Thursday, May 27, 2010

Increase In Violence Against National Park Rangers

On May 21st I published a post entitled “Risking Their Live To Protect Us All.” In that post I stated that,

I believe that current increased negative rhetoric about government and government employees at all levels contributes to this attitude of non-compliance and fighting back.

A May 26th Los Angeles Times article by Meade Gruver entitled “Group Says Anti-Government Feelings May Fuel Attacks, Threats Against National Park Rangers” supports the premise I proposed in my post. The article points to an increase in assaults on National Park Rangers since 2006.

To view the article, go to the link at:,0,4562652.story

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Geocaching Trail to Open Near Blue Ridge Parkway

This June 5th is National Trail Day and marks the debut of the Gems of Rockbridge County Geocache Trail in Virginia. The Trail has been developed by the organizations Rockbridge Area Tourism, Rockbridge County, and Celebrate Buena Vista. A grant was awarded for this partnership to develop a geocaching experience which ties into The Blue Ridge Parkway's 75th Anniversary Celebration.

Geocaching is a growing recreational activity throughout the United States. Participants can obtain the geographic coordinates of caches hidden by others and then use handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) units to find them. It is similar to a high tech scavenger or treasure hunt. Caches can consist of secreted containers with small items that can be taken as souvenirs and or the chance to leave a token behind. Virtual caches can lead the hunter to the answer of a puzzle or riddle. Many Geocache enthusiasts then share their finds on the web site;

The Gems of Rockbridge County Geocache Trail showcases the county and communities adjacent to The Blue Ridge Parkway and their cultural and natural relationships.

This Trail fills a niche of interest that cannot be satisfied on The Blue Ridge Parkway since geocaching is prohibited in National Park Service Areas. This fun activity is enjoyed by individuals and families. There will be 10-12 caches secreted in the Rockbridge County area. Participants can pick up a passport with information that will lead them through the trail at the Buena Vista and Lexington Visitor Centers in Virginia. The first two hundred people to locate all the caches will receive a commemorative coin.

For more information go to:

Road and Weather Conditions for the Blue Ridge Parkway

I have gotten several requests from readers on how to find information about road conditions, closures, and weather on The Blue Ridge Parkway.  The National Park Service provides this information updated daily at the following sources;

Telephone Recorded Message:  828 298-0398

On the Web at:

This up to date information can prove to be invaluable when planning your vacation trip down the 469 mile scenic drive. 

Also plan plenty of time to stop and enjoy the vistas, flora, fauna, exhibits, and unique communities along your route.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is designed for leisurely driving and should never be considered a direct route or short cut to anywhere.  Speed limits are 45 mph most of the way with reduced limits to 35 mph in developed areas and dangerous curves.

Enjoy your travels.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Threats to the Blue Ridge As We Know It

Twelve thousand years ago when Native Americans inhabited the mountain gaps and valleys and later as European settlers moved into the area; the American chestnut was the dominant tree of the Southern Appalachians. It provided shelter, food, and trade for all these peoples. Between 1900 and 1908 a fungus known as chestnut blight was introduced through imported chestnut lumber or potted trees from Asia. The final result was the eventual near extinction of this species of giant of the Blue Ridge.

Today we are facing similar threats to native species of vegetation in the Southern Appalachians. The new peril is coming in the form of funguses, insects, and exotic plants.

Hemlock Wooly Adelgid was first found on the east coast in 1951 near Richmond, Virginia. Scientists believe that these microscopic insects originated in Southern Japan. The adelgids are first noted as a foamy looking substance on the bottom of needles and branches. The appearance is that they eventually suck the life from the trees to the point that entire stands on mountain sides quickly die. Along The Blue Ridge Parkway the impact can be seen in the canopies of dead trees in the area of mile post 35 at Yankee Horse Gap and the Peaks of Otter Picnic area where the National Park Service has had to cut down some of these once majestic trees to maintain public safety on trails and roadways.

Dogwood trees provide a beautiful spring displays and provide food sources for birds and animals in the mountains of the East. These native trees are being eradicated by a fungus known as the Dogwood Anthracnose first identified in the mid 1970s. Vistas along The Blue Ridge Parkway that were once carpeted with dogwoods are now completely devoid of these trees. The good news is that individual specimen trees do appear to be resistant to the fungus. Scientists are studying these individual trees attempting to find an answer to this mystery.

Unfortunately there is no easy fix for either of these important species of trees. The treatment in the open forest environment does not appear feasible at this time. One scientist explained to me that the only way to save any single tree is to treat it with as much care as you would give a prized rose bush. Research continues including experimenting with natural enemies for the adelgids and breeding of fungus resistant dogwood species. Scientists will continue to work on these challenges as they are still striving to reintroduce the chestnut to the Southern Appalachian mountain slopes.

For more information you can refer to:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Risking Their Lives to Protect Us All

Yesterday two police officers in Arkansas stopped a van on the interstate and were murdered by the side of the road. It is still unknown what minor violation resulted in the officers pulling the vehicle over, but they ended up giving their lives to protect us all.

Every time I too often hear of law enforcement officers having their lives taken in service to their communities I am saddened and reminded of my fellow National Park Rangers who lost their lives during my career with the National Park Service. During the thirty two plus years of my service eighteen National Park Rangers died in the line of duty.

Each of these deaths took their own pound of flesh leaving emotional scars behind. The one that for me is most heartfelt and comes to mind after incidents like the one yesterday in Arkansas is the death of Park Ranger Joe Kolodski on June 21, 1998.

Joe was stationed at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and started the day taking his wife and three children to church for Fathers’ Day. When he came on duty that afternoon there was a report of a man threatening visitors with a rifle in an overlook on the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway. Joe was the first law enforcement officer to arrive on the scene and within minutes he was ambushed and shot down by the suspect who was hiding in the woods.

Joe’s death sent shock waves throughout the National Park Service. For me, not only did this occur in the park where I worked, but I had met Joe several times during training and details making it even more persona. The effects on Joe’s family and those close to him are incomprehensible and heartbreak they will have to deal with the rest of their lives.

All law enforcement officers face the possibility of death or injury every day. They never know what volatile situation or violent person they may encounter. In today’s society the potential for violent reactions from individuals to even the presence of law enforcement officers is on the rise. Individuals appear to be quick to resort to violent reactions to anyone questioning their actions or behavior. I believe that current increased negative rhetoric about government and government employees at all levels contributes to this attitude of non-compliance and fighting back.

Recently at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park there has been a marked increase in vehicle operators running from park rangers when they try to stop them for traffic violations. These incidents result in danger not only for the park rangers but the operators their passengers and the public. This is another example of the increased propensity of violence that law enforcement officers have to face daily.

We all need to show support and cooperation with law enforcement officers not only in times of crisis, but in our everyday lives.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Congress Recognizes Search and Rescue Workers

From the National Park Service Morning Report for May 19, 2010-

On Friday, May 14th, the United States Senate unanimously passed Resolution 526, which honors the men and women who perform search and rescue (SAR) throughout the United States. The resolution acknowledges the role that these professionals and volunteers provide to our country, and sets aside the week of May 16th to May 22nd as National Search and Rescue week. It also encourages the people of the United States to observe and hold ceremonies and activities that promote awareness and appreciation of the role SAR personnel provide for their communities.

The National Park Service provides SAR services for persons within NPS areas as well as assistance to local agencies through mutual aid agreements. The NPS responds to approximately 4,500 SAR incidents annually, accumulating between 50,000 to 100,000 personnel hours. Incidents range from searching for lost hikers to performing complex technical rescues in high altitude, mountainous environments. Various types of technical equipment and vehicles are used to perform these jobs including: computer-based SAR programs, satellite technology, helicopters, snow vehicles, and watercraft.

The text of the resolution follows. For the text of Senator Cantwell’s statement introducing the resolution, click on the link at bottom.


Whereas the National Association for Search and Rescue and local search and rescue units across the United States have designated May 16 through May 22, 2010, as ‘‘National Search and Rescue Week’’;

Whereas the Senate recognizes the importance of search and rescue services that are provided by both salaried and volunteer citizens through county sheriff offices and military entities;

Whereas throughout the history of the United States, search and rescue personnel have served the people of this Nation by helping to save the lives of fellow citizens who are lost or injured;

Whereas search and rescue personnel continually offer educational services that provide individuals with the survival knowledge necessary to live safely in diverse environments, from mountains to deserts and across both the urban and remote areas of this Nation;

Whereas search and rescue personnel train continually in order to maintain mission readiness and to be able to address complex search and rescue situations with both knowledge and skill;

Whereas search and rescue personnel are instrumental during national emergencies or natural disasters, as they are willing and able to respond and remain on missions for many weeks;

Whereas search and rescue personnel are required to be focused and dedicated in order to carry out missions that involve personal sacrifice of time, finance, and property, and place their own lives in danger;

Whereas in the United States, more than 500 individuals have sacrificed their lives during search and rescue missions or training; and

Whereas search and rescue personnel shall always be recognized as essential to protecting the lives of the citizens of this Nation: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate —

(1) designates May 16 through May 22, 2010, as ‘‘National Search and Rescue Week’’; and

(2) encourages the people of the United States to observe this week with appropriate ceremonies and activities that promote awareness and appreciation of the role that search and rescue personnel perform in their communities ‘‘so that others may live’’.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Safety Around Wildlife In National Parks

Learn more about safety around wildlife, including black bears, in our National Parks at the blow link.

Park Ranger Hiking Tips

National Park Rangers throughout the country spend 50,000 and 100,000 hours every year rendering aid to and searching for lost or injured hikers. Even the simplest hike can quickly become complicated by changes in weather, unexpected terrain, minor injuries, inappropriate clothing and gear, or group members becoming separated.

Here are some simple tips to help prevent you or a family member from becoming a statistic in a report and ruining a wonderful park experience.

• Plan ahead for your hike. Review a map of the area or check for a map posted at the trail head. Having a vision of the trail route and where it goes will be helpful should you become confused by unofficial social trails.

• After reviewing a map and if available a description of the trail, do not take on a hike that is more physically difficult than all the members of your group can handle.

• Check the weather report for the area before your hike. Dress and carry appropriate gear to remain comfortable and safe during your time outdoors. Remember that in mountainous terrain temperatures drop sharply at night, so be prepared to prevent hypothermia should you be late getting to your destination or vehicle.

• Proper foot wear is essential not only for comfort but to prevent injuries. If hiking in rocky terrain, be sure to wear stout hiking boots with good tread. Most of the injuries treated by park rangers involve slips and falls on trails by people wearing inappropriate foot wear.

• Stay on the designated trails. The vast majority of the searches for lost hikers I worked during my career involved people getting off the trail, getting confused, and then trying to cut cross country to get to their destination.

• Keep your group within sight of each other. Never let some members, especially children, run ahead of the group. This is a recipe for disaster when members of your hiking group take a different trail and become separated. The result is generally people overreacting and contributing to the complexity of the situation. This reaction is amplified when the missing hikers are children. Well intended emotions then kick in and decision making becomes more difficult for members of the group. One tip is to have the slowest member of your group walk in the front and everyone has to stay behind them.

• Carry water even on short hikes. You may be amazed how quickly you can dehydrate while hiking outdoors. Dehydration and hypothermia both result in confusion and a loss of decision making skills.

Following these simple practices will help you to enjoy your next visit to any park.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

National Park Geologist Dies Following Program at Denali

The following is taken from the National Park Service Morning Report for May 13, 2010.

Phil Brease, Denali National Park and Preserve’s geologist since 1986, died yesterday while leading a field trip for a Tri-Valley School science class taking place at Garner Point south of Healy.
Brease, 60, had remained behind when the students returned to the bus. Tri-Valley teacher Mark Jordan walked back to where the class had been, and found Brease unconscious on the trail and not breathing. He called 911 and immediately began CPR. A Tri-Valley Fire Department ambulance and medics arrived within ten minutes and continued attempts at resuscitation, but were unsuccessful. The incident is being investigated by Alaska State Troopers and the Office of the State Medical Examiner, but all indications at this time are that he likely succumbed to natural causes.
Phil Brease was a Denali institution who was passionate about his work. He inspired countless numbers of park employees, visitors, teachers, and students through his programs, seminars, and field trips on the park’s geology and its recently discovered dinosaur resources. He was recognized for his scientific contributions to the knowledge of the park’s geological resources by having a species of extinct marine mollusk, found only in Denali, named after him – Myrospirifer breasei.
Brease was also passionate about the preservation and restoration of the park’s resources. For over two decades he has been the key person responsible for the cleanup of hazardous waste and the restoration of mining sites and streams in Kantishna.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Seasonal Migration of Park Rangers

May is upon us and so begins the annual migration of seasonal park rangers to our National Parks. This month many National Park Service areas will be bringing on duty the majority of their temporary seasonal park rangers to work visitor centers, campgrounds, patrol roads and trails, and provide emergency medical, fire, and rescue operations.

These park rangers show up with unbounded enthusiasm and with many hopes. It is energizing for year round employees to see new seasonal rangers arriving for training. Their passion is contagious and they show up anxious to start their work helping to educate and protect visitors. When you visit a National Park it is most likely that the park ranger you meet will be a seasonal employee.

Seasonal park rangers come from a variety of backgrounds and levels of experience.

There are the college students working in the parks for the summer to gain experience and help pay for school. Many are hopeful of future opportunities that could develop into full time permanent National Park Service employment.

There are teachers who escape the classroom to the outdoors to refresh their outlook on life, supplement their meager income, and grow in ways that can provide enhanced experiences that can be brought back to the classroom.

Increasingly you will find retirees from a first career now working in National Parks as seasonal park rangers. Many are taking advantage of this opportunity to live a dream they have had since childhood of working as a park ranger.

Returning military veterans will also be found working as seasonal park rangers attempting to establish themselves back in civilian life and perhaps start a new career.

There are many others who will work this summer as seasonal park rangers. They all share the sense of adventure and dedication that is necessary to achieve the mission of the National Park Service to preserve and protect our nation’s resources for future generations.

Thanks seasonals for all you do.

"A Park Ranger's Life" at Roanoke County Library

Last night I had the pleasure of speaking to an enthusiastic crowd at the headquarters of the Roanoke County Library.  Interesting questions from the audience ranged from changes in firearms laws in National Parks, differences between the US Forest Service and the Park Service, bears, mountain lions, and how to start a career in the parks.

Thanks goes out to the Roanoke County Library for hosting this event.

Signs of Spring Article In Old Dominion Wings Newsletter

An article printed earlier on this blog related to motorcycle safety on the Blue Ridge Parkway was reprinted with permission in the Gold Wing Road Riders Association Newsletter "Old Dominion Wings."

To access the article go to:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Park Ranger Favorites – Wildflowers

Wildflowers are popping up in a spectacular show all through the Southern Appalachians and the National Parks that protect one of the most diverse plant populations in the world. There are so many different species of wildflowers that entire books are written and illustrated to describe just a fraction of the total number of native flowering plants. With such variety available, each fan has adopted their favorite plants. After working for 27 years as a park ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway, here are a few of mine that you can now find in bloom.

Trillium – This wildflower seems quite simple when first found, but when examined more closely it reveals a complex symmetry that always draws my attention. The plant is well named for tri having the root meaning of three is quite descriptive of this low growing plant that can cover some forest floors like a brightly colored carpet. When in bloom during May every plant has three pedals and layers of three leaves. Colors vary from a deep pink to a faded almost white. Although there are several species of this showy plant, the most prevalent species I have seen is the painted trillium. They generally bloom from April to June and I viewed several impressive displays in the mountains this week.

Azalea – There are two species of native azaleas found in the Southern Appalachians. The one that is bright pink is known as pinxter flower. My favorite and much less seen is the orange flame azalea. Both of these plants are in full bloom now on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

If you stop and take the time to hike a trail anywhere in the Southern Appalachians within the next few weeks, walk slowly, look around you, and you may be greeted with a beautiful gift of nature.

George Wright Society National Park Essays

In preparation for the centennial of the National Parks, the George Wright Society is publishing a series of thought provoking essays about the future of our parks.  The latest in the series is entitled "An Idea in Trouble: Thoughts about the Future of Traditional National Parks in the United States" and written by William C. Tweed. 

You can access this and other past essays at:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"A Park Ranger's Life" at Roanoke Library

On Monday May 10th I will be speaking at the Roanoke County Library on Electric Road.  The talk will center on stories from my book, "A Park Ranger's Life,", writing the book, and answering questions about careers with the National Park Service and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Copies of the book will be available and I will be pleased to personalize and sign books for readers.

The program will begin at 7pm, free, and the public is welcome.

What a great way to remember the Blue Ridge Parkway's 75th Anniversary.

Monday, May 3, 2010

National Park Wildlife Safety Tips

Below is a link to an article about safety around wildlife in Canadian National Parks.  In my book "A Park Ranger's Life" you will find more detail on how to safely react to viewing wildlife in our National Parks.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Park Ranger Leadership – Credibility

As I stated in my last post on leadership, to be an effective leader you need to establish credibility. This is true in any situation whether the leader is a supervisor, working with peers, or the general public. Many successful techniques used by effective leaders appear to be common sense. What makes them uncommon is their application consistently on a daily basis.

In my experience, one of the successful ways to establish my credibility as a leader was to encourage employees and coworkers to think like leaders themselves when problem solving. I would attempt to give people the necessary skills, information sources, opportunities, and then enable them to follow through on their own solutions.

Avoid relying on your administrative authority and certifications to be all that is needed to establish your credibility. Talking about your expertise and accomplishments without exemplarity actions are weak foundations of reliability to influence others. Show your abilities through example and work. People react more positively to a person who pitches in to help get obtain a goal then one who tells others how to do it. Guiding a person toward a goal has a more positive impact on their achievement and confidence then you directing them to do it your way.

As a college professor told me years ago, it is more important to know where to find the answers then to know the answers themselves. As an example; the sources of those answers may be in the other people you work with. Learn to identify individuals’ strengths and go to them to find answers in those subject areas. It may not be the best policy to always have a quick answer to every situation. Ask yourself, “How many people like to be around a know it all?” You may also have heard others say that they do not like going to someone with questions because they always have an answer. Involving others by asking questions in search of answers creates an atmosphere of inclusiveness and builds toward your credibility with others.

In day to day operations it is better to find the right answer to a question or problem then to go with the thought on the top of your head. Unless the issue at hand is one you have dealt with directly and have a thorough knowledge of, it is never a mistake to say you will look into it and get back with an answer. This technique is important when dealing with the general public and can prevent the spreading of misinformation or confusion. It is sometimes even helpful to tell others where they can find their own answer to a question or issue. Such empowerment creates good followers, develops future leaders, and garners support for your organization.

More later –

Park Rangers and Call Outs

Very few National Park Service areas have enough staffing to provide for 24 hour coverage by protection rangers who provide law enforcement, emergency medical, search and rescue, and fire duties. As a result these personnel are on call 24/7 whenever an emergency arises. The frequency of such calls back to duty are frequent, unscheduled, and are detrimental to a normal life such as making plans with families or even getting a full night’s sleep. As a district ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway I averaged ten or twelve late or middle of the night telephone calls per week. On some nights I would get three to five telephone calls for separate incidents. Life threatening emergencies were part of the job. Many times calls were made by people who in their opinion an emergency existed, but any other rational person would disagree. Frequently the reports or information requests that came to me had nothing to do with the park I was working in.

There was the time that a woman called my residence at 2am to ask for the latest weather forecast. I was still trying to achieve full consciousness when I mumbled the forecast I had heard before I went to bed. She became irate and demanded the latest weather report because she was planning a picnic the next day. I tried to explain that she had gotten me out of bed and that she should call the US Weather Service. The woman became even more agitated and started attacking my lack of dedication and that I was a poor example of a public servant. I hung up and she wrote a letter of complaint to her congressman. I then had to draft a letter of response to the congressman.

Being awakened from a deep slumber makes it challenging in the least to absorb critical information when a call comes in. There were several times when I would be called for a motor vehicle crash or other such incident. I would get dressed in my uniform, put on all my gear, get into my vehicle, start the engine and then ask myself, “Now what location did the dispatcher say this was at.” That was actually a good sign because at this point I knew I was awake and I would call the dispatcher to repeat the report.

On one such occasion I got a call for a motor vehicle crash and possible suicide attempt. I went through getting dressed - including putting in my contact lenses - got in my vehicle and started my response with emergency lights and siren going. I noted as I was driving that all the roadway signs looked a bit out of focus. I remember thinking that my eyes must be irritated and I kept blinking and rubbing around them to generate tears. It was not until hours later when I got home and was preparing to get back to bed that I found that I had used my wife’s contact lenses that night.

Fatigue is dangerous and can become a factor that affects not only performance but decision making. As a National Park Ranger I was constantly fighting sleep deprivation and its effects on my job and family life. Call outs and phone calls in the middle of the night were the greatest contributors to this fatigued condition. When people would ask me what I would do when I retired, one of my stock answers was that I would sleep for three years to catch up on all the nights I lost working for the National Park Service. I am still working on catching up.