Went down to Maryland for a job interview and stumbled across this classic motel. While they were not as cheap as I would have preferred, I did get some awesome pictures and got to try out my new tripod.
They were a bit jumpy though. I was taking pictures when this big guy comes over "What are you doing?" Turns out the place was robbed recently and he thought I was doing something fishy. When I explained that it was my hobby he was totally cool with it, but it was a little scary. 
The motel's sign used to have one of those huge arrows pointing to the motel. Some knuckleheads cut it off and tried to steal it. Thankfully they failed.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the National Association for Interpretations national conference in Hampton, VA. NAI is the professional organization for park rangers, nature guides, museum curators, etc… Basically if you talk to the public about nature or history, NAI is the professional organization for it.

One of the most exciting events held during the conference was the field trip on Friday. Out of the many options, I chose “Ft. Monroe Interpretative Work in Progress.” Ft. Monroe is a brand new unit of the National Park Service, as in of November 1, 2011 new. The whole point of the field trip was to take a behind the scenes look at setting up a new NPS site.

I will freely admit that I did not have the best reasons for picking this trip. While I was somewhat curious at how you create a new monument, my real reason was to check another part of the NPS off my life list (33% of all NPS sites complete!). I just wasn’t that interested in the fort itself. I was “oh my not another system three fort.” For those of you who are not history buffs or live anywhere other than the East Coast, system three forts are a group of 42 massive stone forts that were built all up and down the eastern seaboard after the war of 1812 to protect key areas. The NPS already has quite a few of them protected with Ft. Warren, Ft. Hancock, Ft. Wadsworth, Ft. Sumter, Ft. Pulaski, Ft. Jefferson, Ft. Massachusetts, Ft. McRee, Ft. Point lying within NPS units. These forts are all built from the same general plan so, if you’ve seen one you've seen them all. So why do we need another one?

Well, it turns out there are some very good reasons for Ft. Monroe to join the system. Perhaps the most important is that it was the first (and largest) of the system three forts. It’s not just another cookie cutter fort, it created the mold from which all other system three forts were made.

It also was quite distinguished in the Civil War. It always remained in Union hands. Think about it, this is a fort in Virginia and it NEVER fell to the Confederates. In fact, the forts defenses were so good they didn't even try to take the fort. Because it was a Union stronghold deep within the confederacy this led to the Peninsula Campaign, a botched attempt early in the war to seize Richmond, the Confederate capitol. This is also where a Union General Benjamin F. Butler declared slaves, who came into the possession of Union troops, to be “contraband of war.” While this in no way declared that slaves were human and had rights, it did lead to massive slave runaways and was a stepping stone in the abolition of slavery.

The "freedom gate" that contraband slaves passed through.
The other thing that I found fascinating about the fort was the fort’s town. Most forts when handed over to the NPS are first left to languish for about 10 years, letting most of their structures decay. With Ft. Monroe, the transfer was almost immediate; everything is left intact. A partner of the park, the Ft. Monroe Authority is currently finding new uses for the forts buildings so that in the future the area will look just like it does now.

The fort's old hotel is now an assisted living facility thanks to the Ft. Monroe Authority.
This rapid turnover, we found, was the main problem in creating the park. The army pretty much went “here’s the keys, have fun!” and left. The NPS and the Authority then had the unenviable task of trying to keep the fort open to the public while learning how everything works.

One of the truisms in working with the parks is that most people don’t really know or care who owns and runs the park as long as they can keep doing what they have been doing; Army, NPS, Ft. Monroe Authority, doesn't matter. When change comes though, people get mad. Nothing drove this home for the NPS more than the issue of Ft. Monroe’s flag. The army, by law, is required to take down the American flag when they decommission a base. This is what they did when they left the fort, and the NPS arrived just in time to get the masses of complaints over there not being a flag. The poor NPS staffers, all two of them, spent several frustrating weeks with negotiating with the army and the powers that be just to get the flag back.

I have no doubt that someday Ft. Monroe will be a great member of the NPS. I am just grateful that I am not one of the ones that have to set it up. Fight on Ft. Monroe staff!!!!



Welcome to be my first blog. Today’s topic is going to delve into the heart of the ranger. Who are rangers? While it may seem simple enough it’s actually a bit complicated. Are they the guys who wear those funny hats? Do they keep the park safe? Do they arrest people? Do they run the visitor center and give tours? Or do they run around keeping bears out of picnic baskets? The answer is that rangers do all of these things and none of these things. See what I meant when I said it was complicated?

While rangers are known for their uniform and the iconic hat not all uniformed employees of the park are rangers. The park has employees in maintenance, administration, historic preservation, and an array of scientists. All of these employees may or may not be in uniform and none of them are technically “rangers.” So it is impossible to tell a ranger by uniform alone. To make matters more confusing there are times when a ranger will not wear a uniform at all, such as historical reenactment or going on a stakeout.

So how do you tell who is a ranger? You need to look at their job. All rangers interact with people as one of their main duties. Rangers are of the face of the park and act as the “front-line” of contact and communication with park visitors. They try to make sure visitors don’t damage the park and conduct themselves in a safe manner. Out of all the park employees there are only three types of rangers.

The type of ranger most people are used to is the interpretative ranger, which I am. We are the ones who run the visitor center, gives tours, and programs. Interpretative rangers take the vast amounts of data about the park and “translate” it so that it is easily understood and enjoyable to the average visitor. We are on the preventative side of things. After all visitors cannot follow rules they do not know of or if they don’t care. If interpretative rangers do their job well everyone can enjoy the park without having to interact with the second type of ranger: Law Enforcement.

Law Enforcement rangers are exactly what their name sounds like, the police of the park. They have all the authority their non-park comrades have, so if you are ever pulled over by one please don’t ask, “Well what are you going to do, give me a ticket?” because the answer is YES! This may seem like a stupid question, but a lot of people make that mistake. They can even go so far as to arrest people. Now that being said park Law Enforcement generally tend to be rather nice people. If you are in trouble or need information please don’t hesitate to contact them.

The last type of ranger is a bit of an odd bird. It is the General Ranger. Parks have never been well funded and as such are chronically understaffed. To make up for this, parks sometime will employ general rangers who literally do everything in the park. From maintenance, to law enforcement, administration, and interpretation, there is nothing in the park that a general ranger cannot do as part of their job. While interpretative and law enforcement ranger will pitch in and help with other park duties, the general ranger takes generalization to the extreme. These rangers are commonly found in small parks with limited staff. They are the closest to the old fashioned rangers and because of this I have the utmost respect for them.

I hope you enjoyed our little exploration into the world of the ranger. Just remember that although not all park employees are rangers, their jobs are just as important to the health and well-being of the park as any other position. If you have a question, feel free to ask them. They would be happy to help or point you to a ranger that can.

    Alex Emert

    An oudoorsman for many a year the Roaming Ranger is a seasonal ranger for the National Park Service.

    NOTE: All opinions expressed in this site are solely my own and are not intended to represent any organization I have worked for.


    December 2012
    November 2012



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