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.


Sharing the Trails with Snakes

May 24, 2010

I have learned that any time I hike a trail, and especially during warm weather, it’s always a good idea to watch where I step.  Not only does this prevent tripping over a rock or root or slipping on a wet spot, but also can help to avoid an unpleasant encounter with one of nature’s least liked wild creatures.  In Arkansas, snakes can be encountered just about anywhere, but it’s a good idea to be extra cautious when out in the woods, in a swampy-looking area, or walking around at night.

At Petit Jean State Park, more than 20 miles of hiking trails beckon park visitors to explore the area’s scenic beauty.  But people aren’t the only ones who may be out on the trails during the warmer months.  Peacefully sharing the trails with wildlife, including snakes and other reptiles, is what hikers are encouraged to do, for the safety of both the people and the animals.  36 different species of snakes are naturally found in Arkansas, and I have personally observed many of them on Petit Jean Mountain.  Fortunately, only 6 of the 36 are venomous.  Snakes I have seen recently include an Eastern hognose snake, a Western ribbon snake, a rough green snake, a ringneck snake and a redbelly snake.

A non-venomous snake attempting to hide from people.

A non-venomous snake attempting to hide from people.

Contrary to what some folks may believe, snakes don’t lurk around on woodland paths just waiting for an unsuspecting human to come along so that they can bite him or her.  A snake may be stalking its natural prey or searching for a mate or a good hiding place, but an encounter with a person is likely to be accidental (unless that person is out hunting for snakes).  A good general rule about snakes is that if you leave them alone, they will probably leave you alone.  Snakes tend to be afraid of people and will often try to get away if given a chance.  When a snake bite does occur, it is often because someone was trying to kill or capture a venomous snake, or accidentally stepped on it or otherwise got close enough to make the snake feel threatened.

To help protect yourself while hiking a trail, keep in mind that snakes are often well camouflaged – that is, they tend to blend in well with their environment.  For example, the venomous  and very common copperhead is usually light brown or grayish in color with a pattern of darker brown, hourglass-shaped cross bands.  This pattern of coloration can make this snake seem nearly invisible at times, especially when it is sitting on brown leaves.  I have come close to stepping on copperheads or other snakes  myself, even though I am used to watching out for them (but the only times I have been bitten were while I was either handling or attempting to handle non-venomous  snakes).  Being alert and watching where you place your hands and feet is your best line of defense.  Wearing sturdy boots or shoes that cover your ankles can also be helpful.

Rat snakes are sometimes used to educate park visitors.

Rat snakes are sometimes used to educate park visitors.

We often receive requests for interpretive programs on snakes at Petit Jean State Park, so if you would like to find out more about snakes of Arkansas, you might want to inquire if a snake presentation is scheduled during your next visit to the park.  Or, you can stop by the park’s visitor center and see if an interpreter is available to answer your snake questions.

Snake programs for all Arkansas State Parks can be found on our online Calendar of Events.

Rachel Engebrecht, Park Interpreter

Rachel Engebrecht, Park Interpreter

Rachel is a native Arkansan and a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University, with a Bachelor of Science in biology.  Her interpretive experience includes work as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Dardanelle State Park, 1997 -1999, and as a full-time interpreter at Crater of Diamonds State Park, 2003 – 2007.   She has been a full-time interpreter at Petit Jean State Park since September of 2007.  Rachel is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and became a Certified Heritage Interpreter in 2009.  “One of my favorite things I do in my job is helping park visitors discover new ways to enjoy and learn from nature.”


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