NPS suspends mowing nationwide after fatality

By on May 15, 2012

The death of a maintenance worker mowing grass along the Blue Ridge Parkway last week has led to a suspension of grass cutting at national parks, including the three Outer Banks Group units.

According to a story in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Dana Bruce, 63, of Alexander, died May 7 when his mower plunged more than 140 feet down a nearly vertical embankment at the Haw Creek Overlook near Asheville.

The suspension started Monday of grass mowing at all 397 national parks, while a full safety review is conducted.

“We’ve ceased all mowing operations . . . weed eating, regular mowing, mowing with tractors,” said John Kowlok, facility manager for the Outer Banks Group, which includes Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Wright Brothers National Memorial, and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.

After Park Service units are conduct an in-house safety review of their procedures, they will then be submitted to regional offices for review and approval before mowing will resume.

“We started last week on the assessment of all our operations and all the equipment we have and training of employees, we’re doing a through job with it, we’re not trying to speed through it,” said Kowlok. “We hope to have it done by next week.”

“We want to make sure we are covering everything…making sure our staff are up to speed and trained in the proper use of the equipment in the different types of terrain they are dealing with,” Kowlok said.

If the review is satisfactory, mowing could resume just before Memorial Day weekend.

“I’m hesitant to lock a date, but that’s our target,” Kowlok said.

Two challenging areas for Park Service maintenance crews locally is Big Kill Devil Hill, where the Wright Brothers Memorial pylon is located, and along the edge of portions of N.C. 12.

“We don’t mow the backside of the hill, we stopped doing that several years ago, but we do some around the walkways and sidewalks,” Kowlok said. “The pylon is definitely the most challenging in all three of our parks.”

The Park Service on occasion will mow along the N.C. 12 right-of-way between Whalebone Junction and Oregon Inlet, and sections between Avon and Hatteras when NCDOT contractors fall behind in keeping up with mowing the shoulders.

Rainfall this week will mean it won’t be long before the mowers will need to get out and attack the problem.

“The field (behind) the pylon at Wright Brothers, and all around the Fort Raleigh complex, especially around the visitors center, it grows pretty quick,” said Kowlok.

“We are bringing on our seasonal employees now, and a lot of what they do is mowing and landscaping,” Kowlok said. “They’re anxious to get out there to do the job. . .they take a lot of pride in the Parks and they don’t want them to get overgrown.”

“But on the other hand, we are having to hold them back while we do this evaluation. . .our main concern is the safety of our employees and visitors,” Kowlok said.

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