Getting Your Feet Wet

October 6, 2011
Park Guests take part in a seining program.

Park Guests take part in a seining program.

The best way to learn is to get your feet wet, or at least that is how I feel when I give this program. These park guests are taking part in my creek seining program. It was developed to help monitor the aquatic life found in Lee Creek, but it turned into so much more.  As they were scooping up fish this little girl got her first look at a dragonfly larvae, she had no idea that these winged insects start their lives in the water. As we moved farther down the creek they continued to collect all sorts of things; minnows, darters, crayfish, dragonfly larvae, tadpoles, and even a snake. They couldn’t believe the amount of life that lives in this small creek. It was a great experience for all them to understand that this creek plays so many roles in the park, including home to many creatures.

This is why I enjoy resource management programs in the park. It gives everyone an opportunity to go behind the scenes, and become a citizen scientist. They get to see things differently, they get to hold the resources in their hand and get a better understanding of the park itself. This also helps us accomplish part of our mission “To safeguard the natural, historical and cultural resources.” To do this we keep a natural resource inventory in the park to monitor these resources. This can be a pretty daunting task, so having help is a great benefit.

Getting up close and personal with reptiles and amphibians.

Getting up close and personal with reptiles and amphibians.

Another program that involves collecting data is our bird hike. It is so much more enjoyable to see birds through binoculars than squinting to make out its colors and features. It is also fun to just sit back and listen, but regardless of how we are identifying them we are adding to our inventory so that we can continue to protect and admire these creatures. This monitoring was very important last year in the addition of Spotted Towhee, Lark Sparrow, and Clay-colored Sparrow to our park list.

I also like to present programs that give an opportunity to explore and observe on your own, such as a reptile and amphibian program that showcase some of our native animals. This gives everyone the tools to identify what they find so they can report it back to us at the park. By gathering observations we can have eyes all over the park and cover more ground.

There are many opportunities to become a citizen scientist no matter where you live or what park you visit, so we encourage you to get out and start exploring. Help us by telling what plants you found or what animals you saw. By helping us you can be sure that our great parks will be around forever.

Adam Leslie, Park Interpreter

Adam Leslie, Park Interpreter

Adam Leslie is a Park Interpreter at Devil’s Den State Park. He has been there since September of 2009. Prior to Devil’s Den he was a seasonal interpreter at Petit Jean State Park. He received a degree in Wildlife Management and Ecology from Arkansas State State. His main interest is natural resource management.


Growing up in day camps

August 15, 2011

For kids here in Arkansas, August means it’s time to head back to school.  The end of the summer is near.  School sports have started, school supply shopping is in full swing, and kids are slipping back into their educational routines.  However, a few weeks ago many of our kids were enjoying their summer breaks without a thought of routine and involving themselves in one of my best summer memories: day camp.

Growing up, I looked forward to summertime as a chance at adventure.  I was always looking for something new to try, new people to meet, a chance to see new things.  Sometimes my crazy ideas would make my mother laugh and others would terrify her.  One thing that we could both agree on was a week of camp during the summer.  One year it was horse camp, another year outdoor sports camp (canoeing, hiking, biking, etc.), and another was Girl Scout camp.  It was always something different which appealed to my adventurous side and my mother was always glad to know there were people there to keep us safe while we had these childhood adventures.  Sometimes it was the counselors that made what would have been just an alright camp into one that I would never forget.  At the end of the summer I would always delight in sharing my stories of adventure and new people with all my friends and teachers as I started back to school and my regular routine.

That’s why I love being a part of day camps as an Interpreter with Arkansas State Parks.  I get to be one of those fun counselors that can be a part of an amazing adventure for a kid who is used to the same old routine.  Over the last few years I’ve even got to know some of our regular campers and it’s been wonderful to see each summer as they grow and change.

Arkansas State Parks host a variety of camps including Archeology Camps, Adventure Camps, Traveling Camps, Nature Camps, and History Camps.  With so much to choose from maybe we can turn “I’m bored” into “I want to have an adventure”!  Check out all of the day camps Arkansas State Parks offer at www.ArkansasStateParks.com  There is definitely an adventure for everyone! We also have many already listed for next summer!

Here is proof of the good times:

SPLASH FIGHT!

SPLASH FIGHT!

History can be fun too!

History can be fun too!

Horseback riding is one of our most popular adventures!

Horseback riding is one of our most popular adventures!

Some of our campers trying out kayaking for the first time.

Some of our campers trying out kayaking for the first time.

Marc, one of our camp counselors that always makes things fun!

Marc, one of our camp counselors that always makes things fun!

A little friendly competition is always fun!

A little friendly competition is always fun!

These three have been participating in our day camps since they were 8 years old.

These three have been participating in our day camps since they were 8 years old.

Kathrine Evans, Asst. Park Superintendent

Kathrine Evans, Asst. Park Superintendent

Katherine Evans is the Assistant Superintendent at Lake Poinsett State Park.  Educated at the University of Michigan, she holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology.  She began her career with Arkansas State Parks at Village Creek State Park in 2008 as a Seasonal Interpreter.  She became the Assistant Superintendent at Lake Poinsett State Park in January of 2009.  She is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and a Certified Interpretive Guide. 


Crater of Diamonds State Park: A wonderful and crazy place

July 28, 2011

When I accepted the park interpreter job at the Crater of Diamonds State Park, I had no idea what a wonderful, fascinating, amazing, and sometimes crazy place this park would turn out to be.  So, I want to share with you some of the wonderful and crazy things that make this park so unique.

Visitors heading out from the Diamond Discovery Center to "the field."

Visitors heading out from the Diamond Discovery Center to "the field."

Of course, the first thing that makes this park so unique is that our visitors are allowed to hunt for diamonds, and then are allowed to keep them.  Yes, real, sometimes valuable, diamonds.  But, the crazy part is that they not only get to keep any of the diamonds that they find, they also are allowed to take home any of the over 40 other rocks and minerals that are found here.  In fact, each visitor is allowed to take home the equivalent of a 5-gallon bucket of those rocks and minerals.

The Crater is a small park, only a little over 800 acres, in a rural area of southwest Arkansas, 40 miles from the interstate and 60 miles from the nearest city.  The crazy part is that last year over 119,000 people found their way to this park.  Even more amazing is the distance that people will come to this visit this park.  Last spring I gave a demonstration to three men—one from Washington State, one from Florida, and one from Texas.  As I am chatting with visitors I often ask them if their stop at the Crater is part of a more extensive road trip.  I find it astonishing the number of times they answer “Oh no, we intended to come here and this was the only destination on our trip.”  So, this obscure little park is actually a destination, in the same way that Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks are destinations.  Every year we have visitors from almost every state in the Union, including Alaska and Hawaii.  We even have a significant number of visitors from foreign countries.  It is a wonderful place to work because our visitors are so diverse.

Just some of what can be found and kept at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Just some of what can be found and kept at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

All of the dreams that people have when they come to this park is another wonderful thing.  For many of our visitors their Crater visit is the fulfillment of a dream that sometimes has continued for as long as twenty years.  The crazy part is that it is impossible to guess which person in the group was the one with the dream.  Sometimes it is a young child, as young as 10 years old, who somehow learned about the Crater and has been badgering his or her parents to bring him here ever since.  Sometimes it is an elderly person, like one visitor, who was in hospice and decided that one of the last things she wanted to do was to gather her family, come to the Crater, and watch them hunt for diamonds as she sat at the edge of the field in a wheelchair.  Grandparents who visited the park as a child bring their grandchildren.  Often the trip is a family outing, bringing everyone from the newborn to the great-grand parent, and all of the parents and cousins in between.

I enjoy eavesdropping on our visitors as they dream aloud to the other members of their party about what they would do if they found “The Big One.”  Everyone, young or old, always has something that they would do or buy if they found that large diamond.  But it is also crazy that coming to this small state park can be, and sometimes has been, a life-changing event for our visitors.  Everyone celebrates when they find a diamond, whether it is the tiniest gem that is just industrial grade, or it is a large, flawless diamond, possibly worth tens of thousands of dollars.  For those of us who work at the park and get to be part of these almost daily celebrations, each diamond registration is a fun experience.

Everyone enjoys a day in the dirt!

Everyone enjoys a day in the dirt!

Most people have a pretty good idea about what they are going to do when they plan their visit to a state park.  They already know how to fish or play golf, and have been hiking and camping for many years.  At the Crater it is a rare individual who arrives already knowing how to hunt for diamonds.  Many expect it to be a mine and they will have to go underground.  Most have never seen a rough diamond, and so have no idea what they are looking for.  As a staff member it is a constant challenge to help our visitors figure out the information they need to find a diamond.  We provide videos, demonstrations, and exhibits on finding diamonds, so that our visitors will have the best possible chance.  However, I find it fascinating to see the inventive things that people bring to the Crater as potential diamond finding equipment.  The range is very broad, from a dryer lint screen to elaborate homemade and hand-powered shakers and sifters.

But, the most crazy and wonderful part of the Crater experience is what a good time people have when they visit.  It can be 20 degrees in January with a quarter of an inch of ice on the wash troughs, or it can be 100 degrees in the shade in July.  It can be a sea of mud from one end of the field to the other.  If you ask a visitor if they had a good time, when they bring up their precious rocks that they have carefully chosen, hoping that one is a diamond, they almost all will report that they had fun.  Many of them are already planning what they will do when they come back the next time.  With that kind of response, it is a privilege to work at this small unique park with its large visitor experience.

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks is a recent convert to working as a park interpreter.  For twenty years she worked as a geologist, making new geologic maps of parts of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington State. Her research interests were volcanoes and their interactions with ancient large lakes.  So, working at the Crater of Diamonds State Park is a natural fit, with its 106 million-year-old volcanic crater containing those beautiful and fascinating diamonds.


The Outdoor Classroom

April 13, 2011

The best use of my park is as a classroom.  The thing I love to see are young people using their senses to enjoy this place that I have loved all these years.  My greatest hope is that through this contact that they will learn more about their world and come to care for the park.  What could be a more important goal of this special place?

Heavener Senior Trip of 1925.

Heavener Senior Trip of 1925

The first school field trip which I have a record of visiting Queen Wilhelmina is the Heavener Senior Trip of 1925.  There may have been many before that time but I do not know about them.  During my employment here I have witnessed hundreds.   From pre-school to college, they have come here to explore and enjoy.

Heading out for an evening hike.

Heading out for an evening hike.

The last field trip was April 6th.  We had the pleasure of hosting the Acorn High School Science Club.  The club is sponsored by Kathy Rusert, who is the kind of teacher you want your own child to have.  She knows how to use both the indoor and outdoor classroom to best effect.  She is also willing to schedule a rare night field trip to introduce the Science Club to astronomy.

The Club arrived in time for an evening hike on Lover’s Leap.   No text book or indoor classroom can teach kids about native plants better than the up-close, hands-on contact that comes from seeing, smelling, and touching the real thing.  No representation or reproduction can take the place of experience.  The outdoor classroom was filled with bloodroot, crested iris, bellwort, and windflowers.  Their size, color, and habitat were on display in this mountain-sized laboratory of science.  Where better to learn to identify them and understand their characteristics?

Acorn High School Science Club.

Acorn High School Science Club.

After dark, the Science Club traveled a mile from the sparse security lights of the park for the best view of the night sky.  The stars sparkled bright and clear.  This kind of night is rare in many parts of the United States.  Far away from the bright lights of the city they are able to shine to their full potential.  Even the small dim stars have the chance to be noticed.  The small sliver of the waxing moon only added to the bright and beautiful night.  In a couple of nights, the moon’s brightness would have overpowered its smaller neighbors.  This classroom has an up close view of Orion, Leo, Taurus, Gemini, Canus Major, and the two bears, both large and small.  The Greeks who named the constellations, some of the first students of the outdoor classroom, must have enjoyed a sight much like the one we saw.

Paul Hawken recently wrote:  “Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years.  No one would sleep that night, of course.  We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God.  Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television. “

The televisions were turned off on this night.  Instead, the students stared out at the wonders of the universe in the outdoor classroom at Queen Wilhelmina State Park.

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

 

Brad Holleman has been the park interpreter at Queen Wilhelmina State Park since 1991. He started his career in 1983 as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Ouachita State Park andLake Fort Smith State Park. In 1984 he received a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Management from Arkansas Tech University. Brad worked as an interpreter at Lake Catherine State Park from 1984-89 and then at Petit Jean State Park from 1989-91. He is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter. He is also active with the Talimena Scenic Drive Association and on the Board of Advisors with the Ouachita Mountains Biological Station.


Snow Business Beats No Business

February 15, 2011

Now I’ll be the first to admit I am not a fan of the snow.  In fact I consider snow a 4-letter word that should not be spoken aloud, but when it adds to the fun and enjoyment of park visitors joining me for a program even a die hard rather melt in the sun individual such as me can find snow a positive thing.

Snowman on the Lake Dunn Dam.

Snowman on the Lake Dunn Dam.

Last month as the snow was blanketing the park the wheels in my head started spinning.  You see I had planned a Guardian and Me:  Mammals program as one of our regular weekend programs trying to entice our locals to bring their little ones (3-6 year olds) out to the park.  The program was already planned I knew I would introduce the children to the world of mammals and tell them how mammals are different from other animals.  I was going the bring out our furs and skulls for them to touch and examine,  we were going to make animal track soaps for the children to take home, and of course no trip to the park is complete without a hike to look for animals.  But as the snow piled up and started to stick I thought if we get lucky it be fun to make snow mammals as part of the program.

Snow Squirrel

Snow Squirrel

So I hoped the roads would stay clear and the ground would stay covered.  Well when Saturday arrived the snow was starting to melt, but we still had several patches.

The children seemed to really enjoy making snow mammals.  We had a snow bunny, a snow squirrel and we almost had a snow deer but there just wasn’t quite enough snow for the deer.  The remaining snow also increased the success of our hike.  The snow was a great medium for animal tracks especially on the many bridges along the trail, so even though we did not see any of our resident mammals we saw more pristine animal tracks then I have ever seen on a group hike.  We had several canids (mostly domestic dog), what was probably a member of the cat family and an eastern cottontail Rabbit.  So I guess I will have to change my mind about snow and maybe remember that a little snow can be a great thing.

Mamma & Baby White-tailed deer tracks.

Mamma & Baby White-tailed deer tracks.

Dark-Eyed Junco tracks.

Dark-Eyed Junco tracks.

Raccon Tracks

Raccon Tracks

Tara Gillanders, Park Interpreter

Tara Gillanders, Park Interpreter

Raised in Kingsville, TX, Tara’s family moved to Jonesboro, AR in the mid 1980s where she graduated from high school and earned a bachelor’s degree in science education from Arkansas State University.  Tara taught high school science for 3 years before finding out about the profession of interpretation.  She has been the park interpreter at Village Creek State Park since 2008. “I cannot imagine a more fulfilling job.  What other profession allows you to connect people to the things you are passionate about?”


Winter at the Ozark Folk Center State Park

November 19, 2010
Walking among the rocks and leaves.

Walking among the rocks and leaves.

The fallen leaves crunch under my feet as I walk down the path from the Administration building to the Homespun Gift Shop. The sunlight has a strobe effect through the newly barren limbs.  I pull my jacket snug in front and wish I had remembered a hat.

John the potter hollers a friendly, “Hello,” from the front of his workshop. I reply in kind and continue on my errand. It’s a typical relaxed November afternoon at the Ozark Folk Center.

The Ozark Folk Center State Park is in Mountain View, Arkansas. This energetic little town has less than 3,000 residents. It is hard to reach and not really on the way to anywhere. However, the creativity of the mountain music and crafts and the genuine friendliness of the residents offered here draw many thousand visitors over steep and winding Ozark roads every year.

I’ve often said that local people are so friendly because it is so hard to get here. Whenever someone makes the effort to visit with us, we let them know how much we appreciate it by smiling, talking their ears off and offering to feed them.

Disappearing leaves equals reappearing views.

Disappearing leaves equals reappearing views.

As the trees lose their leaves and the days get shorter, visitors to the area seem to disappear. The area does have one winter event that is incredibly popular, Caroling in the Caverns at Blanchard Caverns, so people do venture into these hills in November and December. But we wanted to find a way to connect those visitors to our town, and to draw others to our relaxing holiday atmosphere. Ozark Folk Center staff members got together with local bed and breakfast owners, town merchants and other crafts people to try to bring people to our area in the winter months.

We started working on this project three years ago. Each group planned separate events and did separate promotions. Some events worked and some failed to draw people in. This year we worked on coordinating and cooperating as much as possible on winter events. We published a combined winter schedule and printed 10,000 rack cards which were distributed throughout the state. The events listed range from the Handmade Christmas Folk School classes here at the Ozark Folk Center State Park to the local churches candlelight services and the Christmas Tree lighting on the historic courthouse square. We want to share our relaxed version of the holidays with people.

Here at the Ozark Folk Center, we do slow down for the winter, just like the natural world, but we have some of our most treasured events in the winter months. These include:

1.       Thanksgiving buffet and Ozark Holidays Craft Show

2.       Loco Ropes tree top adventures

3.       Extended Season in the Craft Village

4.       Christmas Feast and holiday weekend

5.       January and February cooking classes

6.       Valentines get-away with Cupid in the Caverns

7.       Quilt Retreat

8.       Spring Bluegrass & Handpicked and Handmade Craft Show

9.       Ozark Folk School, sessions 1 and 2

10.   Our Cabins at Dry Creek are open year-around.

11.    See more below…

A restful place amidst all the activity.

A restful place amidst all the activity.

Our winter weather can be rough at times, but much of the winter is sunny and gentle. Gathering firewood is our Sunday afternoon family chore. We do it in the winter, because the weather is cool, the bugs are gone and you can see to get around in the woods. It is a rare Sunday when we cannot make our trek into the forest because of weather.

A friend recently asked me what my favorite season of the year was.

I replied “Fall. The weather is cool, the leaves are beautiful, its harvest time in the garden and breeding season for the sheep and goats. It’s fall shearing time for the angora goats and I have such beautiful new fleeces to spin!”

But after thinking about it, I realized I would have said “Spring” in that season, or “Summer” in June, July and August. I love winter when it is cold and the days are short and the leaves are off the trees and you can see all the beautiful vistas that hide in the other seasons. The Ozarks are always beautiful and I love all four of our seasons.

Many people don’t think of enjoying their state parks in the winter, but it is a wonderful time to visit them here in Arkansas. Events and hours may be different than they are during the rest of the year, so contact the park before heading out to visit.

Jeanette Larson, Crafts Director

Jeanette Larson, Crafts Director

Jeanette Larson has been a fiber artist all her life, weaving the threads of her art through her careers in journalism and management. In 2006 the fates conspired to send her to the Mountain View area and settle her in her niche as Craft Director at the Ozark Folk Center, where her passion for handwork and the people who use their hands to create has brought new life to the old ways.

 

 

 

More stuff happening in Mountain View and the Ozark Folk Center State Park (click for larger image):

Mountains, Music & Mistletoe

Mountains, Music & Mistletoe


The Clean-up Crew

November 12, 2010

We had a school group come the park today and they raided the snack part of our gift shop during a break in the program.  So, it will be a good evening for our clean-up crew.  We have a special clean-up crew that works nights, 365 days a year, without holidays.  No, I am not talking about the two-legged kind of maintenance crew that comes in every morning early to shine the bathrooms, empty the trash, and get us ready for a new day of visitors.  I’m talking about the two- and four-legged kind, both furry and feathered, who make their appearance as soon as the last employee and last visitor leaves the public parts of the park–the squirrels, raccoons, opossums, crows, and other birds.

I often work farther into the evening than other staff members, so I hear noises that sound like some ghost or spirit is rattling around outside my office.  One night I found the source of all of that after-hours racket.  A raccoon hopped out of the trash can just as I walked past.  I think that we were both scared an equal amount.  Most evenings as I walk up through the parking lot, I will also disturb two or three crows stalking around and looking for treats.

A missed learning opportunity

A missed learning opportunity

Once in a while I eat lunch on our upper deck after a school group like today’s has sat and eaten their snacks or lunches.  That’s when you find out which are the braver songbirds living in the park.  Especially the tufted titmice seem to have no fear of humans when the snacks are really plentiful.  First, they fly to the rail that goes around the deck.  From there if you watch you can see them carefully scoping out the tables vacant of people and with the best looking crumbs under them.  The birds then flit down, grab up some of the good stuff, and head back to the railing to enjoy the treats.  After an hour or so of this diligent work, they can have things pretty well cleaned up.

I don’t mean to imply that I think that this human food is particularly good for our animal friends.  Sometimes I wonder if those jalapeño Cheetos ever keep them up at night like they do me.  Most of the time parks try to limit the amount of access that the animals have to our leftovers.  So, the design of garbage cans continue to evolve, as the animals continue to get smarter.  They can leave an awfully large mess when they really go through a trash can.  The mess shown in the photo below shows just how bad things can get.

Our "Old" Trash Cans

Our "Old" Trash Cans

Our "New" Trash Cans

Our "New" Trash Cans

The raccoons are the most adept at getting into human trash cans.  So, our old design trash cans had a hidden latch that you had to work before you could open the lid.  The problem with these cans was that the latches were so well hidden that humans had to study the little instruction picture carefully and then try it two or three times before getting the hang of it.  The raccoons never did figure it out, but they certainly did love the piles of trash that were left on top of or next to the trash cans by frustrated visitors.  Now I think that the trash can designers finally have the winning design (see below).  No fancy hidden latches, but a fairly heavy lid that covers the entire top of the square can.  If the raccoon tries to open it from on top, then their own weight and the lid’s weight will keep it closed.  A side attack doesn’t work either, because the tops of the cans are too high to be reached from the ground by even the tallest raccoons, and the cans don’t have any lip for the acrobatic raccoons to hang on as they lift the lid.

So, as we phase in these new-design cans, the pickings for those furry folks who are used to dining out on our leftovers will become much slimmer.  That is the reason days like today are a smorgasbord feast for our evening “clean-up crew”.

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks is working on her “next” career as a park interpreter.  For twenty years she worked as a geologist, making new geologic maps of parts of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington State. Her research interests were volcanoes and their interactions with ancient large lakes.  So, working at the Crater of Diamonds State Park is a natural fit, with its 106 million-year-old volcanic crater containing those fascinating diamonds.


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