Dynamic, Interconnected Keystone Species in the Del Water Gap

Traffic is cleared after taking charge along Route 209

Hey y’all!

Andy (or Andres) checking back in. This internship keeps me on my toes! This weekend when driving from one beach to another, I had to respond to a fallen tree covering both lanes of traffic in my park’s busiest road, Route 209. I showed up just as some brave (reckless?) visitors had used their pickup truck to pull the tree out of one lane. I quickly told them to stop before they hurt themselves, called on my radio for the maintenance crew, and started directing traffic. As you can see to the left, I made sure to put on my high-visibility vest, to lower the chances of an accident, just like we talked about in my training earlier that week. Safety first, always! After a few minutes where I was in charge of the scene, one of the maintenance rangers and a law-enforcement ranger took charge and started chainsawing the tree, and clearing it out of the road entirely. My brief moment of authority was over, and I was on my way back to the beach to continue the regularly scheduled program. 

It might have been a pretty small crisis, but I felt proud that my training paid off, and I knew exactly how to respond.  I was also a little surprised how quickly all the visitors responded to what I had to say. That’s the power of entering the scene with confidence! I’m sure having the radio gives me an air of authority too.  

Dingmans Falls

Responding to fallen trees aside, I also want to update all my loyal fans on my big project for the summer. I am currently planning an interpretive program for the Dingmans Creek Trail, one of the most visited trails in Delaware Water Gap National Receration Area (DEWA). The trail is so popular because it features two of the best waterfalls in the park, Dingmans Falls (left) and Silver Thread Falls (right). You should remember these falls from my last blog post! The trail also takes visitors through a hemlock ravine and shows off two keystone species, the eastern hemlock and the beaver. 

Silver Thread Falls

Most visitors come to see the falls, and probably leave without knowing what a hemlock ravine is or that they were a few yards away from an active beaver dam. Through my guided walk of the trail, I am to teach about how eastern hemlock trees create and maintain a unique micro-environment with acidic soil, intense shade, and cold streams. Under these conditions, only certain species can thrive. The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, an invasive insect, puts the hemlock ravine’s micro-environment at risk by slowly weakening and killing hemlock trees. Once the keystone species dies away, the whole area changes. I also plan to teach about how the beaver is an ecosystem engineer. By creating dams and deep pools in streams, the beaver totally changes the riparian habitat. Just like if the hemlock disappears, if the beaver leaves, the ecosystem will not be the same.

Hemlock Wooly Adelgid

When talking about the hemlock, and introducing the concept of an invasive species, I plan to show how human interactions can quickly damage natural areas. With the story of the beaver’s recovery from near extinction once trapping fell out of favor, I aim to teach how we can also reverse some of that damage, and move towards healthier ecosystems if we work with the environment. I plan to leave my visitors with a message of hope.

My guided walk is not my only project! I have still been working at our high-visitation beach areas, trying to spread information about water safety. My Spanish fluency has continued to be incredibly useful in reaching out to the Hispanic community that often uses our beaches for recreation. The last few weekends, I have set up a table with information for adults and activities for the kids. While the kids do coloring sheets, water-colors, or scavenger hunts, I teach them about wearing a life-jacket in the river, proper-sizing for life-jackets, what a water-shed is, and how to take care of our water-sheds. Once they do an activity, and tell me about what they learned, the kids can be sworn in as Junior Rangers! To the right, you can see a photo that Ranger Christine took of me as I hand two newly sworn in Junior Rangers their badges. 

At Milford Beach with Ranger Eva and new Junior Rangers
In Walpack Methodist Church

When I’m not working on my guided-walk, shadowing rangers in different positions, leading programming at the beaches, and swearing in Junior Rangers, there are meetings to attend to! We even get to keep those fun and new, though. For example, this past week the Interpretation Division held our weekly meeting in the historic Walpack Methodist Church, to the left. There has been some damage since this building was dedicated in 1872, but you can still see the trompe l’oeil behind me. That’s French for “trick-of-the-eye”. The wall behind the alter is flat, but the painting style creates the illusion of depth in the painted apse right above my head. Later in the week, we got a tour of the historic Van Campens Inn, also formerly a part of the town of Walpack. Big shout-out to the volunteer docents at the Walpack Historical Society who took time out of their days to teach us about this church, the inn, and their historic village. A good reminder that DEWA doesn’t just have beautiful forests, mountains, rivers, etc., but also really engaging history. 

Working hard at Van Campens Inn
Here I am at Raymondskill Falls

Of course, I’ve still been having fun on my off time. I had another visitor! My best friend Julia (remember her from the road trip and Philly?) came up to see DEWA. We did a 13-mile hike one day. The next day, we didn’t take a break, as we climbed up one of the hardest trails in the park to see the best view of the Delaware Water Gap itself from Mount Tammany. I made sure to show Julia all my favorite falls in DEWA including Raymondskill, Dingmans, and Silver Thread. 

At this point, I need to say that I was wrong! Close readers of my blog will remember that I in my last blog post I claimed that Dingmans Falls is the tallest waterfall in PA, but in fact, Raymondskill Falls (left) is actually the tallest in the state. Please forgive my ignorance.

Julia and Andy at the top of Mount Tammany

Julia and I saw two black bear cubs on our 13-mile day! We didn’t get any pictures, though, so the only wildlife pictures I have for you are some cute baby deer with their mama. Tune in next time for more!

xoxo Andres (or Andy

Mama doe and two fawns outside of Milford Beach
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