he wanted me to be treated as a visitor for the first couple days. Up to this point I really hadn’t had a chance to thoroughly tour the entirety of the unit and to take my time reading all the signs. For the entirety of both Monday and Tuesday I had the chance to accomplish both of the tasks I just mentioned.

The theater at Jamestowne
I spent Monday at the Yorktown side of COLO participating in all of the activities a visitor would do if they truly wanted the full package. I watched the introductory video, toured the museum, and joined along for the 45 minute battlefield walking tour. Then in the afternoon I embarked on my own and drove all 16 miles of the tour roads, stopping at each sign to read about the significance of that particular spot. A volunteer was manning the Moore house, in which the surrender document was drafted, so I made sure to make a stop there. Another volunteer was also stationed at the Yorktown National Cemetery Lodge. During my visit here I was able to learn about the events that took place in Yorktown during the Civil War. To wrap up my day I toured historic Yorktown and took in the sights and read the signs outlining the history of this storied town.

In the ruins of a church during an archaeological tour

My day on Tuesday followed a similar format with a change in location. I made the forty minute drive out to Jamestowne and played visitor there for the day. I started out with a ranger-guided tour around the Newtown and Oldtown (the fort the settler’s initially built and inhabited) areas of Jamestowne which gave me a solid introduction to the events that occurred here. I then decided it was time to spend some time in the AC and watched the introductory video and toured the museum. I then began the afternoon by partaking in an archaeological tour led by Preservation Virginia (an organization that shares ownership with the NPS on Jamestowne Island). This tour provided me with insight into the history that we’ve gleaned from excavating and studying the artifacts left by the settlers. I finished the day up with a drive through Jamestown’s tour roads and then made my way back home.

On Wednesday and Friday Ranger Carson deemed me ready to partake in some interpretation. On Wednesday I worked the information desk at Yorktown’s visitor center and on Friday I did the same over at Jamestowne. Being on the front-lines tested my knowledge and I had to redirect those with specific questions to a more knowledgeable ranger on multiple occasions. However, the experience was very enlightening and I learned more about the both the park and those who visit it.

Adrian and I striking a pose at the entrance to Jamestowne
I skipped over the events of Thursday because they were a bit out of the ordinary for me. On Thursday I had the pleasure of having visitors. Our very own Ranger Adrian Fernandez and his family stopped by for a day at COLO on their way to Florida. We started off the day with a very productive meeting with COLO’s Chief Ranger Steve Williams and I then spent the rest of the day trying to show them as much of the park as I could in the little time we had. We then wrapped up with a meeting with my supervisor Ranger Krebs and they were back on the road. My week in interpretation was another productive one and I’m glad I finally got the chance to get to know the park and learn the specific details of events that were so important that their legacies are now being preserved by Colonial National Historical Park.

A Week full of LE Learning

This past week has been amazing. It started out at Minute Man National Historical Park. I was able to learn the history of this park as well as how the law enforcement rangers help ensure the park is safe at all times. I toured the park and saw the jurisdiction of the park, we did walk-throughs of many of the parks’ “witness structures” which are buildings that were standing during that time period (1775). It was really great working with a different park and seeing the similarities and differences between Boston National Historical Park and Minute Man National Historical Park. After this the Rangers and I headed to the range. I was able to safely observe their shooting practice from behind the control table with earmuffs and safety goggles. The rangers were really helpful in explaining firearm safety. They also went over the requirements for shooting accuracy in the Park Service. I was able to learn a lot during my time spent at Minuteman National Historical Park.

The rest of my week was spent working with my supervisor in law enforcement. I learned the different components that made up the patrol vehicle. I helped set up the patrol car for the day. We drove around from building to building and ensured everything was in order. We responded to calls about exhausted people who had attempted to climb the Bunker Hill Monument, and were unfit to do so. I observed the entire procedure of how the rangers dealt with a suspicious package from finding it, to having Oscar, the explosives detective dog sniff the back pack. Luckily everything was ok, it was really neat to see how this issue was dealt with.  This was a week full of learning and observing. I really enjoyed working with the Law Enforcement rangers this past week.     

Program Visit: SLBE

My expectations for the “most beautiful place in America” (according to Good Morning America) were pretty high.  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (SLBE) and its staff did not disappoint me!  I was joined on this visit by junior (pro) ranger Finn.  We visited during the second week in June while it is still pretty cool up in northern Michigan.  

We started the visit with a trip to the Visitor’s Center to pick up the junior ranger book.  ProRanger Tim Greene and Finn started working on it right away!  From there we proceeded to the Leelanau District Ranger Station and met up with Tim’s supervisor for the summer, District Ranger Andrew Blake. 

Tim and Finn working on the junior ranger workbook.
Tim Greene presents District Ranger Andy Blake with a plaque on behalf of the ProRanger Program.

Then we all headed to the park headquarters for a meeting with Deputy Superintendent Tom Ulrich and Chief Ranger Phil Akers.  This is SLBE’s third summer participating in the program and during our meeting the support for the program from the park’s leadership was clear.  They also provided some helpful feedback and suggestions for future improvements to the program.

Ranger Blake, ProRanger Greene, Chief Akers and Deputy Superintendent Ulrich

Then we were off for a whirlwind tour of the park!  As we toured the park, Ranger Blake pointed out areas of the park for Tim to be aware of, he reviewed the law enforcement challenges they typically encounter in various areas and the types of assignments Tim will be getting later in the summer.  He also took the opportunity to quiz Tim on our location on various roads and geographic areas to be sure that he was learning the park’s geography and would be able to accurately call in his location or respond the correct location in the event of an incident.  

Finn dug a "sitting hole" and relaxed to observe the sights

Ranger Blake also made several visitor contacts during the course of our tour while Tim observed.  Following each contact Ranger Blake explained the circumstances of the contact:  why he initiated it, his strategy for handling it the way he did and what he hoped to accomplish from the contact.  He also shared whether it was a typical contact for that area and what other ways that Tim could expect that interaction to unfold.  Some of these contacts included waving down a visitor who was clearly exceeding the park’s speed limit, educating some dog walkers about the areas where they could take their dog (they were about to enter an area where they could not), observing the activities of a known park tour group leader, among other contacts.  This was in addition to answering dozens of questions from park visitors about directions and making recommendations about the park’s highlights.

One of the 3 bays in the park

We ended the day with a demonstration of SLBE's UTV used for rescues!
Day 2 of the visit included a visit to the Platte District.  We were there on a cool, overcast weekday morning early in the season.  The Platte River looked calm and serene.  It was hard to imagine the huge crowds that will cause near gridlock on the river on an almost daily basis later in the summer.  Ranger Blake described the many law enforcement challenges they have there and the opportunities that Tim will have later in the summer to be a part of several "saturation" days where multiple law enforcement agencies will be coordinating their activities in order to keep the chaos in check.

Platte River entry point

No sign of the crowds to come

No visit to SLBE would complete without climbing some dunes!  We finished up the visit with the completion of the junior ranger program and a swearing in and presentation of the badge!  
Proud junior ranger

The dune climb!
Then we walked.  And walked.  And walked. It was a cool day with relatively small crowds, but Tim got a taste of the search and rescue challenges he’ll be seeing when the weather gets hot and the crowds get bigger.  He was already strategizing about some of the preventative search and rescue (PSAR) work he’ll be assigned to. 

Cherry pit spitting
 Olympic size cherry pit spitting arena
Lest you think the visit was all work, we spent the evenings enjoying the towns of Empire and Glen Arbor.  This area of Michigan is famous for its cherries.  So, we sampled a lot of cherry-flavored food (cherry salsa anyone?).  And, who knew that cherry pit spitting was a thing?  I was dubious, but it turned out to be pretty fun!  

After dinner entertainment

Something you don't see every day:  Fox running down the road with a hot dog and egg in its mouth

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t cooperative and we waited for those striking sunsets that never materialized, but we engaged in some competitive games of cornhole and enjoyed the beachside playgrounds (and the fact that it stayed light until nearly 10pm!).  There’s always next year!  
Sunset over Lake Michigan from Empire's town park
Thanks to Tim for being a great host, organizing a great visit and for being a great role model for an 8-year old.  Thank you to Ranger Andy Blake for his enthusiastic mentorship of Tim, his hospitality and for taking time out of his schedule to make our visit both productive and enjoyable.  And, thank you to SLBE Deputy Superintendent Tom Ulrich and Chief Ranger Phil Akers for their leadership and ongoing support of the program.

Up next:  Fire Island