Part of the draw of Puerto Rico’s San Juan National Historic Site is the park’s masonry walls – the structure built to fortify and protect the city of San Juan in the 16th century. In these walls, along with the stories and history of the place, lie other precious artifacts: centuries old cannons and cannonballs. It’s something Maintenance Worker Norman Rutherford, also known as the “cannon man,” takes care to preserve and protect daily. Working directly with the park’s historical preservation team, Rutherford oversees the cleaning and preservation of these artifacts. And it’s an intensive process – the cannons and cannonballs go through electrolysis treatment before a cleaning with metal scribers, a heat treatment, and then Tannic acid. But for Rutherford, it’s all a part of the job. “It’s very interesting, the amount of history and the processes we go through to restore them. Along with the special artifacts we work with, this job requires you to be skilled in many areas, including electrical knowledge, chemistry, welding, carpentry, etc. so our days are always interesting. Not many people can say they have done this type of work and I am doing something that will continue to be done 100 years from now.”
After joining the American Conservation Experience in 2015, Rutherford fell in love with the national parks on an assignment at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. “It was the first national park I’d ever been to and after a month-long assignment, I decided that the National Park Service is where I wanted my life to go.” After three years of working with the Conservation Corps, Rutherford worked on a trail crew at Great Smoky Mountains National Park and tended the grounds (and goats!) at Carl Sandburg National Historic Site. “I love the National Park Service. I plan to keep working for the National Park Service for many years to come.”
One of the benefits of Rutherford’s job is the marvelous view. “We are positioned at the entrance of San Juan Bay, where we see a plethora of large vessels entering the island from freight ships, military vessels, and cruise ships. From time to time, you may be lucky enough to spot a school of dolphins guiding the ships into the bay.”
The views from Rutherford’s favorite spot in the park – a trail behind El Morro – are likewise astonishing. “It’s a great place to go and relax. I love the out works portion of Castillo San Cristobal (Albanico), because you get a perfect view of the Old Town, the fort, Condado, and it’s a great place to watch the cruise ships and other ships make their way to Puerto Rico. I once saw a herd of blue whale journeying west – watching them jump out of the water was a majestic sight.” And it’s a spot Rutherford has particular pride in – it was one of the trails his conservation crew completely restored in 2015. “We built three to four rock staircases with natural stones and restored the entire area.”
Behind every national park is a team of ordinary people dedicated to maintaining the extraordinary. They maintain habitats, educate visitors, and preserve history. They’re volunteers, rangers, museum curators, engineers, architects, and more. They’re our Park Ambassadors – linking us to these treasured places and all the stories they hold. Send thanks to an NPS employee or volunteer today.
The “National Park Ambassadors” video series is produced by the National Park Foundation and its Find Your Park premier partners Budweiser, HanesBrands, L.L.Bean, Nature Valley, Subaru of America and Union Pacific Railroad, with additional support from The Coca-Cola Company and Winnebago Industries.