Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Park Ranger's Fall Color Tips

This was originally published in 2010.  The advice still applies and you may find it useful in planning any "leaf peeping" expeditions to the Southern Appalachians.

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

October is the peak visitation season for this region of the country and a pretty weekend can see huge crowds in the parks and surrounding communities.  Many small towns and rural areas will be hosting festivals and art events that draw hundreds if not thousands of people.  

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

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

Competition for hotel rooms can be almost as exciting as some of the football games.
Traffic in prime viewing areas may also become congested which will result in slow downs and delays. So make sure your plans for the distances to travel are reasonable and attainable. Allow a cushion of time in your planning for heavy traffic. Come the end of the day you do not want to be hundreds of miles away from your planned stop for the night.

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

A Park Ranger’s Life Lessons – Think Twice About That Tattoo

Tattoos have become common in our society.  Movie stars, athletes, gang members, military personnel, and ordinary people at times cover their bodies with skin art.  At times some perhaps do not put enough time and thought in designing their body ink.

A few years ago one of the Park Rangers I worked with had a pickup truck pass him going the opposite direction at a high rate of speed.  The Ranger turned and attempted to stop the truck.  Rather slowing or stopping, as most people would do, the driver attempted to evade capture.  The closer the Park Ranger got the faster the pickup moved out.  The pursuer backed off to prevent a collision that could be caused by pushing the escape suspect to their driving skill limits.

The pickup driver then left the Parkway squealing tires off a ramp onto a winding state road.  The pursuing Ranger, then joined by another Park Ranger, continued to follow the pickup down the hair pin turn and tight switch back road losing sight of the vehicle. 
Both Rangers rounded a curve to find the pickup they had been attempting to stop in a ditch.  The driver’s door opened, the driver exited the vehicle and ran into the woods.

As required by pursuit policy, as the supervisor I received a telephone call to inform me of the incident.  I was told that the suspect was John Jones (name changed to protect the guilty).

“So you have the subject in custody?”


“The vehicle is registered to him?”  Which does not prove the registered owner was driving?


“You already know him from a previous contact and recognized him?”


“Okay, so how can you prove who he is?”

“Well he wasn’t wearing a shirt.”

“So……what does that have to do with it?”

“Well…he had his name tattooed in big letters across his back at the top of his shoulders.”

Later when John Jones was located at his girlfriend’s residence and asked to remove his shirt he did indeed have his own name tattooed in large distinctive letters across his back.  He also had a revoked driver’s license which is why he would not stop and he admitted to having a couple beers before being seen by the Park Ranger.

Lesson Learned – think through those tattoo plans.  Whatever you decide on will be with you for life.  Or at least keep your shirt on.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

More Information on Blue Ridge Parkway Plant Theft

As written earlier today, Park Rangers on the Blue Ridge Parkway charged individuals in two separate cases with the theft of plants from a National Park area.  It has come to my attention that in just one of these cases the thieves had 442 plant roots that weighed 7 lbs. and 2.4 oz.  That is before drying roots which reduces the weight significantly, but dried is how it is sold.  The thieves attempt to sell the dried ginseng roots with current  prices running $500 to $600.  Some buyers in the past have been known to even pay higher prices if the plants are from National Parks because markets consider these to be more pure.

In one day these individuals were able to steal 442 plants from you the American public.  It makes one wonder how many plants are being stolen nationwide on an annual basis from our parks.

Park Rangers were able to make this case based on their years of experience and skills in tracking not only to find suspects, but to retrace their steps to discover where they have been.  In many such crimes the perpetrators will stash or hide their take in the woods near a road and then return later, sometimes in a different vehicle, to claim their take.

Above are some photos of the ginseng that was confiscated from the thieves.  In most cases the ginseng roots are photographed and documented as evidence.  The roots are then replanted by Park Rangers.  In this case the roots were so dry and damaged from the digging that they would not re sprout resulting in each plant being lost.

Plant Theft From The Blue Ridge Parkway

As I have written before, plant theft from our National Parks is a growing problem.  Vegetative populations are being devastated for the financial gain of a few.  National Parks belong to us all and these criminals are stealing from each citizen of this country.

Recently Park Rangers on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia caught two groups of people illegally digging valuable ginseng plants within the park.

The following is taken from the October 9th National Park Service Morning Report;

Blue Ridge Parkway
Rangers Make Two Ginseng Poaching Cases
On Sunday, September 30th, protection rangers in
the Ridge District detected and apprehended two separate groups of poachers 
illegally taking ginseng from park lands.  A group of four was seen digging illegally by
rangers Jeremy Sears and Marc Cyr; three of them were cited for the illegal
removal of the plant. 
Rangers Zeph Cunningham and Miranda Cook then
contacted two people as they walked along the parkway to their vehicle.
Further investigation resulted in the rangers discovering a bag stashed in
the woods that contained a large amount of ginseng and digging tools. One
of the people they contacted admitted to digging the ginseng and was placed
under arrest. A search of their vehicle resulted in the discovery of a
second bag of ginseng. 
Wild ginseng is currently being sold for $500 to
$600 per pound. [Kurt Speers, Ridge District Ranger]