Monday, September 28, 2009

Park Ranger Tips for the Fall Color Season

If you are planning a trip to the Southern Appalachians for the fall color season and want to stay in hotel or lodge accommodations, have reservations in advance. Many times I have seen travelers on the Blue Ridge Parkway in October thinking that they would just take a leisurely drive and find a motel room at the end of the day. In many cases they would find no room at the inn. I have seen people drive seventy five miles or more away from the park to find a vacant room.

October is the peak visitation season for this region of the country and a pretty weekend can see huge crowds in the parks.

October is also college football season. Colleges also sponsor their family and alumni weekends durng the beautiful fall weather. Such events can fill hotels for miles. You can check college web sites for their schedules. Some of the key colleges that may affect hotel availability are:

The University of Virginia
Virginia Military Institute
Washington and Lee University
Virginia Tech
Appalachian State University
University of North Carolina At Asheville

Fall festivals in specific communities can be a great attraction to visit, but also fill hotels.

Traffic in prime viewing areas may also become congested which will result in slow downs and delays. So make your plans for the distances you travel are reasonable and attainable. Come the end of the day you do not want to be hundreds of miles away from your planned stop for the night.

When ever possible travel during the week. Weekends are always the peak traffic times. Hotels rooms are also more easily obtainable on weekday nights.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Retirement Tips for Park Rangers

I wrote a series of retirement tips for a good friend that ended an incredible career with the National Park Service last January. Several people had enjoyed these tounge in cheek tips, so I thought I would share them with you over the next few weeks.

Park Ranger Retirement Tip # 1

· Get a watch that tells the day of the week. You may find this information more valuable than what time it is.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall Color Update for the Blue Ridge

The same fall color indicator tree photographed on September 16 showing the coming of fall color on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Fall color is just starting to show its face in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. But do not get to excited. It is common for the color to start in some specimen trees and then slow to almost a halt before completing its final run to full color. Many factors affect the timing and brilliance of falls colors. They include rainfall, temperatures, daylight, storm damage from the preceding year, and a variety of conditions that place stress on trees. The first heavy frost seems to be an indicator that the color change my be imminent.

The number one question to Park Rangers each year from "leaf peepers" planning to visit the southern Appalachians to view the colors is, "When will the fall colors peak." That is always a difficult question to answer.

One Chief Ranger years ago would get calls at his office from a multitude of media outlets asking for the time of the fall color peak. He would pick a day and time such as Wednesday October 22 at 2:15 pm. It was amazing how many people would take this seriously and plan their entire fall vacation around this specific point in time. When they arrived they were generally disappointed that not every leaf on every tree was vibrant with color.

Another Park Ranger I worked with that had been on the Blue Ridge Parkway since the 1940s used a different formula. He told me to look at the calendar and pick the weekend nearest to the 15th of October. That would be the weekend nearest the peak of color. I found this to be somewhat accurate.

The truth is that there is no time when the entire Blue Ridge Mountains are in peak fall color. The level of color displayed by nature will vary based on elevation, aspect of the slope (what direction it faces), and the dominant species of tree you are viewing. The result is that at anyone time in October there will be sections of the mountains in beautiful radiant color and others that are not quite yet there or past their peak and dropping their leaves.

The best advise is to plan on traveling through larger sections of Shenandoah National Park, The Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park to have the best opportunity to find that one special display of color that makes your heart sing and will be saved on the camera of your mind for a life time.
My fall color observation assistant, Baird the golden retriever enjoying the Whetstone Ridge Trail in Virgina.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Park Rangers Catch More Plant Thieves

The following incident occurred at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and appeared in the National Park Service Morning Report for Tuesday September 22. One again Park Rangers caught individuals stealing plants from a National Park.

Cumberland Gap NHP

Three Ginseng Poachers Caught

On September 16th, ranger Brad Cope came upon a vehicle parked adjacent to the park boundary in an area known for ginseng poaching. The vehicle was registered to a man who was suspected of ginseng poaching from prior contacts in the park. Rangers launched an operation that consisted of covert surveillance on the vehicle and park boundary, an undercover vehicle, and a take-down vehicle. Three men walked out of the park boundary and placed a backpack in the trunk of the vehicle, which was stopped about a half mile down the road. The three men, identified as Mark Seals, Todd Reynolds and Bryan England, were interviewed and provided conflicting information on their activities. All three had evidence of digging on their clothing and hands. Rangers conducted a search of the vehicle and found the backpack in the trunk with approximately 401 ginseng roots in three separate bags. They also discovered three large screwdrivers used to dig up the roots and a walking stick. In depth interviews revealed that the three men were digging and collected all the ginseng that they could find in the park. They also provided a wealth of information regarding past activities, describing the number of plants and dollar amounts on what they
had earned from digging in the park. The green ginseng roots weighed approximately three pounds. Rangers Cope and Greg Johnston are case agents.

[Greg Johnston, Park Ranger]

Monday, September 21, 2009

Boxerwood Gardens Nature Center

Although retired from the National Park Service, I remain dedicated to advancing the ideals and goals of our park system. One of those missions I attempt to promote is an interest in the outdoors and our environment among children. An organization that is located in Lexington, Virginia is allowing me to fulfill this objective by permitting me to volunteer assisting in the facilitation of environmental education programs for elementary and middle school age students. Utilizing the beautiful facilities and resources at Boxerwood Gardens and making use of other sites through the community, programs on watersheds, soils, animal life, recycling, waste, and other topics not only illustrate the interrelationships of these resources but engage these students with their natural environment.

For more information on Boxerwood Gardens and the Boxerwood Education Association, see the link on this page.

Fifth graders learning about geology of the area in a Boxerwood off site program.

Fifth graders looking for stilithus fossils in the Maury River of Virginia.

Adults and children join in the fun of a creative dramatics fantasy play at the Boxerwood Fall Family Festival on September 19.

Plant Theft in Our National Parks II

The following is taken from the National Park Service's Morning Report for Monday September 21, 2009.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Plant Poacher Sentenced In Court

On Friday, June 17th, rangers received a report that a man
had been seen taking a backpack out of the trunk of his
car, at which time the reporting party noted that the
trunk was full of live plants. Ranger Miranda Cook waited
for him to return to his car. When she contacted him,
she found that his pack was full of plants and digging
tools. Ranger Kathryn Brett assisted with the investigation
and interview. The two rangers determined that the man had
stolen several plants from six locations along the parkway
and that he planned to sell seeds from those plants
as part of his overseas
business. On September 17th,
he plead guilty in federal court and was ordered to
pay a significant fine and restitution. [Kurt Speers,
Ridge District Ranger]

This serves as another example of the problem faced in our National Parks of the theft of plants for an international market. More information on this growing problem will be found in the soon to be released book A Park Ranger's Life: True Stories from Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fall Coming to the Blue Ridge

Summer is coming to an end and fall is slowly arriving in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. For twenty four seasons working on the Blue Ridge Parkway a specific tree always served as a sentinel announcing the first start of fall. Although not quite so majestic, the maple stands at the junction of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Rt. 56 near Montebello, Virginia. Every year this was the first tree that showed a hint of orange tinge as the harbinger of the season to come.

I revisited my old friend this past week and sure enough it has begun to signal fall. I plan to revisit the site through the coming month and document its progression.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stay On The Trail

One of the responsibilities of National Park Rangers is to search and locate lost persons in our parks. These searches can last for a few hours to weeks in length depending on a multitude of factors including the location, condition and age of the lost person/s, weather, equipment and supplies that the person has with them, etc. One of the most common circumstances that makes finding lost persons difficult is when they leave established trails.

Many times people will leave established marked trails to explore, try to short cut back to their car, are diverted off the main trail by side trails created by other hikers short cutting, get off the trail in the dark, or in some cases - showing off for others by trying to get back before others. These people can easily become confused get turned around and then not be able to find their way back to the main trail. Lost hikers then tend to wander aimlessly in circles making it more difficult for searchers to find them.

Here are a few tips taken from the book A Park Ranger's Life: True Stories from Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.

Never Hike Alone

Stay together as a group

The group should only move as fast as the slowest member.

Tell someone where you are planning to go and when you plan to return.

Take adequate water for everyone. This even applies to short hikes of a hour or more.

Take appropriate equipment and gear and be prepared for weather changes.

Should you get separated or lost, sit down and stay put. This makes it much easier to find you. We always taught school children when lost to "hug a tree" and stay put.

Remember that cell phones are helpful, but they do not allow someone to zero in on your location. You would be surprised how many people think it works this way.

Another side affect of hiking off established trails is damage to natural resources. Many trails pass through areas populated by fragile plant habitats. Leaving the trails greatly contribute to damage to the plants themselves and compaction of the soils where they grow. Trail systems within parks have had to be closed to the public due to resource damage from hikers short cutting and making their own trails.

Trails will be marked with either signs or blazed markings on trees. As an example; the Appalachian Trail is marked with white painted blazes on trees and rocks. Side trails off the AT are marked with blue blazes.

The moral of the story is; whenever hiking, stay on the established and marked trails.

If anyone has any other tips they would like to add, please share them in the comments just below this post.

Blue Ridge Parkway - Career at the Gillespie Gap District

In January 1983 we became the victims of a rare event in the National Park Service, a transfer due to a reorganization of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The decision was made to eliminate the Interpretive Division of the park and place those responsibilities under what had been the Resource Management and Protection Division. As part of this realignment, nine people were moved to different districts within the park, given a one grade promotion, and called Assistant District Rangers.

My family and I preferred not to move since we were so happy at the Bluffs District, but I was told that I could move to Gillespie Gap as assistant district ranger or be lateraled to the same location with no promotion. Park Management insisted that this was not a forced move. So my wife once again left a teaching job she loved and we packed up our five month old son and moved about 100 miles to Spruce Pine, North Carolina.

This move was painful for us leaving many good friends behind. It cut our family income in half even though I took the promotion since my wife was unable to get another teaching job in that area. We moved from a well maintained high quality park house to one of much inferior quality and in poor and filthy condition. When we went to visit the house a couple of weeks before moving in we found the walls to be in terrible stained and damaged condition. I went to the district maintenance supervisor to see if the house could be painted before we moved and was literally chased out of his office. I remember that very night our son sleeping in a baby carrier while my wife and I painted the living/dining room with materials we bought locally.

I went from an area where a great team of people worked together to a district dominated by conflict between employees to the point of disrupting efficiency and effectiveness. Even my wife had to put up with mistreatment and open hostility from the maintenance supervisor for the district. As assistant district ranger I was responsible for supervising all the day to day operations in protection, resources management, and interpretation. This included operations in two campgrounds, two visitor centers, concessions operations, two major picnic areas, and Linville Falls - one of the heaviest used trail areas in the park.

Needless to say due to our circumstances this was the lowest point in my career and I began to apply to positions throughout the country with the national park service and a variety of other agencies. The first job offer I received was as the James River District Ranger at the north end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We jumped at the opportunity to leave, even though it was in the same park and moved in June in 1985.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

National Parks - Most Visited

The Top 10 Most Visited National Parks in the U.S.

Authored by Stephanie Modkins in United States
Published on 09-10-2009

Each year, the National Parks Services (NPS) puts out a list that ranks all of the national parks across the United States (U.S.) based on their number of visitors. Why is this list important to you? This yearly NPS list can help you determine where to go for a much needed weekend get-a-away or hiking adventure. Many people use it as a guide.

Below is a list of the top 10 most visited national parks in the U.S. based on NPS 2008 statistics. Check out the description of each park and figure out which one best suits you. (You will notice that the Grand Canyon did not make it this year.)

1) Blue Ridge Parkway (PKWY) - Blue Ridge Parkway was the most visited national park in the U.S. in 2008. Affectionately known as “America’s Favorite Drive”, it received 16,309,307 visitors last year. What keeps people come back for more? Virginians and others go this park for the calm, serene atmosphere and the breathtaking mountainous ridges. Imagine any color and you will see it in the natural surrounds of Blue Ridge.

2) Golden Gate National Recreation Area (NRA) - Golden Gate NRA offsets the urban landscape of San Francisco. In 2008, this U.S. national park received 14,554,750 visitors, mainly because of the surrounding beaches and architectural beauty of the area. Just like the city it inhabits, Golden Gate NRA offers visitors diversity. So, the entire family will enjoy themselves there.

3) Gateway NRA - When New Yorkers need to escape the big city, they along with surrounding Burroughs go to Gateway NRA. In 2008, 9,431.021 visitors occupied this U.S. national park. And why not? This top 10 most visited park is a mecca for outdoor lovers. Visitors can fish, swim, explore a wildlife refuge and even check out a lighthouse. There are enough activities in this park to occupy an entire day.

4) Great Smokey Mountains NP - This top 10 most visited national park lies on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. In 2008, 9,044,010 people (mainly hikers) occupied its space. The Great Smokey Mountains NP has over 800 miles of maintained trails. As a result, U.S. citizens who enjoy a lush, green scenery flock to this national park for some traditional outdoor rest and relaxation.

5) Lake Mead NRA - Want to bask under the warm Nevada sun? If so, you will understand why 7,601,863 people visited this top 10 most visited U.S. national park in 2008. Fishermen, sunbathers, bikers, kayak riders and campers all flock to this park throughout the year. Most of the activity is near or on the lake, which is just fine with the locals.

6) George Washington Memorial (MEM) PKWY - George Washington MEM Parkway started off as a gateway to the nation’s (U.S.) capital. However, after this idea didn’t quite pan out, it was turned into a national park that drew visitors from surrounding states (Maryland, Virginia and D.C.). In 2008, this top 10 most visited national park had 7,009,630 visitors. People go to George Washington MEM PKWY because of its historic buildings, wildlife preserves and smaller park systems.

7) Natchez Trace PKWY - This top 10 most visited U.S. national park is located along the Mississippi River. In 2008, 5,747,235 peopled frequented the grounds of Natchez Trace PKWY. Locals and outsiders visits this park every year because of the bike trails, large trees and cultural events like Pioneer Days. Natchez Trace is the perfect weekend get-a-way for anyone who wants to go back to a “more simple” time.

8) Delaware Water Gap NRA - Delaware Water Gap NRA had 5,127,074 visitors in 2008. This scenic park is popular because of the historical buildings and surrounding water. People who want a trip back into the past or a day of kayaking or river rafting go to this national park. The area is quiet and the water ripe for activity.

9) Lincoln Memorial - It goes without saying why the Lincoln Memorial is one of the most visited national parks in the U.S. In 2008, 4,678,861 people inhabited its borders in order to pay homage to one of the most prolific founding fathers of America. This national park is known for the number of school children and tourists from across the world that come to see its historic building and revisit the origins of a nation.

10) Cape Cod NS - Cape Code NS is a top-notch park that is often featured in movies. The beauty of it’s beaches, cranberry bogs and ponds are what attract people and movie producers. In 2008, 4,644,235 people visited this Massachusetts park. It was just enough to get it ranked in the top 10 of the most visited national parks in the U.S.

These are the top 10 most visited national parks in the U.S. Consider taking your family to visit one of them this year. It will be an inexpensive way to enjoy a piece of America.

Friday, September 11, 2009


The following is taken from the National Park Service's NPS Digest for 9/11/08.


Employees 9/11 Experiences Captured In Oral Histories

NPS photo by Eugene Kuwiz.

On September 11, 2001, hundreds of National Park Service personnel in New York City who protect and tell the stories of our nation’s rich heritage suddenly became part of one of the most tragic days in our nation’s history. Today, the nation reflects on the events of that day and mourns its losses. To add to that reflection, the staff at the National Parks of New York Harbor wanted to share with the NPS family what it was like to be a part of that date in history.

To do so, we thought it fitting that we share some of their memories of the events of that fateful day. The September 11, 2001 Oral History Documentation Project by the Northeast Region captures the recollections and reflections of employees involved in the event and beyond in a series of interviews that took place in the following months.

The 10 units in the National Parks of New York Harbor preserve stories that span the foundation of democracy at Federal Hall, the legacy of immigration at Ellis Island, and the rediscovered past found at the African Burial Ground. On September 11, 2001, the service’s tradition of protecting its resources and helping its visitors and neighbors was enduring and unwavering even in the face of disaster.

Those who were interviewed as part of the oral history project spoke matter-of-factly about their participation, seeing nothing they did as extraordinary. Stevens Laise, chief of interpretation for the Manhattan Sites, perhaps summed it up best: “You know, it was our job. I think that's how we felt about it, that working in the National Park Service you feel a strong tradition of service. It's been that way ever since 1916 when the Park Service was created, that rangers are there to help people. If it's deep in the wilderness and somebody's lost. Or if it's in Lower Manhattan and somebody's seeking shelter. That's our job. That is what a park ranger does.”

Many remembered how the morning began, much like any morning. But as the attacks unfolded, there was a sense of how strange the day was becoming. Daniel Merced, a laborer/custodian at Federal Hall NM, went outside with a colleague after hearing reports that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. They headed up the street to where they could get a view of the Twin Towers. Upon seeing the hole in the building, he turned and said, “’How do you think they're going to fix that?’ And you know, it never occurred that it would fall.”

“It was surreal,” said David Luchsinger, then the Gateway business manager and now the superintendent at Statue of Liberty NM and Ellis Island. “I just sat there and I kept saying, oh my God. What's – something's happening. Something's happening. And then all of a sudden we realized that the whole tower had gone down and they started announcing it. It was incredible.”

As it became clear that this was not an accident and the scale of the situation was huge, those with first responder training were at the forefront of the NPS response and some of those first responders were members of the U.S. Park Police. In his interview for the NPS’s September 11, 2001 interview series, then USPP Captain Martin Zweig (now major) said “the [U.S. Park Police] evacuated quite a few people from the piers. People were jumping into the water, from what I was told by the officers on the boat….They just, you know, got as many people out, as well as transporting doctors and nurses to Ellis Island, where they were setting up a triage site.”

Other NPS personnel did their part to assist by securing their sites and clearing spaces for other agencies to use as staging areas. Manhattan Sites superintendent Shirley McKinney, then the superintendent of the Staten Island Unit of Gateway NRA, cleared one of the sites in her unit, “because at Great Kills Park there is a marina there and I figured someone might need to use the dock for rescuing efforts.” Another was the use of facilities at Ellis Island for treating the wounded. The team there treated some firefighters and civilians, but soon there were no longer wounded coming.

Back in Manhattan, rangers at Castle Clinton NM on the Battery and at Federal Hall NM, the two closest parks to the World Trade Centers, did their best to ensure the safety of those in the area following the attack, either by directing them away from areas that could catch fire or by offering them shelter from the blinding cloud of debris that rolled through lower Manhattan as the towers collapsed. As people huddled together wondering what could possibly come next, NPS employees were handing out dust masks and water, doing whatever they could to offer comfort before those seeking refuge felt ready to venture out into a city forever changed.

The team of interviewers for this project was comprised of Louis Hutchins, ethnographer; Chuck Smythe, Ph.D., senior cultural anthropologist, Boston Support Office; Mark Schoepfle, Ph.D., ethnographer, Archeology and Ethnography Program, Washington, DC; and George Tselos, archivist, Statue of Liberty National Monument. The team interviewed 35 NPS employees – from maintenance to management at four National Park Service sites in the New York City area.

Note: The above quotations were all taken from transcripts of the National Park Service September 11, 2001 interview series.

Name: Mindi Rambo

9 11

Today memorializes the eighth year since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It is hard to believe that so much time has gone by since that day of loss, fear, and anger. Everyone should take time today to remember those that died that day and the families and friends that they left behind.

This morning a memorial service will be held at the site of the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. This hallowed ground has been selected to be preserved as memorial managed by the National Park Service. The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 9:45 am eastern time. A permanent memorial and facilities are planned to be completed at this site by September 11, 2011.

September 11, 2001 is one of those dates where most people can remember vividly where they were and what they were doing when they heard of the attacks. Even so the shock was still distant and a bit unreal for the majority of us. The scenes viewed on television were etched into our minds. It took time to sink in and manifest itself in our memories.

For me it became more real and personal when I was detailed to Washington, D.C. on September 12, 2001 to work on a national incident command team charged with ensuring security and safety for national parks nationwide and more specifically employees and facilities in the D.C. area. Eight years later we forget that in the immediate aftermath of the aircraft strikes no one knew if the attacks were over or where it could happen next. Although we still live with this threat, most have become desensitized to it.

Having been to D.C. many times before my first impression on driving into town was the lack of traffic or people on the streets. It appeared that our capital had been abandoned. Most government workers had been either told to or decided on their own to stay home. Every street corner in the federal district had a D.C. Metro Police Officer standing guard.

After putting in a long day at the Interior Building of assessing possible terrorist targets, threats, and reviewing security plans we were sent to our hotel which was across the Potomac in Virginia. It was dark, I was tired and wired and dragged myself into a long line of other federal emergency responders checking into the hotel. When I exited the elevator on the eleventh floor an hour later, I was met with a site I will never forget. Before me through the wall of glass window and illuminated by floodlights was the gaping whole left in the Pentagon from the attack the day before. The area was lit up like day and the rubble crawling with rescue workers. Over the next few weeks I met many of those investigators and workers who were sharing the same hotel. They were quiet, staring, and exhausted hulks of human beings. You could see the stress and pain in their eyes each morning I met them in the lobby and breakfast room. They were experiencing first hand the affects of 9/11 and eventually had to face the fact that there were no more chances to save lives in the debris.

I remember these dedicated people and the affects these events must have had on them and their families upon their eventual return home. Today I will take time to remember all the rescue, fire, law enforcement, and emergency personnel who responded on and after the terrorist attacks. I hope you will join me.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Blue Ridge Parkway - Bluffs Subdistrict

In February of 1981 my wife once again had to leave a teaching job as I accepted a transfer to the Bluffs Subdistrict of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We moved to the North Carolina mountains near Laurel Springs at Doughton Park. Here I worked for the legendary park ranger Dean Richardson. Dean was born and raised in this area and worked on the Blue Ridge Parkway since the 1940's. After we arrived and I started work, it was another week until I got to meet Dean since he was tied up on a murder investigation. The victims body had been dumped in the park a day or two before our arrival. This was our introduction to our new home.

It was while working here that I began to learn and fine tune the traditional skills of a park ranger. There were much higher levels of serious law enforcement incidents, wildland fire, concessions operations, agricultural leases, search and rescue, backcountry management, campground management, and health and safety work to deal with.

The Bluffs will always retain a special place in our hearts since we experienced some of the happiest times in our lives including the birth of our son, Brian.

In the book A Park Ranger's Life: True Stories from Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks you will find stories from this period involving escaped convicts, car chases of thieves, poachers, very lost people, and other characters. The projected availability date for the book is now late October to early November. Keep posted.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The New Battle of the Wilderness

A new battle is coming to its culmination in Orange County Virginia on the same ground that Union and Confederate forces fought in 1864 in what is known as the Battle of the Wilderness. It is over the construction of a new Wal-Mart store adjacent to the lands protected as part of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. the proposed site for the development is overlooked by the park and will forever alter the views of the topography and ground as it appeared during the Civil War.

Despite protests from not only citizens groups but also the Governor of Virginia, both Virginia U.S. Senators, numerous Civil War groups, celebrities, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, and the National Parks and Conservation Association, and the disapproval of the Orange County Planning Commission the County Board of Supervisors gave Wal-Mart the go ahead.

The only course left to prevent this devastating scar on the landscape is to appeal to the management of of Wal-Mart to move their plans to another location. To learn more and even help by contacting Wal-Mart executives you can go to the National Parks and Conservation Association's web site at In the center of the page you will see a tab titled Take Action. Click on this and you will find a headline for the Wilderness Battlefield. From here you can learn more and help win this battle.

Plant Theft In Our National Parkss

The following was taken from the National Park Service Morning Incident Report for September 3rd, 2009:

Blue Ridge Parkway

Ginseng Poacher Arrested

On Friday, August 7th, ranger Joe Darling and training ranger Ryan Lindsay came upon a silver Nissan pickup parked at milepost 378. Fresh footprints led from the truck into the woods in an area known to contain ginseng, so the rangers checked to see if they could find the operator. Their efforts were unsuccessful. The two rangers came upon the same pickup at the same location on Saturday, but were again unable to find the operator. On Sunday, the rangers saw the truck yet again, but this time in another location about ten miles away. Fresh footprints led into the woods – and to
one Delmar Hughes. When contacted, Hughes was found to have dirty hands and soiled knees, typically found on those engaged in digging ginseng. He denied that he was engaged in poaching the plant, but further investigation and a search of his truck and the surrounding area led to the discovery of a black camera case containing 138 freshly-dug ginseng roots just inside the tree line. Hughes was arrested and subsequently admitted to digging in the park over the course of several days. On August 25th, he was sentenced to 30 days in prison, ordered to pay $100 in restitution for the replanting cost of the 138 roots, and banned from federal lands for a year. [Tim Francis]

The theft of plants from our National Parks continues to be a threat to fragile native resources. You can learn more about this problem and what citizens can do to help park rangers prevent such crimes in my soon to be published book A Park Ranger's Life: True Stories from Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park

In September of 1977 I packed up my new wife of only three months and transferred to the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. There I worked as a Park Ranger on the Protection and Resources Management Division. Our job centered on preserving the original ground and earthworks where four major battles of the Civil War were fought: The battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Courthouse. This also included many historic structures including Chatham Manor - a colonial mansion built in the 18th Century by Hugh Fitzgerald.

Major problems we faced included the encroachment on park boundaries in sensitive areas, illegal metal detecting for civil war period artifacts, commercial poaching of wildlife, and criminal activity that spilled over from the surrounding urban area.

It was while stationed here that I started to gain experience on western wildfire details, structural fire fighting, and served on law enforcement and emergency details in Philadelphia, St. Louis, western Pennsylvania, and Florida.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Marijuana Growing in National Parks

For those of you that follow the news and websites oriented toward National Parks, you may have noted the recent stories about large marijuana plantations found at Sequoia Kings Canyon and other parks out west. These organized grow operations are being run by members of the Mexican Drug Cartels and pose threats to natural resources and visitors. The cartels are increasing their profit margin by growing their product on protected public lands in our country and eliminating the risk and cost of crossing the border to bring it here. They have no trouble recruiting workers in Mexico to plant and tend these farms.

The grow operations are complex and organized involving the construction of irrigation systems, fencing to keep wildlife out, guards, fertilizers, and camouflaging of the sites in an attempt to protect them from observation.

The clearing of trees and foliage to allow sunlight to the plants, the use of chemical fertilizers, deviation of water sources, litter, compaction of fragile soils, erosion caused by digging, and building of trails for workers are all having a heavy impact on plants and animals in these remote areas. The sites chosen for these grow operations tend to be placed in the the richest areas for native plants and result in their displacement and destruction.

Indications are that during the growing season these locations are occupied by armed guards to protect the plants from wildlife damage and detection by persons. As far as I know, we have not yet seen what would happen should an innocent park visitor hiking in the back country stumble into one of these locations. As the media has published, just one of these sites found in California had a street value of $36 million dollars. I would imagine that the Mexican drug cartels would be interested in protecting their investment. These are the same cartels that have been responsible for the violence and death along our border with Mexico. It was a man connected to one of these cartels that murdered US Park Ranger Kris Eggle at Oregon Pipe Cactus National Monument in 2002.

Nor are these industrial sized marijuana grow operations confined to the western regions. Several years ago one of these operation was located in the area of Rockcastle Gorge on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. Other sites have been located on US Forest Service areas in Georgia and the south.

Criminal elements from outside our own country are contributing to the destruction of our national parks. The American people need to be aware of this theft of their heritage. Park Rangers and managers need our help and support to stop these threats. Report any observations you may have of unusual or strange behavior in back country areas. People seen hauling hose, bags of fertilizer, fencing, or any other materials that do not belong should be reported. Use caution when you do see any signs of these activities. Do not make contact with individuals and leave any grow sites immediately before you can be detected. Once out and safe, report the observations you have made as soon as possible to proper authorities.

We all need to work together to protect or national parks and other protected areas.

New to Blogging?

If you are like me and new to the art of blogging, I thought I would share a basic or two.

The main difference between a blog and a website is that you as the reader can comment or respond to postings and have them appear on the site for all to see. At the bottom of each posting you will see a separate line that will show the writers name and when the post was published. Next to this you will find the word "Comment." If you click on this, a screen will pop up for you to write your comment.

This works the same way on all blog sites you may visit.

Have fun and I look forward to seeing your comments.