Friday, April 30, 2010

Park Ranger's vs. Poachers

Here is an interesting blog post on park rangers vs. poachers in our National Parks.

Featured in the video at this site is Cody Murphy.  At the time he was the South District Ranger at Shenandoah National Park.  This area adjoins the Ridge District of the Blue Ridge Parkway where I worked as the District Ranger for 23 years.  The resource poaching problems that Cody describes are present in all the National Parks within the Southern Appalachians.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blue Ridge Parkway Search Ends

A mulit-day search for a missing man from Ohio ended when his body was found in Rock Castle Gorge on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.  The cause of death is believed to be suicide by gunshot.  Below is the press release from the National Park Service.

Muti-day Search in Rock Castle Gorge Recreation Area, VA

A search that began on April 22nd in the Rock Castle Gorge Recreation Area of the Parkway, in Patrick County, VA, was concluded on the 27th when the body of Cincinnati, OH resident Ernest G. Brooker was located. He had apparently committed suicide using a firearm.

The search began when Brooker's car was noticed by a park employee at the trailhead near the Rocky Knob Cabins on April 18th and again on April 22nd.  After a hasty search by park rangers was unsuccessful, search resources were activated through Virginia Department of Emergency Management and a Type III incident team was formed to conduct an expanded operation, Patrick County Sheriff's Office was responsible for the related investigation.

During operations on April 23rd and 24th searchers located numerous weapons and other items placed in the gorge, apparently by Brooker, that included knives, daggers, nunchucks, fighting sticks, a holster for a pistol, parrot feathers and clothing laid out in an organized, and what appeared to be, ritualistic, manner. On the 23rd civilian searchers were removed from the operation until law enforcement teams from Patrick County, Virginia State Police and NPS were able to check the area on the 24th. Civilian searchers from Commonwealth of Virginia SAR; Angle SAR; SAR Tracking Institute; Carroll County SAR; Rockingham County- Augusta SAR; Black Diamond SAR; Triad SAR; Tidewater SAR; SARTI; and Intermont-Bristol SAR, Vesta Rescue Squad, Ararat and Woolwine Fire Departments, and the Civil Air Patrol (aircraft utilized to provide radio communication between teams and the command post, located at the Parkway’s Rocky Knob maintenance area), as well as rangers from Shenandoah NP, New River Gorge NSR, C&O Canal, other districts of the Parkway as well as a canine team from NCR, returned to the search on the 25th. The body of Mr. Brooker was located in a Rhododendron thicket on a private inholding within the gorge by a canine and handler from Dogs East Search and Rescue, working a task with an NPS search team.

Mr. Brooker had stayed in a motel in Meadows of Dan for several days after he arrived in the area on the 13th of April and had been seen by neighbors in the area of the gorge over several days ending the 18th. Ernest Brooker had no known friends or relatives after the death of his wife in January of 2009, which created a challenge for search managers and investigators throughout the incident. Ernest Brooker was 66 years old.

The park wishes to thank all of the SAR organizations and team members that worked diligently in adverse weather, steep terrain and heavy vegetation to conduct the search. The park is fortunate to have a strong relationship with these organizations built over the years by conducting interagency training and SAR exercises in this and other areas of Southern Virginia within the park.

While the search was underway a running marathon was held on park roads within the same district (Roanoke, VA), which, along with the search and normal operational requirements, heavily taxed the parkway's ranger resources.

Interview With April 5th Shooting Survivor

The Roanoke Times published a story based on an interview with Christina Floyd the survivor of a shooting that occurred on the Blue Ridge Parkway April 5th.  Floyd's companion, Tim Davis, was also shot and died four days later.  The interview reveals details of this senseless attack and how Floyd was able to survive the attempt on her life.

                                 The Rock Point Overlook where the April 5th shooting incident occurred.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Park Rangers Search for Missing Ohio Man

The following is a press release from the National Park Service relating to an on going search for a missing Ohio man on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.  In the last 3 weeks park rangers have dealt with a murder, two suicides, two major wildland fires and other additional incidents just in the Virginia section of the park.  All these incidents are adding to the work load of employees as they attempt to prepare for a series of special events to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Search Continues in Rock Castle Gorge

(Patrick County, VA) Ernest G. Brooker, Jr. has been missing and is thought to be in the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Rock Castle Gorge Recreation Area, or the surrounding area. Mr. Brooker is a white male, age 66, about 5’10” tall, and 175 lbs, with hazel eyes and white hair, driving a 1985 white Chevrolet Celebrity with Ohio tags..

“We know a few things”, said Blue Ridge Parkway Chief Ranger Steve Stinnett, “but the location and condition of Mr. Brooker are two unknowns at this time”. We know that he passed through West Virginia on his way from Cincinnati, Ohio on April 13th, we know that he stayed in a motel in Meadows of Dan for four days, we know that he was seen near the Rocky Knob Cabins at the top of Rock Castle Gorge Recreation Area over a period of four days ending April 17th. On the 18th his car was noticed by a Park Service employee. A US Park Ranger noted that the car was still there on April 22nd and did not appear to have been moved. Eight Park Rangers, including two trainees from other National park units, initiated a search that day and found items inside the Gorge area associated with Mr. Brooker, at the same time Patrick County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation into the where abouts of Ernest Brooker. Virginia Department of Emergency Management was contacted and various Virginia Search and Rescue (SAR) resources were activated for the following day, April 23rd. Those teams include Commonwealth of Virginia SAR; Angle SAR; SAR Tracking Institute; Carroll County SAR; Rockingham County- Augusta SAR; Black Diamond SAR; Triad SAR; Tidewater SAR; SARTI; and Intermont-Bristol SAR. Members of the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO), Vesta Rescue Squad, Ararat and Woolwine Fire Departments, and the Civil Air Patrol (aircraft utilized to provide radio communication between teams and the command post, located at the Parkway’s Rocky Knob maintenance area). Logistical support is being provided by local agencies and maintenance employees of the Parkway.

On Friday April 23rd searchers began to find items near the trail that had been placed by Brooker. “The items,” said Chief Ranger Stinnett “including edged weapons and indications of a firearm generated concern by the search managers and led to the withdrawal of the civilian teams. The following day only law enforcement personnel were used to continue the search.” Those included officers from PCSO, Virginia State Police and NPS rangers from the Parkway, New River Gorge NSR, Shenandoah NP, and two ranger trainees. In addition Triad SAR provided 3 Bloodhounds. The Rock Castle Gorge Recreation Area was closed to the public while that phase of the search was completed.

On Sunday the area was reopened by the Parkway and the civilian searchers returned, along with two canine units. Up to this point in time Mr. Brooker has not been located and plans are being made to continue search efforts with local rangers, as well as rangers from Cumberland Gap NHP, Shenandoah NP, C&O Canal NHP, and a canine unit from the National Capital Region.

Anyone having knowledge of Ernest Brooker is asked to contact the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office at 276-694-3161 or Parkway Emergency phone: 1-800-PARKWATCH (800-727-5928).

Monday, April 26, 2010

Recommended Books for Lesson Plan on United States National Parks

The book "A Park Ranger's Life" is among several others recommended in a lesson plan on the web site Suite 101. Check it out at the link below.

Recommended Books for Lesson Plan on United States National Parks

Park Ranger Images That Stay With You

As a National Park Ranger you work in some of the most interesting and spectacular settings in our country. Most people believe that park rangers sleep dreaming about the vast vistas and beautiful sunsets they get to enjoy each day. The reality is quite different.
As a young park ranger I believed in the above image until I had to deal with my first dead body. Little did I know that this would be the first of many such situations I would have to face in my career. I ended up providing emergency care to victims and investigating deaths of people from auto and motorcycle crashes, gunshot wounds, drowning, drug overdoses, falls from cliff faces, and suicides. Several of these bodies floated in my dreams for years and still appear on occasion.

One such incident was in 1982 while working on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There was a young man in Galax, Virginia that was cruising with his 15 year old cousin in a Pontiac Trans Am. They met two teenage girls in a parking lot hangout and asked them to go for a ride in the impressive muscle car. They ended up on the Blue Ridge Parkway where the driver lost control of the car in a sharp curve at the state line with North Carolina going at speeds estimated of 80mph. The Trans Am went directly into a large oak tree killing the two girls and driver instantly. The bodies were torn and smashed to the point that no one could identify them.

The lone survivor was the cousin who was in the back seat awake and screaming as it took the Rescue Squad an hour to cut him from the wreckage. His body was cut wide open from one leg through his groin and down his other leg. EMT’s worked to stem the bleeding as the Jaws of Life worked to cut him from the mangled car.

The survivor did not even know the last names of the girls they had picked up. High school rings with initials on their lifeless fingers led local agency investigators to get the high school principal out of bed in an attempt to match the names in the year book for the upcoming graduating class. Once at the hospital I was able to get the survivor to tell me where they met the girls. In that parking lot was found a lone car registered to the parents of one of the girls picked out as a possible victim from the yearbook.

The Virginia State Police handled notifying the families of the tragedy relieving me of that tough duty. They found two next door neighbors home with every light on in the house. It was 3 a.m. and both families knew something was wrong.

At the hospital I finally had a few moments to start writing down some notes for the required investigative report. I had before me the official report form and I started to fill out the blank spaces. On these forms you placed all the information about the driver and passengers in neatly placed boxes outlined in black. To the right of the identity information the investigator had to check one of three boxes titled at the top of the column as; No Injury, Injury, or Fatality. By the time I had checked the third fatality box all the emotion and sense of loss of what I had been dealing with came upon me like a flood from a broken dam. My eyes began to swell up with moisture, my heart rate increased, and my writing hand began to tremble. I found an empty waiting room and sat for a few minutes to get myself back together. Eventually my supervisor found me and I cannot remember what he said or did, I wish I could, but he helped me to recover my composure and move on.

The part of this tragic event that stays with me to this day is the checking off of three young human lives on a government form in a small sterile hospital waiting room.

These are not scenes and visions that most new park rangers consider at the beginning of their career nor are they prepared to deal with. I thought that something was wrong with me for a long time since these topics were never discussed or dealt with by peers. You kept it inside and kept on going. You did not want others to know that you were not made of stone and macho enough to be a ranger. It took some time, and although I was not obsessed with these images it made it much easier to deal with once I knew others had the same experiences.

The crashed Trans Am as described in the story above.  That is me in the upper left hand corner holding the flashlight.  You can see EMS personnel trying to remove the lone survivor from the back seat.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

More Reader Reviews for "A Park Ranger's Life"

These reader comments were found on the website Goodreads.

Very interesting, easy read...a good one for a trip that will provide time for intermittent reading. The stories are curious and a bit random--and they are insightful, particularly for those who live near the Blue Ridge Parkway. After reading, I understood much more about what park rangers do...and I had been entertained while being informed. This book may be a bit challenging to find, as it is new and published by a smaller press. If you are in Rke, try Ram's Head.

Note: The book is available in Roanoke, Virginia at Ramshead Books and the Barnes and Noble Tanglewood. It can also be found at,, and

As a young boy, I always wanted to be a park ranger and have liberally taken advantage of the park system over the years. After reading Bruce Bytnar's well written memoir, I am happy that my life did not take that path but am grateful for rangers like Bruce who have devoted much of their lives to keeping our national parks safe and available.


Every successful National Park Ranger develops leadership styles and techniques. Leadership is not only necessary for supervising employees but for managing emergency incidents, disruptive or distraught visitors, and managers to sell them on how they believe things should be done.

After more than thirty two years, many of which were spent as a supervisor and manager in the National Park Service, I have developed a list of tips that I found useful in persuading people to work toward a common goal. These leadership skills are the result of years of daily supervision of a variety of diverse employees and the stress of wildfires, searches, violent crimes, natural disasters, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and special events. I shared my experiences with new National Park employees in Wildland Fire and Fundamentals Training before retiring in 2008.

Credibility is the foundation of leadership. You must establish a level of trustworthiness, reliability, subject knowledge, and integrity with those you intend to be your followers. In the case of day to day work environments this relationship must be built over time and maintained in a consistent and decisive manner. In emergency situations, a leader needs to establish their credibility quickly and effectively. Successful National Park Service employees can function under both situations and be able to unconsciously adapt their skills to ever changing conditions.

Credibility goes beyond being given authority by management. An individual having the title of supervisor does not assure their ability to function as a leader. A mistake I saw many times during my career was when people relied on their administrative authority to demand compliance and dedication from employees to accomplish a common goal. Park Rangers by the nature of their job demands, education, and training are programmed to be thinking and working independently. To have someone tell a park ranger to do some work function that they believe is wrong will result in questions. The worst mistake for a supervisor is to respond “Because I said so,” or “Because I am your boss, that’s why.” Both are quotes I heard numerous times in my career.

I plan to present a series of lessons learned from my thirty two plus year career as a National Park Ranger to help individuals develop and maintain their credibility as leaders. These tools can be applied to any work situation, not just National Parks. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Park Ranger Response

Park Rangers do not always know what they are getting into when responding to calls for help.

I was working at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in 1978 patrolling Lee Drive when I was a bit taken aback to hear Linda my young wife of one year’s voice come over the radio. It was a Saturday afternoon and she was at home in our park house at Chatham Manor. She sounded a bit upset and said there was a 10-33, radio code for an emergency. I thought I could hear another voice in the background and realized it was Mary the historian on duty at Chatham. I asked what the nature of the emergency was but was only told I needed to get there as soon as I could.

Although I asked more questions attempting to find out if this was a medical or criminal problem. I was unable to get a straight answer and the more we communicated the more drastic the situation became in my mind. I turned on my emergency lights and started the five mile response through downtown Fredericksburg. My wife called several more times wanting to know when I would get there. I explained that I was having trouble making my way through traffic since no one was getting out of my way and I suspected a conspiracy to prevent my making it to Chatham. The tone of my wife’s voice started my mind spinning through various possible scenarios. Was there a hostage situation? Had someone been shot or robbed? Maybe it was a serious accident and someone was lying there injured? The more my adrenalin level rose, the tougher it became to get through traffic. When I pushed my way through one intersection I could hear vehicle horns protesting my move.

After what seemed hours I entered the gate at Chatham Manor and viewed my wife and Mary in the front yard of the caretaker’s house where we lived. I jumped out of my car ready to go for my gun or the emergency medical kit in my trunk. As I glanced over the roof of my car I realized that the emergency lights were not on. I looked to the console and the lighted switch for the light bar was still illuminated. I discovered later that a burned out fuse had prevented the lights from working. At least that eliminated the conspiracy theory.

Linda and Mary came running up to me and quickly explained that some kids had gotten into a barn on the property and somehow started up a farm tractor. The tractor had taken off without a driver and was running amuck through the fields of the park. I asked why they could not have told me that on the radio and their response was that they could not find a 10-code for a runaway tractor. Both were very consciences types and did not want to violate radio protocols.

The tractor was nowhere in sight, but I was eventually able to track it to the side of a commercial building outside the park where it had struck with such force it cracked a cinder block wall. I was able to turn off the engine and contacted the owner who then returned it to the barn.

We never did catch the culprits, but I bet they got a scare and a good story out of their experience. Linda later became almost a professional radio dispatcher on many occasions being my only link with the outside world on. She was always clear and precise in her future radio communications.

Our house at Chatham Manor with the patrol car with non functioning emergency lights.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Help Celebrate National Parks For Free

Help to celebrate National Park Week by visiting a National Park area near home.  During this week designated to recognize our National Park System, many entrance and user fees are being waived.  This is your once a year opportunity to enjoy your parks for free.

Budgets Start To Put Squeeze On Park Ranger Certificate Programs

Currently eight colleges and universities nationwide offer park ranger certificate curriculums. These academic programs are approved by the National Park Service to qualify graduates to serve as seasonal interpretive and law enforcement park rangers. Many of the park rangers that visitors encounter during summer seasons are graduates of these programs working between semesters of college.

Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania has one of the more established and successful ranger training programs in the country. I had the pleasure of hiring and working with a number of graduates of Slippery Rock. One such graduate, Lewis Rogers, worked with me as a park ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mid nineties and has moved on to several positions of higher responsibility including two Chief Ranger jobs. Lew has just been named the Superintendent of Petersburg National Military Park in Virginia. He serves as just one example of the exemplary students who have graduated from Slippery Rock’s program.

The current financial stresses on academic institutions at all levels are now affecting the park ranger training programs. Slippery Rock, which is a state college, has announced that after this year they will discontinue their park ranger training program. This decision is based on budgetary constraints and the small number of students in the park ranger program compared to other fields. There may be plans put in place to continue the training during summer months, but this would be difficult to accomplish with these months being the busiest time of year for parks and the period when students could be employed rather than in the classroom.

It will be a loss to the diverse opportunities for students at Slippery Rock University and a shortfall for the National Park Service in its search for qualified and experienced seasonal employees. These are the same seasonal park rangers that become the core of the eventual permanent staff.

For more information click on the title of this article for a direct link.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Park Ranger Travel Tips - Property Safety

When traveling in National Parks visitors enjoy a sense of serenity and safety. Unfortunately there are predators among us who take advantage of visitors knowing that they are traveling and carrying cash, travelers’ checks, and credit cards. Criminals have made a living breaking into vehicles and stealing these and other easily disposable items for cash.

Some of the objects that are attractive to thieves are women’s purses, small backpacks, GPS units, IPods, and cameras. If any of these items are visible from the exterior of the vehicle, criminals could target you as their prey.

Many of these criminal are highly experienced having broken into cars for many years. One such person who was arrested on the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2002 had been supporting himself committing these crimes since the late 1940s. Another had been arrested numerous times over a period of thirty years and when caught was teaching a young accomplice his skills. Many of these criminals can get into and out of your vehicle so quickly and efficiently that victims do not realize they have had anything stolen until they are many miles down the road.

In investigations I am familiar with the criminals will be in a trail head or visitor center parking area watching people get out of their vehicles. They are looking for those women who take their purse and put it under the front seat, people who hide a key somewhere on their car, and people who leave their car unlocked because they are just running in to grab a map or use a restroom. They are also looking for hikers to be away for some time and may follow them down a trail to be sure they are gone from the area. We once had surveillance film of a guy with a hiking stick and camera around his neck who spent several hours at a trail head before he picked a vehicle to break into.

These thieves are like predators in the wild. They choose victims of easy opportunity. Some simple steps can make your vehicle look less attractive for them to exert their efforts. Tips to prevent becoming a victim:

• When hiking or leaving your vehicle for any time, take your cash and credit cards with you.

• Do not leave extra keys anywhere around your vehicle. I have seen many hikers leave a key on a tire or in a gas cap. Thieves check these areas.

• Women should either take their purse with them or lock it in a trunk or other area of the vehicle out of view before you arrive at the point where you will leave the car for an extended period.

• Take GPS units and IPods with you in your pocket or pack.

• Never leave any items of value visible from the outside of your vehicle.

• The first places thieves check for valuables are the glove box and under the passenger seat. Do not trust these for security.

• Observe what other vehicles and persons are around your vehicle when you park. Make a note of anyone that looks suspicious or just seems to be hanging around. Being aware of your surroundings wherever you are is basic personal safety.

These same criminals also target vehicles at restaurants, shopping malls, and events. Taking these simple steps can help protect your property every day.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Parkway Spring Cleanup Is Almost Complete

April 14th, 2010 Blue Ridge Parkway Expert Go to comments

While most of us have begun enjoying the beautiful spring weather, the Blue Ridge Parkway is still trying to recover from winter! Strong winter storms were the norm from December through February and the Parkway has the scars to prove it.

There are road closures still in place due to downed trees and debris in the roadway. While National Park Service personnel have been working hard to ensure that the remaining cleanup is completed as quickly as possible, contracts are also being accepted from small business contractors to help with the volume of work.

For an updated look at road closures you can visit our dedicated Blue Ridge Parkway Road Conditions and Closures page on Virtual Blue Ridge, or call the Parkway Hotline at 828-298-0398.

Today the National Park Service released a schedule of anticipated cleanup and opening dates for the remaining closed sections of the Parkway. Read the full press release and schedule on Virtual Blue Ridge.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blue Ridge Parkway Shooting Victim Dies In Hospital

Taken from the National Park Service Morning Report of April 13, 2010.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Overlook Shooting Incident Now A Homicide

On April 6th, an 18-year-old woman and a 27-year-old man were watching the sunset at Rock Point overlook on the parkway near Stuart’s Draft, Virginia, when they were attacked by a man with a shotgun. Both survived initially, but the man suffered critical injuries to his head and face. On Friday April 9th, Tim Davis, 27, died of his injuries. The other victim, Christina Floyd, was released from the hospital on Thursday. The suspect – Ralph Jackson of Stuart’s Draft – is being held by the state without bond. [Tim
Francis, Pisgah District Ranger]

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spring Crawls Up The Mountain Sides

Days warmed by the sun have brought a rapid bloom and sprouting to the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is that time of year when a person can see the green of leaf development moving from the valley floor toward the top of the higher ridges. Yesterday, if you stood still long enough, you could almost see the green line moving higher up the mountain sides.

Elevation and aspect in the Blue Ridge Mountains are crucial to plant development. In the spring the temperatures are warmer at lower elevations triggering trees to produce their leaves before their brethren at higher and cooler elevations. The result is the creeping of green up the slopes over a week or so until the entire mountain range is clothed in many rich hues of green.

The process is again seen in the fall as the cooler temperatures result in the trees at higher elevations starting their brilliant displays of gold, red, and orange. You can sit back and watch the color move down slopes toward the valleys.

Bloom Tip

I took a drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway between mile post 0 and 29 the other day. Dogwoods are just starting to develop their flowers, but the Service Berry (pronounced sar vis berry by the mountain residents) are in full bloom. You will find the most spectacular bloom of Service Berry I seen in 25 years between mile post 20 and 22.

Plant Theft Case on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The following information is taken from the National Park Service Morning Report for April 12, 2010.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Two Ginseng Poachers Sentenced To Jail Terms

Ranger Joe Darling came upon a white Pontiac parked near milepost 373 along the parkway last October – a vehicle he’d seen parked in other areas several times previously. Darling suspected that it was being used by ginseng poachers, so investigated and found footprints leading from the vehicle into the woods. Following them, he found recently dug holes. Since it was beginning to get dark, Darling returned to his patrol vehicle and conducted surveillance on the Pontiac. He eventually saw two men emerge from the woods. Both exhibited dirt stained hands and clothing, but denied digging ginseng. Darling identified the individuals as Derek and Matthew Arold, both of Brevard, North Carolina, and released them due to lack of evidence. After they left the area, Darling again entered the woods and found a fanny pack containing 105 ginseng roots. He returned the next day and recovered a second fanny pack, this one containing 106 ginseng roots.
It had been hidden in a small rock cave adjacent to where the first fanny pack was found. Darling contacted and interviewed both men and subsequently charged them with illegally harvesting ginseng and conspiracy to harvest ginseng, as well as several other violations associated with the discovery.  On March 9th, Matthew Arold plead guilty to conspiracy to harvest ginseng and was sentenced to 30 days in jail; on April 8th, Derek Arold plead guilty to conspiracy to harvest ginseng and was also sentenced to 30 days in jail. Both were also banned from park and associated USFS lands for two years. [Tim Francis, Pisgah District Ranger]

You can learn more about the problems with plant theft from our National Parks in my book, A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Busy Spring On The Blue Ridge Parkway

 In addition to the normal predictable work to get the Blue Ridge Parkway open for the spring season, unplanned challenges have arisen.

A hard winter has resulted in an increased workload removing fallen and damaged trees from not only the roadway but trails, campgrounds, and picnic areas. This type of work is hard physical labor involving the dangers of working with heavy equipment, chainsaws, and chippers. Once the roads and trails are open, there will still be extensive work to remove the debris from road shoulders.

The Ridge District at the north end of the Parkway was challenged by a shooting incident at Rock Point Overlook this past Monday night. This resulted in a section of road being closed to the public and diversion of park rangers to the investigation and eventual apprehension of the shooter.

Now the Ridge District whose staff is already hard pressed and tested is faced with two wildfires burning along the Parkway near the James River area in Virginia. This has also resulted in a section of the Parkway being closed to the public.

This all reminds me of many springs following hard winters. As the blossoms and wildflowers bloom so do other aspects of nature and man. But you can be assured that the dedicated men and women who work for the National Park Service and the corps of volunteers that assist them will have the Park up and running for your visit this year.

"A Park Ranger's Life" Now Available Through The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation

You can now purchase a copy of A Park Ranger's Life:Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks while helping the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation.  To order the book go to the Foundation's on line bookstore at:
 The profits from the sale will go directly to the Foundation.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Interest In Crime In Our National Parks

Some may ask why I have dedicated so much space on this blog to the shooting that occurred on the Blue Ridge Parkway this past week. There are several reasons.

Crime in our parks is a reflection of the criminal activity in local communities. Generally the types and frequency of crimes in parks are lower than in surrounding jurisdictions, but they can receive more media coverage and expressions of outrage from the public. Most think of National Parks as places of refuge, tranquility, and quiet. We all own a share of the parks and when our perception of sanctuary is shattered it affects us all. It is as if this horrendous criminal act has occurred in our own backyard.

The National Park Service’s Park Rangers and Special Agent that were involved in the initial response and investigation are also close personal friends of mine. These are the people that I worked with daily and on some occasion put my life in the hands of. I congratulate their efforts in aiding with the identification and apprehension of the suspect in this case. I also give thanks that they were all able to do their jobs efficiently and effectively returning safely home to their families.

Many people believe that the bureaucracies of law enforcement agencies develop rivalries that prevent cooperation. It has been my experience in the past - and this case proves as another good example- that this is not always the case. It took effort from all agencies’ involved to work together and make an arrest in such a short period. A citizen called in a tip that led to this arrest, but it was interagency cooperation that resulted in a safe and successful apprehension.

We as citizens should be proud and grateful to law enforcement officers who put it all on the line to keep us safe while ensuring the protection of our national heritage.

More Details in Media on Blue Ridge Parkway Shooting

The following is taken from the Daily Progress web site.  You can access the original story by clicking on the headline above. 

VERONA — Authorities have arrested a mechanic from Augusta County in connection with Monday’s double shooting of a Charlottesville disc jockey and a Fluvanna County High School senior who were watching the sunset from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Ralph Leon Jackson, 56, of the 1800 block of Howardsville Turnpike near Sherando, is facing charges of attempted capital murder, use of a firearm in commission of a felony and potentially other federal and state charges.

“The public can breathe somewhat easier that there’s not a mad gunman out there,” Augusta County Sheriff Randy Fisher said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

The victims, 18-year-old Christina Floyd of Palmyra and 27-year-old Tim Davis of Charlottesville, remain at the University of Virginia Medical Center. Floyd’s condition was listed as stable and improving. Davis’ condition remains critical.

Authorities said they do not believe that Floyd or Davis knew their attacker, and their assailant did not know them.

Investigators remain uncertain what prompted the shooting.

“There’s no rhyme nor reason,” Fisher said. “We don’t know why. We don’t know what the motive was.”

Jeff Hegewald, a cousin of Davis who lives in Miami, said he was glad to hear an arrest had been made.

“We hope justice is served,” he said. “I hope he gets what he deserves, whatever the jury decides when he’s prosecuted.”

Investigators on Wednesday also released additional details about what happened Monday evening.

Floyd and Davis were at the Rock Point Overlook, a scenic 3,115-foot elevation along the Blue Ridge Parkway at around 7:30 p.m. watching the sun sink behind the mountains. The two, police said, have been good friends for around three years.

A gunman then drove up in a red car and fired a shotgun at Floyd and Davis from inside his vehicle around 20 to 25 feet away. Floyd and Davis were struck from behind by multiple shot in the upper parts of their bodies.

The gunman then exited his car and apparently pushed Davis off the ledge, causing him to tumble down the steep mountainside an estimated 150 feet.

Floyd fought her assailant, tearing at his shirt and possibly knocking the shotgun out of his hands.

At one point during the struggle, Floyd told police, she yelled, “Why are you doing this?”

“Because I’m crazy,” the gunman replied.

As the gunman and Floyd fought, she was either pushed or she fell off the embankment and down the slope. The gunman then began hurling rocks at her down below.

Eventually Floyd managed to climb back up and flagged down a passing car. The as-yet-unidentified man and woman picked up Floyd and sped off.

Floyd’s uncle, Tom Haley of California, said the gunman apparently took at least one more shot at the fleeing car.

The couple got Floyd to nearby police and rescue personnel, who rushed her to UVa’s hospital. It took rescuers nearly an hour to reach Davis, who was far down the mountain. A law enforcement officer suffered minor injuries in the rescue effort.

The gunman escaped, but Floyd gave investigators a description of his red car and described her assailant as a white man in his 50s with a medium build and gray hair.

A massive manhunt ensued, conducted by agencies including the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI, the National Park Service, the Virginia State Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

At around 2 a.m. Wednesday, a tipster called the Crimestoppers hotline and gave investigators information that led them to Jackson.

By 4 a.m., a surveillance van was parked outside Jackson’s home on Howardsville Turnpike, a two-lane country road lined with houses.

At 3:15 p.m., roughly two dozen tactical team members from the FBI, Augusta County Sheriff’s Office, ATF and more raided Jackson’s single-story house and took him into custody without incident.

While details of the raid were not immediately available Wednesday, a neighbor described how numerous law enforcement officers ran through her yard to get to Jackson’s house.

“I saw the police officers running with rifles, ready to shoot,” said Donna Meadows, a neighbor who said she is not acquainted with Jackson. Once the tactical team arrived at Jackson’s house, she said, there were several loud bangs.

Investigators searching Jackson’s residence found a shotgun and ammunition matching the type used in Monday’s incident, Fisher said. They also found a red Kia Sephia car.

A few hours later, Jackson’s house was empty. His wife did not answer the door. A sign hanging on it said “Welcome” and “Grandma and Grandpa’s Place.”

Authorities say Jackson is employed as a mechanic and is a lifelong resident of Augusta County. They declined to comment on whether Jackson has a criminal or mental health history.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Fisher praised Floyd for fighting back against her assailant. He praised the unnamed couple who picked her up and possibly saved her life. And he praised the tipster who gave “crucial” information leading to Jackson’s arrest.

“Three sets of people did the right thing,” Fisher said. “It renews faith in human kind, so to speak.”

Authorities said Jackson is being cooperative and is speaking with investigators.

“He is being interviewed as we speak,” Fisher said during the news conference.

Davis, meanwhile, has not been able to speak with investigators, authorities said. “He’s unable to give a statement,” Fisher said. “We’ve tried.”

Davis moved to Charlottesville in fall 2006 to take a job with WNRN, a noncommercial radio station that broadcasts in Charlottesville, Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley.

Davis is employed as the station’s operations director, a position that handles some of the station’s production and engineering needs. He is also well known in Charlottesville as a regular on-air announcer,
hosting modern rock programming weekday evenings along with “The Boombox” rap show twice a week as “DJ Prolapse.”

“Tim Davis is a compassionate coworker who cares deeply about the audience he reaches as an announcer,” Tad Abbey, WNRN’s news director, said in a statement Wednesday. “There are many listeners who call Tim each night to share their personal thoughts. Tim always makes time to be an open ear for them.”

Virginia State Police investigators are looking into the possibility that Monday’s double shooting was connected to the unsolved August 2009 double homicide of Virginia Tech students David Lee Metzler, 19, of Lynchburg, and Heidi Lynn Childs, 18, of Forest, at a campground in Jefferson National Forest in Montgomery County, Fisher said.

Law enforcement officers praised the collaboration among state, local and federal agencies in response to Monday’s shooting. Steve Stinnett, chief ranger for the parkway, said it was one of the most professional jobs he has seen.

Stinnett added that the Blue Ridge Parkway is safe once again.

"This situation is resolved,” he said. “[Visitors] can return to enjoy the parkway as they normally would.”

More On Shooting Arrest

The following was taken from the National Park Service Morning Report;

Blue Ridge Parkway

Man Arrested For Shooting Two People In Park

On April 6th, an 18-year-old woman and a 27-year-old man were watching the
sunset at Rock Point overlook on the parkway near Stuart’s Draft, Virginia,
when they were attacked by a man with a shotgun. Both survived, but the man
suffered critical injuries to his head and face and his prognosis is
uncertain at this time. The Augusta County Sheriff’s Office led the
multi-agency investigation, which included NPS rangers and special agents,
FBI and ATF agents, Forest Service officers, and Virginia State Police
troopers. An anonymous “Crime Stoppers” tip was subsequently received that
identified Ralph Jackson of Stuart’s Draft as a suspect. Jackson was taken
into custody yesterday afternoon through a cooperative effort by the above
agency, supported by a Park Police tactical team and their Eagle 1
helicopter and crew. Jackson has been interviewed and has given information
consistent with his having done the shooting. Prosecutors form the US
Attorney’s Office and August County will determine what charges will be
made and which jurisdiction will handle the case. The park is grateful for
the assistance received law enforcement personnel from all the involved
agencies, including Shenandoah NP and New River Gorge NR, and for the way
they managed this case. The hard work of the investigators was critical in
attaining the positive and expedient outcome. For a related news story,
click on the link below. [Steve Stinnett, Chief Ranger]

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Arrest Made For Blue Ridge Parkway Shooting

The following is taken from the News Virginia's web site.  You can access the original story by clicking on the title above.

Updated at 5:15 p.m.

VERONA — Authorities this afternoon arrested a man suspected in the double-shooting on the Blue Ridge Parkway Monday night.

Augusta County Sheriff Randy Fisher said Ralph Leon Jackson, 56, was arrested on attempted capital murder and attempted murder charges and related firearm charges in connection to the shootings of Charlottesville disc jockey Tim Davis, 27, and Christina Floyd, 18, of Palmyra.

“The public can breathe somewhat easier,“ Fisher said of the arrest.

Davis remains in critical condition and Floyd is in fair condition, Fisher said.

Authorities said Jackson, a married mechanic, fired shotgun blasts at the victims as they watched the sunset off the Blue Ridge Parkway, 10 miles from the Afton entrance, at Rock Point Overlook. The shooting launched a manhunt that pulled in resources from Virginia State Police, the FBI, the National Park Service and other jurisdictions.

Sheriff’s deputies, state police and federal agents combed the region Tuesday and Wednesday seeking the suspect, whom authorities described as a white man of medium build with long, gray hair and who they said fled in what might have been a red Ford Taurus. Numerous sightings came to authorities based on those descriptions.

The arrest was made around 3:15 p.m. on Howardsville Turnpike in Stuarts Draft, which connects to the parkway.

Monika Mayr, deputy superintendent of the parkway, said she was happy the arrest was made without incident.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls, you know, is it safe to go on the parkway?,” Mayr said. “Rangers have been on high alert, naturally.”

No New Developments on the Shooting Investigation

As of this morning, there is no new developments on the shooting investigation on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An Interesting Sign Seen on the National Mall

This sign was seen on the National Mall near the Washington Monument.  It conveys an attitude I wish all visitors to National Parks would adopt.

More Media Coverage on the Blue Ridge Parkway Shooting

(Photo Mike Tripp/The News Leader)

The following is taken from The News Leader web site. To go directly to the web site you can click on the above title.

AFTON — As a 27-year-old man with muscular dystrophy and his 18-year-old female friend enjoyed a Monday night sunset at the Rock Point Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, an unknown assailant pulled up in a red car and fired a shotgun blast into their backs, according to the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office.

As the injured Charlottesville man tumbled nearly 150 feet down the overlook, the shooter got out of his car and a life or death struggle between the gunman and the Fluvanna teen took place.

“If she had given up, she might be dead,” Sheriff Randy Fisher said this afternoon.

Authorities continue to search for the suspect.

Fisher said the ordeal began shortly after 7:30 p.m. when the gunman, possibly driving a Ford Taurus, drove his car onto the overlook and shot the two victims as he sat in his car. The sheriff said the victims, who were sitting on a wall with their backs facing the gunman, have been friends for several years.

After firing the first volley, the gunman exited his car. Despite being shot, the teen met the gunman head-on.

“There was a struggle,” Fisher said. “She basically is a feisty lady. She didn’t give up the ghost. She took the struggle to him.”

As the teen fought for her life, Fisher said a man and his wife happened to drive by the scene in a Chevrolet Silverado pickup. That’s when the teen made a dash for the truck.

“The female victim was screaming for help,” the sheriff said.

Fisher said the teen believes a second shot was fired, and the couple who came upon the scene thought their truck might have been hit by a second volley from the shotgun as they tried to speed away. However, a Virginia State Police investigator combed the vehicle thoroughly Monday night and found no evidence that it was struck.

Medical personnel transported the teen to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. Using ropes, pulleys and a stokes basket, it took authorities hours to rescue the second victim, who was airlifted to the Charlottesville hospital. As of Tuesday afternoon, he was listed in serious condition. Asked if his injuries were life-threatening, Fisher said, “He’s in grave condition.”

The suspect is described as a white male with a medium build. Fisher said the suspect is about 50 years old, stands roughly 5 feet, 8 inches tall and has thinning gray hair. He is no longer believed to be in the Blue Ridge Parkway area.

Fisher said the victims did not know the gunman. “At this point, it appears random,” he said.

A green Honda used by the victims was recovered, along with a wheelchair.

The shooting took place at mile marker 10. Initially, authorities on the scene reported there were three shooting victims, but that number was reduced to two early Tuesday morning.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Park Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Virginia State Police and the Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive also are investigating the double shooting.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office at 245-5333 or Crime Stoppers at (800) 322-2017.

Shooting Update - Sheriff's Department Media Release

Press release from the Augusta County Sheriff's Office
April 6, 2010
For Immediate Release
Contact: Sheriff Fisher or Captain Hanger

On April 5, 2010, the Augusta County Sheriff's Office received a call that two people had been shot and wounded at the Rock Point Overlook, mile maker 10, on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The call was received at the Augusta County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) at 7:43 pm. The victims are a white female, age 18, from the Palmyra area of Fluvanna County, Virginia and a white male, age 27, of Charlottesville, Virginia. The female is in stable condition. The male is in serious condition and both are at the UVA Hospital in Charlottesville. Both were struck by a shotgun blast in the upper area of their bodies. The male fell some 150 feet off of the overlook after being struck. The female was picked up by a man and wife who were driving along the parkway. They called 911 and met law enforcement and rescue officials at the Afton Mountain intersection of the parkway. The victims were in a green Honda passenger car which was recovered at the overlook where they had been sitting watching the sunset.

At this time, law enforcement officials are looking for a suspect vehicle described as a red or maroon passenger car, possibly a Ford Taurus. The vehicle is believed to be operated by a white male of medium build with gray thinning hair. The male is believed to be armed with a shotgun and is considered dangerous.

The investigation is being conducted by the FBI, National Park Service, BATF, Virginia State Police and the Augusta County Sheriff's Office.

Anyone who may have any information or may have been on the Parkway in the area of the crime is asked to call Central Shenandoah Crime Stoppers at 800-332-2017 or the Augusta County Sheriff's Office at 540-245-5333.

Shooting Last Night On The Blue Ridge Parkway

Photo- Media General New Service

The following is from Channel 29 News from Charlottesville, Virginia. Everyone should keep the law enforcement officers involved in this man hunt in their thoughts and prayers today.

Posted: Apr 05, 2010 8:40 PM EDT

Updated: Apr 06, 2010 7:06 AM EDT

5:30 Update: Manhunt Underway for Blue Ridge Parkway Shooter

Shooter On Blue Ridge Parkway - Update 11p.m.

Shooter On The Blue Ridge Parkway A manhunt is underway this morning after an attack last night left at least three people injured, including a state trooper. It happened just before 8:00 p.m. Monday on the Blue Ridge Parkway, near the Humpback Rock area, just south of Afton Mountain.

Approximately 25 law enforcement officers from various agencies are participating in the manhunt. Officers believe the suspect is armed with a shotgun, and was driving a red vehicle. He is being described as a white male with long gray hair.

Monday night multiple agencies confirmed reports of at least three people injured, possibly more, spread throughout the area.

One of the victims, a female, was airlifted to the University of Virginia Medical Center. We don't know what her injuries are - whether she was shot or suffered blunt force trauma from a fall. We are told she is speaking with investigators. She is listed in "fair" condition, according to a hospital spokesman. We have been given her name off the record but we are withholding it until that name is made official.
The condition of the second victim, a male, is unknown at this time. There have been indications that it may have been a fatality, but we have not received official confirmation.
The third victim is said to be a state trooper who was not shot, but injured in a rescue attempt. The trooper's injuries are said to be not very serious.
The National Park Service issued a statement at approximately 5:15 this morning – 9 hours after all this began – in which they say they are calling this a ‘double shooting.'

Karen Beck-Herzog of the National Park Service stated "I can confirm that an incident occurred on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Rock Point Overlook in the evening last night. And, that there were two victims, a male and a female, both adult, I don't have any information about their condition. There's currently an investigation ongoing between Augusta County, the National Park Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
As a precaution and to make sure the scene is clear for their investigation, the National Park Service has closed the first 13 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Rock Fish Gap entrance on Afton Mountain all the way to mile post 13.
A complicating factor for the search is the lack of communication on Afton Mountain. Also, the Park Service is having technical problems with their transfer tower.

We have a crew on the scene; count on us to bring you all the developing details of this story.

Reported By NBC29 HD News

Monday, April 5, 2010

Park Rangers Receive Awards for Tracking Suicidal Person

On July 21st, a blood-covered vehicle was discovered unattended at Buena Vista Overlook in the Ridge District. During the investigation, it was determined that the missing operator of the vehicle was most likely a
suicidal subject. Rangers Cook and Sears became part of a tracking team that was pursuing this unknown subject through the woods near milepost 45.

The subject had a protection order issued against him, and was believed to be bleeding heavily. Due to their participation on this tracking team, the subject, disoriented from blood lost and the ingestion of drugs, was
located and administered life saving rescue. According to the medical doctor, the subject would likely have slipped into a drug-induced coma within 30 more minutes had he not been found. His chance of survival would have been minimal had it not been for the quick and effective actions of this team. These Rangers' heroic efforts in this case certainly saved a life, and exemplified team spirit and cooperation.

Miranda Cook received a Protection Ranger Award Coin for her participation
on the tracking team in this incident.

Jeremy Sears received a Protection Ranger Award Coin for providing vital
security to the trackers during this incident.

Zeph Cunningham received a Supervisory Ranger Award Coin for leading the
tracking team to a successful conclusion.

The above is taken from the documentation of the awards presented to these three park rangers.

Another Park Ranger Blog

Here is a link to another blog related to Park Rangering.  It is written by Amy Conyers, also known as Ranger Amy, and documents her daily activities as a Florida State Park Ranger.  I recommend checking it out.  Her writing is entertaining and her photos are great.

You can find it at:

Author Bruce Bytnar to talk about his book, A Park Ranger's Life

The Friends of the Roanoke County Public Library announced that author Bruce Bytnar will discuss and sign his book, A Park Ranger’s Life, at the HQ/419 Library, 3131 Electric Road, S.W., on Monday evening, May 10 at 7:00 pm. Bytnar will be the featured speaker in the Friends of the Library author series, “Virginia Voices” for the month of May. This event which includes book talk, book signing and reception is open to the public at no cost.

This event, which was originally scheduled in January at the Tanglewood Mall Barnes & Noble Store, was re-scheduled to May due to bad weather. “This time, though, the location of the talk and book signing will be the HQ/419 Library at Cave Spring Corners,” stated Darlene Smithwick, the Reference and Adult Services Coordinator for the library system. “He’s a wonderful speaker with a lot of funny anecdotal stories about his life as a Park Ranger,” continued Smithwick.

Rockbridge County resident and retired National Park Ranger Bruce W. Bytnar has published his first book, A Park Ranger’s Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks, based on his experiences during more than thirty two year career. Twenty three years of his career was spent as a District Ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway including the section through Rockbridge County. According to the publisher, Wheatmark Publishing, the book talks about, among other things, a wild bear who favors Kentucky Fried Chicken, a fugitive wanted in eight states, a dog that saves his owner's life, wildland firefighters battling nature and fire, a ghost haunting a colonial mansion, and hikers who stay lost because they think searchers calling their names are wild animals

Mr. Bytnar started his career in 1975 as a seasonal park ranger at Fort McHenry National Monument in Baltimore, Maryland. He later transferred to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia and then worked in two areas on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Mr. Bytnar and his family moved to Rockbridge County in 1985 when he accepted the position as James River District on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Mr. Bytnar retired in January 2008.

Submitted by Michael Meise

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Retired Park Ranger Visits Washington, D.C.

My wife Linda and I enjoyed a beautiful day in Washington DC this week. We visited the Library of Congress and walked the National Mall to the Tidal Basin enjoying the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

While at the Tidal Basin we met Officer Jones of the US Park Police on his horse, shown above, taking a report on a missing 14 year old. I over heard one of his early questions of the reporting mother was, "What kind of shoes was he wearing?"

So even in the urban environment of our National Capital the importance of footwear awareness is an important source of information in the case of lost or missing persons.

The US Park Police is a branch of the National Park Service that provides law enforcement protection at our monuments and parks in Washington, D.C., San Fransisco, and New York City. The Park Police finds it roots in one of the oldest law enforcement agencies in the country. Park Police were originally established in 1791 by George Washington to protect National Monuments. These officers continue to provide professional law enforcement protection at National Park areas in our larger urban centers.

Friday, April 2, 2010

"A Park Ranger's Life" Featured on National Park Service Intranet

The book "A Park Ranger's Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks" is featured during the period of April 1 to April 6. A link to Wheatmark Publishing is also being provided for book orders.