Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why I Write

I have been asked several times why I decided to write about my experiences as a National Park Ranger. There are several reasons, but they all run full circle back to family.
If you read any biography of a famous or even not so famous person they rely heavily on the written work found in journals diaries and letters. During my lifetime these writing skill have been de-emphasized and have all but disappeared. Letters have been replaced with telephone calls, text messages, emails, twitters, and Facebook. There will be no written documented reference for future generations to know what we have done with our lives.
The above photos are an example from my family of a man I only knew as an infirm elderly gentleman that we visited several times a year. Now that I have completed my own career as a National Park Ranger I wonder if his life and accomplishments may have affected my life choices. But I know relatively little of him.
He was Thomas O'Beirne, my great grandfather on my mother's side of the family. The top photos shows Thomas as a young fireman during a 1901 Fireman's Parade in White Plaines, NY. The second photo is of Thomas as a White Plaines, NY police officer. He served with the police department between 1910 and 1922. I know know nothing else of his experiences in these jobs. Is it only coincidence that I became a park ranger? A career choice that includes both fire fighting and law enforcement. I do not know the answer to that question and will never be able to explore its possibilities since there is no written record of his work.
The final photo is of my great grandfather as I remember him. This was in 1963 when he dressed up to be photographed with my brother Brad and I.
This loss of family insights from both my mother and father's families were a major part of the inspiration that made me want to write. I know there are park rangers out there that have bigger and more spectacular stories to tell, but I wanted my son and his future children to have some idea of what I did with my life. I believe that every life no matter how ordinary has a story to tell.
These are the foundations of why I began to write down stories and eventually shared a few with friends and family. It is they who encouraged me to put my scribblings together into a book. The result of this labor is A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Firearms in National Parks

Scenes like the one above will be seen by National Park Rangers more frequently starting in February of 2010. A rider on the Credit Cardholder's Rights Bill removed past regulations prohibiting the possession of loaded firearms in National Parks. Starting in February park visitors will be able to carry firearms per locals and state laws where such carry is permitted.

Arguments have been made for the positive impact this regulatory change will have on the ability of people to protect themselves with firearms while visiting National Parks. Several articles have referred to the present firearms regulations as dating to the Reagan era making it sound like a recent firearms regulatory change imposed by the National Park Service.

I have several points of view that may clarify some of this partial information.

The present regulation found in Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations section 2.4 prohibits the possession of loaded or accessible firearms. This is not quite the total ban on possession that has been portrayed by many media reports.

Stating that this is a regulation only dating back to the 1980s is a misleading interpretation. When I first started with the National Park Service in 1975, firearms were prohibited in parks. In the 1980s the Code of Federal Regulations was rewritten to introduce several new regulations and clarify others such as section 2.4. The ban of firearms in National Parks in actuality goes back to before the National Park Service was established in 1916.

When Yellowstone National Park was first established in 1872 there were no regulations or persons to protect wildlife within the new park. The decimation of buffalo and elk became so threatening that the Army was moved in and maintained two to three full Troops of Calvary (more than 200 men) in the park for 3o years. In 1894 Congress passed the Yellowstone Game Protection Act to provide some teeth in the wildlife protection actions of the Army.

In 1903 then President Theodore Roosevelt planned a cross country trip that included a ten day stop over in Yellowstone National Park. At the time there was an active program to destroy predators such as cougars and wolves. T.R. thought that perhaps he could join in and hunt cougar in the park during his stay. Public and political opinion was against the President hunting in a National Park. In newspapers of the day Major Pitcher, Yellowstone's Superintendent, was quoted as saying, "The President's gun would be sealed by the U.S. Army when he entered the park, just as with every other citizen."* So thirteen years before the establishment of the National Park Service firearms were banned in National Parks.

A valuable preemptive tool used by park rangers to protect wildlife will be lost with the revocation of the firearms regulations. Today rangers who meet people in backcountry areas armed with hunting rifles can prevent them from using that firearm in the park. With the new change in this regulation rangers will not be able to take any action until a person actually shoots at and or kills wildlife. Once the animal in question is dead it can no longer be protected. Park ranger staffs are so limited in number that they can not keep an individual with a firearm under surveillance during their entire time in a park.

Arguments can be made on both sides of the issue of firearms possession by visitors in parks. The fact is that one of the most affective and oldest tools used by park rangers to protect wildlife has been taken away to meet the political demands of special interest groups. Evidence of this fact is that Congress had to hide this new law in a document with a positive title like the Credit Cardholders Rights Bill.

*Brinkley, Douglas, Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America; p 507, 2009, Harper Collins Publishing, NY

Friday, October 23, 2009

Book Now Available for Pre Orders

My new book, A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks, is now available directly from Wheatmark Publishing for pre orders. You can take a look at the book and place orders at the following link:

The final book was sent to the printers yesterday and should be available for shipping within four weeks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall Fire Season in the Southern Appalachians

With the leaves beginning to turn brown and fall to the ground the Southern Appalachians are now entering the fall fire season.
The photos above were taken in March of 2006 during the Quarry Fire that occurred along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. By the time the fire was contained it had grown to almost 2000 acres. Part of the challenge was the close proximity of many homes that had been built in the Urban Interface. This term refers to the trend toward building homes in the woodland environment making them prey to wildland fires. This fire was managed by an inter-agency Unified Command Team who directly contributed to the prevention of the loss of any homes. The fire was started by a homeowner dumping ashes from his wood stove along the edge of the woods behind his house. Costs for the fire suppression effort for just the National Park Service was $28,000. The US Forest Service costs were more than $200,000. The Commonwealth of Virginia and counties of Bedford and Roanoke also had many thousands of dollars in expenses.
I use this fire as and example of the newer phenomena of wildland fires in the east. When I began my fire fighting career in the mid 1970s we were taught that fires only occurred in the west and in the east fires were small and only crept through the leaves and dry grasses. Lightning strikes only resulted in fires west of the Mississippi.
As my career progressed I noted a drastic change in those conditions. More frequently we were seeing fires resulting after lightning storms (sometimes days or weeks after a stump struck by lightning would smolder) and fires developed higher flame lengths and the potential to crown (flames running up into the tops of trees).
This increase in fire potential in the east can be attributed to several sources. Years of drought in the mid Atlantic states, the mortality of trees due to pests such as gypsy moths and hemlock woolly adelgids, and damage to already stressed trees by ice storms and heavy winds. All these events have contributed to the amount of fuel on the ground in the form of dried dead limbs and entire trees. Take these points into consideration and you can start to see some of the reasons for the increase in fire intensity.
Add to these conditions the construction of more and more woodland homes and the stress of saving peoples houses is added to the mix. This factor forces firefighter to take more risks in saving personal property and lives.
So as you spend time with your family in the woods, go hunting, camping, or are just working around you home, keep wildland fire safety in your mind during this time of year.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Searches in National Parks - Research

This photo was taken at the Humpback Rocks visitor Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway following an overnight search for a lost hiker. All these searchers had been up for almost 48 hours. The following article gives the latest information on searches in national park service areas.

Study: Park Service averages 11 searches per day
SALT LAKE CITY — Whether it’s saving a stranded hiker with a broken leg or fishing out a capsized boater, a new study says national parks launch 11 search-and-rescue operations on an average day.
Travis Heggie, an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota who headed up the study, analyzed search-and-rescue reports from 1992 to 2007, when there were more than 65,000 operations in national parks with costs exceeding $58 million.
Those most commonly in need of help? Day hikers, young men and boaters. Weekends were the busiest.
The results are similar to an earlier analysis by Heggie of national parks in Utah, which found young men on day hikes were among the most likely to need a rescue.

You can read more about search operations in my book A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks. The book is with the printers now and should be availalbe in November.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Park Ranger Fall Color Update for October 18

This photo was taken this morning by Park Ranger Marc Cyr on the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile post 22 in Virginia. Although the snow and ice did not last long, it sure looks like a transition from fall to winter is not far off.
The forcast for the rest of this coming week will have sunny skys and temperatures in the sixties during the day. Fall color at the 2 to 3000 foot elevation may be moving fast this week.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

First Book Signing Date

I have been working with the owner of Books and Company, a locally owned book store, in Lexington, Virginia to set up my first book signing event. We have tentatively set the date as November 27, 2009. That is the day after Thanksgiving. The book will be available at this store as soon as the printing is completed. I am hoping to have the book available to the public by early November.

I have also made my first sale of the book. A silent auction was conducted at the annual charity golf tournament sponsored by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association in western Virginia. I offered a signed copy of the book and it was purchased with all the funds going to Special Olympics. As soon as I have copies in hand, I will be mailing out that first edition.

Table of Contents

I have been getting requests for more information about my upcoming book, A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks. So here is the table of contents to give you a taste of what is to come.

Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...............................1
“What Is It You Do?” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .......................5
National Park Service Basics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .................11
Fort McHenry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .........................14
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park . . ..16
The Blue Ridge Parkway . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...................18
Interesting People . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .....................20
Supervisory Park Technician . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .............. 31
The World of the Supernatural . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...............43
Living in a National Park . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..................53
Law Enforcement versus Management in the
National Park Service . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ........................58
Budgets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..........................67
The Traveling Ranger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .................74
Lives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ............................. 85
The Interstate Fugitive and The Hound Dog Rangers . . . . 95
The Marshes of Wilkes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .................106
Stop in the Name of the Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .............113
Bears . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..........................120
Close Encounters of the Bear Kind . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...........124
Protecting Wildlife . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ....................131
Poachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ........................134
The Mountain Slide . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..................142
Plants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .........................148
Which Way to Lynchburg? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .............154
The Snake Man . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ....................158
The Dog That Saved a Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .............165
Politics in the National Parks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .............170
Creative Justice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...................177
The Summer That Burned . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ............186
Lost in the Woods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .................197
The Long Search . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .................206
Drugs and Thugs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...................225
Inherent Dangers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .................235
Sacrifice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .....................239

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall Update

The fall color update for today is gray. The mountains are shrouded in fog and rain. So here are few shots from around my home in the valley to give you some idea of the color change.

Today is just another of the many moods of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I would tell visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway this when the were upset about rainy days in the park. These are good days because without fog and rain we would not have the diversity of vegetation that we enjoy in the Blue Ridge.

The rain is also good since we preparing to enter the fall fire season. Some moisture now will help prevent fires and keep those that do start from becoming large and dangerous.

Book Status Update

Final publication of my book is coming closer. I have approved the final draft and interior layout. The artwork above for the front cover just came in. The book should be out in the next few weeks.

I will post the availability date as soon as I have it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Park Ranger Retirement Tip

Retirment Tip # 4

· If your spouse is still working, start their car to warm up
on cold mornings before they leave for work. That way your
spouse leaves with the impression that you are working hard
all day.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Park Ranger Fall Color Update for October 8th

Here is that indicator tree one week since my last photo. We have had more frost and temperatures in the lower 30s in the mornings. So the fall color is coming on now in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
All these photos were taken today between mile post 23 and 27 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In my opinion it is starting to look quite spectacular. As you look up to the mountains from the valley to the west, you can see the line between the golds coming out on the ridges and the edge of green at lower elevation. During the next week close observers will note the slow creeping of the bright colors down from the ridge tops erasing the deep greens of this past summer.

Park Ranger Retirement Tip

Retirement Tip #3

· Do not worry about getting everything done today. You really
do have tomorrow and the next day and the next day to get it done.
No longer will you have to face situations where if you do not get it
done today you will not have another chance to get to it for three

Book Status

Yesterday I received the electronic copy of the layout for my book, A Park Ranger's Life: True Stories from Thirty Two Years Protecting our National Parks. Once I make a final review and any last minute edits it goes to the printer. Hopefully it will be available within the next month.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Origins of Law Enforcement in National Parks

One of the debates that continued during my entire career in the National Park Service was over the role of law enforcement and how it fit into the management of national parks. Many managers and employees were openly anti-law enforcement and tried to downplay its role in protecting the resources and people visiting our parks.

In 1872 the first national park in the world was established at Yellowstone. The land was set aside to be protected, but there were no laws or regulations that could be enforced to provide for this protection. In the recent Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea he touches on this condition and the results. I am also reading the recently published book Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley which outlines T.R. and his contemporaries conservation work that ultimately contributed to the establishment of the National Park Service.

Even though areas such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Sequoia were designated to be saved, there existed no legal way to stop the deforestation, grazing, and extermination of wildlife that continued in the parks. One of the most dramatic examples was the buffalo herds at Yellowstone that poachers continued to decimate at will. The Army stepped in to patrol the parks, but the most they could do was to escort violators out of the park. There were no criminal or civil consequences for violators' greed.

One of the most vocal groups to step forward and lobby for legislation to protect park wildlife was the Boone and Crockett Club founded by Theodore Roosevelt and other members of his class of hunters and early conservationists. They proposed repeatedly that laws be passed and persons hired to protect these vanishing resources.

On page 331 of Wilderness Warrior Brinkley quotes T.R. following his return from the Spanish American War in 1898. He was describing the men that he had served with in war when he told a group , "Wouldn't Rough Riders make terrific forest rangers and wildlife wardens? Didn't the wildlife protection movement need no-nonsense men in uniform to stop poaching in federal parks?"
This concern for providing a law enforcement organization to protect park resources was the initial idea coming from the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell, John F. Lacey, and John Muir that fueled the fire to establish the National Park Service. Although the Yellowstone Game Protection Act was passed in 1894 it was not until August 25, 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service. It took that long because many special interest groups did not want an agency established that would be able to enforce laws and regulations within the parks.

The responsibility for providing law enforcement protection of persons and resources in our parks is the foundation for the original establishment of the National Park Service. Today Park Rangers rededicate themselves to that core mission of providing for enjoyment of the visiting public while protecting the parks for future generations. Once the National Park Service was established is when the agency began to take on many additional roles such as education, promotion, maintenance, etc.

To learn more about the early rangers in our parks I highly recommend the book National Park Ranger An American Icon by Charles R. "Butch" Farabee, Jr.

To learn more about some situations I faced during my career due to the conflicting philosophies within the National Park Service over law enforcement, read my book that will be available by early November, A Park Rangers Life: True Stories from Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fall Color Update for the Blue Ridge

These are the latest photos of my indicator tree. We had our first hard frost this morning (October 1) and more color should start to move into the trees during the coming week. If one looks now they can see some examples of color in individual specimins.

All these photos were taken on the Blue Ridge Parkway today from elevations of 2600 to 3000 feet.

Park Ranger Retirement Tip # 2

·I I If you decide to get a new pet, get one that is not high energy or very intelligent. Remember to always match the pet with the owner.

Fall Motorcycle Safety Tips

Due to the fall color season October is the the month of highest visitation on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is also the month with the highest number of motor vehicle crashes. Every year a large proportion of those crashes involve motorcycles. Research has shown that most of these crashes involve large touring type bikes and experienced riders.

So what is it about the Blue Ridge Parkway that results in significant motorcycle wrecks?

The Blue Ridge Parkway was designed in the 1930s and 40s by engineers and landscape architects for slow moving scenic travel by motor car. One of the elements incorporated into the design were descending radius curves. These were utilized to maximize the beauty of the land while hugging the contour of the mountains. These types of curves are not used in modern highway construction. It is safe to say that even motorcyclists who have been riding for most of their adult lives will encounter curves the likes as they have never seen on the Blue Ridge Parkway and other national park roads. That is why even the slightest distraction or looking off at the scenery at the wrong time can result in disaster.

The Park Rangers on the Blue Ridge Parkway conducted analysis of motorcycle wrecks and identified specific areas where accidents were regularly occurring. An example would be south bound at mile post 36 in Virginia where eight motorcycle crashes occurred in one year. At these locations large and more "aggressive" warning signs were placed directed toward motorcycles. Following the placement of the signs there were no motorcycle crashes at mile post 36 for two years.

One theory behind the number of crashes involving large touring style motorcycles is their design with a wide bottom or base of the frame. As motorcyclists enter these deceiving curves they tend to over correct and catch their foot pegs on the pavement. This common factor in many wrecks then causes the motorcycle to spin out of control.

Despite the new signs and an aggressive education program, motorcycle wrecks are still occurring in the park at an alarming level. The Blue Ridge Parkway is often referred to as one of the best roads in the world to tour by motorcycle. I do not doubt that is true. Motorcyclists need to be aware that they are traveling on a road surface that may include challenges they have not seen before. They need to watch both their speed and full attention to controlling their bikes down the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway so they can return home safely.