Babysitting a Beaver

November 15, 2011
A beaver is rescued by the Park Superintendent.

A beaver is rescued by the Park Superintendent.

Only a few short years ago a few friends and a coworker of mine had an unusual experience while kayaking the flooded woods of Moro Bay State Park.  It was spring time and the river rose to the point where it closed the park.  This happens every couple of years at Moro Bay State Park so our facilities are built to withstand high water.  It doesn’t rise fast like it does in the hills of northern Arkansas.  Instead it climbs only about a foot per day or two feet per day in severe cases.   Once the river exceeds 85 ft above sea level the only way to explore the park is by boat or kayak.  I prefer kayak because negotiating the current in the woods is more exiting with a paddle and the quietness of a kayak affords a paddler some excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.  Such was the case on this cool spring evening in April of 2008.  It was almost sunset when a critter was spotted in the slough near the campground.  At first glimpse we could only see the ripples behind a dark object as it moved across the top of the water.  When Mark Myers (the former Park Superintendent) moved closer to investigate, it was clear that this was no scary alligator or dangerous serpent.  Instead it was a baby beaver (beaver kit) and the mother was nowhere in sight.  The beaver swam and played amongst the group of us for a few minutes.  Then Mark held his paddle out by the beaver kit and to our surprise, it climbed up on it as if it were a diving board.  The beaver jumped off the paddle and climb back on it several times in a playful manor.  The beaver kit was curious.  It didn’t run like most wild animals.  It had not yet learned to fear humans.

The writer (current Park Superintendent) with the beaver.

The writer (current Park Superintendent) with the beaver.

We laughed and smiled in amazement of this unique experience.  However, we soon began to wonder where the mother was.  The area this beaver was found in was very close to the park and only about 100 yards from the visitor center through the flooded woods.  It was not an area beavers had been sighted in before, even during flood conditions.  Our best guess was that the high water and current had separated this beaver from its mother.   It is our nature to want to protect babies of all species but the last thing we would want to do is take it from the care of its mother if she would return.  Many times people bring baby deer to the park that are often more kidnapped than rescued.  What people don’t realize is that the mother of the deer fawn is usually nearby and will return as soon as they leave.  The same is true with most mammals.  The rule I use is, leave the baby alone unless you visibly confirm the mother has died or the location of the baby is dangerous for it.  My experience with trying to raise wild baby animals is that they often don’t survive without their mothers regardless of how well you try to take care of them.  Our decision in this case was a compromise.  We had the opportunity to look over the baby and only move it a short distance from the location we found it in.  We brought it with us to the back of the visitor center.  The beaver rode on my lap in the kayak and I made no effort to keep it from escaping.

Pre-release

Pre-release

Our plan was to keep the beaver close and release it if the mother was seen or if the beaver chose not to stay.  We supplied it with food and a make shift hut made of limbs and a dog kennel.   Every few hours I let it out to swim and play on its own.  Each time the beaver returned to the kennel.  However, the following afternoon I let the beaver out to swim and it ventured a little further than usual.  I watched as it swam back to the slough where we had found it.  I didn’t try to capture it. Instead I simply said, farewell.  I left the kennel where it could return but we never observed it again.  However, a few weeks later the water receded and a lady came by the visitor center.  She was a local from just down the river and began to tell me a story about a curious baby beaver she had recently seen by her dock.  I smiled as I told her about our experience just a few weeks prior.

Reflecting on the experience now I am thankful to work at a park that provides visitors the opportunity to have experiences like this one.  Arkansas has many excellent parks like Moro Bay where visitors can rent a kayak or canoe and set out on an expedition with a Park Interpreter.   They can also set out on their own and enjoy the solitude of nature like I have many times canoeing in Moro Creek.  Sometimes, a person sees a bald eagle, wild hogs, or a white tailed deer.  Most times a person sees fish flouncing and a couple of Great Blue Herons coupled with a beautiful sunrise or sunset.  However, every time a person sets out they can experience the majestic cypress trees, a beautiful river, and the excitement of not knowing what critter will be just around the next bend.  It is my hope that the readers of this blog will realize the value of their Arkansas State Parks.  As our population increases and our natural resources are continuously transformed into subdivisions and parking lots, experiences like these are becoming increasingly rare.   Your Arkansas State Parks are set aside, protected, and determined in their mission to provide you with outdoor experiences that can enhance the quality of your life.  We are not only concerned with this generation but also the ones to come.

Canoeing Moro Creek.

Canoeing Moro Creek.

Paul Butler, Park Superintendent

Paul Butler, Park Superintendent

Paul Butler grew up in the Suburbs of Little Rock.  In 1999 he went to college at the University of Arkansas at Monticello to play baseball.  He worked for the fisheries department of The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for three years in college performing fish sampling and other duties as assigned.  In May of 2005 he received a degree in Wildlife Management and began his Career with Arkansas State Parks that same month as a seasonal Interpreter at Cane Creek State Park.  In August of 2005 he was hired as the full time Interpreter for Moro Bay State Park.  In July of 2009 Paul became Superintendent of Moro Bay State Park.

 


Training for Fall Fun

August 23, 2011
Camping in an Arkansas State Park, a fall tradition.

Camping in an Arkansas State Park, a fall tradition.

After weeks of 100-degree heat  that seemed unrelenting, Arkansas received that summer break in temperature.  It happens every year, and we seem to forget about it every year, so when it arrives it comes as a surprise.  As the air turns cooler who can resist the fun of sleeping outside?  Something about cooler nights, when you can sit at a fire comfortably, makes fall a magical time.  Some can argue that it is the long hot summer, but I feel that it might just be that point of equilibrium- you know, when the nights get longer, the days get shorter and we start to see that tip in temperature to our favor.

The early fall and the late winter are usually our peak times for staff training in Arkansas State Parks.  After the busy summer and before the peak fall rushes our staff generally squeezes in required training and refreshers.  These are all done to keep us sharp, teach us new skills and to make sure we stay proficient in our duties.

Practice makes Perfect!

Practice makes Perfect!

It does not hurt to stay proficient in your outdoor recreational skills too; and there is no better place to practice than in an Arkansas State Park.  Most folks plan one or two big camping trips a year, but the skills that it takes to have a good experience need to be kept up.  Now is a perfect time to plan one of those quick weekend trips.  This is a chance to get the equipment out and give it a going over before that big trip.  Take the opportunity to spend a weekend with us to brush up.  Whether you hike, camp, canoe or kayak, State Park’s can offer you the perfect local spot to spend the weekend.

Arkansas State Parks are also the perfect spots to learn new skills.  With a variety interpretive programs scheduled around the state, you can learn paddling, hiking skills, orienteering and even how best to cook with that Dutch Oven you received for Christmas two years ago.  You can learn to geocache or even to spot fall migrating birds.

Take advantage of the break in the weather: we all know that there are a few hot days left in the season and summer will come again for one last round before the coolness of fall prevails.  Check the calendar of events for your local park’s programs, and sharpen your skills up for outdoor fall fun.

John Morrow, Park Superintendent

John Morrow, Park Superintendent

John Morrow began work at Mississippi River State Park as the first superintendent for the park in February 2009.  He has worked for Arkansas State Parks since 2000, first as interpreter at Lake Chicot (2000-2003), then as interpreter at Petit Jean State Park (2003-2005), then as the first Chief Interpreter at Historic Washington (2005-2009).  His specialties are in interpretation and the application of interpretation to planning and managing a park.  He has graduated from the Park Superintendent Training Program, is a Certified Heritage Interpreter, Certified Interpretive Trainer as well as a First Responder and SAR Tech II.  He likes spending time with his family and antiquing with his wife, Nikki. They have a daughter Riley and son Carson. 


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 Once and Future Mather Lodge

June 9, 2011
Restaurant after demo 3/12/11

Restaurant after demo 3/12/11

Restaurant during demo 2/17/11

Restaurant during demo 2/17/11

Restaurant pre-demo 12/8/10

Restaurant pre-demo 12/8/10

On December 1, 2010, Petit Jean State Park’s historic Mather Lodge closed its doors – but not forever.  The lodge closed for more than a year’s restoration, renovation and major rebuilding.  On the first of December, for the first time in nearly a half-century, the day had come again to begin construction on a modern new restaurant to adjoin the old lodge – a restaurant designed by architects to capture the park spirit and “parkitecture” of the original Mather Lodge’s rough-hewn, large stone and log structure.  The upcoming restaurant will offer a spacious and modern facility that is larger, more capable of seating guests and groups and will include a 75-person conference/dining room.  The next Mather Lodge Restaurant, due to be completed in spring 2012, as well as restoration of the original, historic Mather Lodge, mark yet another significant stepping stone into the interesting future of Arkansas State Parks.

Mather Lodge was originally completed in 1935, one of several Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects put in place during the first building phase of Petit Jean State Park.  In keeping with a nationwide park trend of offering rustic yet gracious amenities to the visiting public, a restaurant was built on the northern side of the lodge just off the main fireplace lobby.  A small kitchen, complete with wood stove for heat, adjoined the restaurant just north of the dining room’s large stone chimney. Hired cooks prepared meals for visiting groups, or sometimes the visitors came in, by reservation, and cooked up their own meals.  The old restaurant dining room is called the CCC Room today and will continue to be visited for its historic significance.

Dining Guests at Original Restaurant 1950s (Not being removed, now called the CCC room)

Dining Guests at Original Restaurant 1950s (Not being removed, now called the CCC room)

By the mid 1950s, the baby boom was underway, and parks were experiencing a swell in attendance but with deteriorating resources.  On the federal level a project called Mission 66, lasting from 1955 through 1966, drew funding for major recreational improvements nationwide, while Arkansas State Parks initiated improvements of their own.  In 1958, a swimming pool was constructed in the courtyard just behind Mather Lodge.  Six years after, in 1964, a second, larger Mather Lodge Restaurant was constructed adjoining the original lodge.  This was the restaurant that served the public until December 1, 2010.  The Mather Lodge Restaurant built during the baby boom era was extremely spacious by 1960s standards and featured plank beams in a vaulted ceiling above the dining area and an incredible view through large windows of the park’s lower canyon looking west toward the Arkansas River Valley.  Many today remember dining or conferencing there.

By the turn of the century, Arkansas State Park visitation was higher than ever.  Petit Jean State Park alone had approximately a half million visitors every year.  On a busy day during the first decade of the 2000s, parking space near the lodge was limited, the Mather Lodge Restaurant was often packed with people, and lines formed getting into the few restroom facilities available.  It was time, yet again, to meet public demand with more up-to-date park facilities.

The last photo of the 1964 Restaurant (tables & chairs removed).

The last photo of the 1964 Restaurant (tables & chairs removed).

As of this writing, the construction of the new Mather Lodge Restaurant, designed by Little Rock firm SCM Architects is well underway.  The foundation has been laid, and the SAMCO Construction Company, based in Cabot, Arkansas, is at work sealing the base and readying the outer building.  The SCM Architectural firm describes the project as follows:

“An interior and exterior renovation is underway at historic Mather Lodge which will expand the hospitality offerings of Petit Jean State Park. A new inviting lobby and restaurant waiting area will provide improved access and increase the lodge’s capacity to welcome guests and operate efficiently. The existing restaurant and kitchen, built in 1964, will be demolished and replaced by the new lobby, new restaurant and new kitchen. The lobby and restaurant will feature exposed log construction, use of natural materials, and extensive glass window walls to provide a full view of the natural beauty surrounding Mather Lodge. The addition will also include lodge and restaurant offices, a private dining room, and public restrooms, as well as a new pool and new outdoor spaces.”

Looking at the new addition from the west. The current lobby (historic) is to the right of the restaurant, the rest of the lodge is out of frame.

Looking at the new addition from the west. The current lobby (historic) is to the right of the restaurant, the rest of the lodge is out of frame.

Arkansas’s first state park proudly welcomes this next step into the future.  Since the park’s beginning in 1923, Petit Jean has been a place for lifelong memories to be made.  Petit Jean State Park offers calming, scenic views, hikes along a diverse series of beautiful park trails, comfortable, rustic cabins and lodge rooms, great camping spots and – in the near future – a fine, new, hospitable lodge restaurant to enjoy at leisure.  We welcome everyone to join us at Mather Lodge in the coming years for some of the best moments of your lives.

(note: Although the lodge & restaurant are unavailable during new construction, the cabins are available. Contact the park for more information.)

BT Jones, Park Interpreter

BT Jones, Park Interpreter

BT Jones is a park interpreter at Petit Jean State Park and has worked there since 2005.  He holds a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  BT is a member of the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) and holds a Certified Interpretive Guide credential.  He is also a Leave No Trace (LNT) master educator and works as an advocate for Arkansas wilderness as a wilderness ranger.  BT’s pasttimes are nature and wildlife photography, hiking and backpacking, and helping to preserve Arkansas’s wilderness and natural areas.  He most enjoys hiking with park visitors and presenting programs on Petit Jean’s natural and historical features.


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?”


A Daisy of a Park!

February 9, 2011

I recently took a promotion and moved from the county with the most stop lights in the state to the only county with no stop lights. If you have explored Arkansas thoroughly, you probably guessed I moved from Pulaski County to Pike County. If I had liked stop lights, it would have been a drastic move. Luckily, I am not a fan. Moving from Pinnacle Mountain State Park to Daisy State Park has given me the opportunity to discover Daisy State Park— One of Arkansas State Park’s Best Kept Secrets.

The Author at Devil's Den State Park, back in the day. (center)

The Author at Devil's Den State Park, back in the day. (center)

I grew up in Alma, Arkansas. So as all first loves, I am a devoted fanatic of Lake Fort Smith State Park and Devil’s Den State Park. I made some of my first state park memories with my family and friends there. During my college years in Conway, I made even more memories at Pinnacle Mountain State Park and eventually worked there after college.  However, southwest Arkansas was an unknown adventure.  I knew there were Crater of Diamonds State Park, Historical Washington State Park, and DeGray Lake Resort State Park.  But what was Daisy State Park?  I had heard it was a quaint park, but what did that mean? What was the attraction? What made it special?  I decided what better way to explore a place then to move there and experience a quaint park atmosphere.

My first week in the office I read a newspaper article about Daisy State Park titled “Uneventful camping trip.” At first, I was disappointed after reading the headline. It seemed downbeat and during my first week at the park, I was overwhelmed with outdoor activities that I wanted to get out and try. How could a park guests describe Daisy State Park as uneventful? However, disappointment was quickly replaced with understanding. I finished reading the headline “Uneventful camping trip — was a beauty.” The journalist’s article was about his recent trip to Daisy State Park where the only things that happen were “the Milky Way, a victim of city lights in most places, was a white ribbon across a great gift of Arkansas sky, the early morning fog, both misty and mystical, danced silently atop the water, and a woodpecker pecked just enough to be cute.” What he meant by uneventful was that they didn’t catch the biggest fish, there weren’t noisy campers to complain about, and the park hosted a niche that fostered relaxing.

As this 1959 photo shows, Daisy State Park has been a great place for family receration for a long time.

As this 1959 photo shows, Daisy State Park has been a great place for family receration for a long time.

What he didn’t mention was if you wanted an action packed camping adventure, you can get that at the park, too. Daisy State Park is a hub of southwest Arkansas adventures. The park hosts the 7,000 acre clear water Lake Greeson and a trailhead for the 18 mile Bear Creek Cycle Trail (ATV trail). Within an hour or less driving time of the park is so many outdoor adventures; I haven’t even explored all of them in the 10 months I’ve been here! These activities include diamond digging, crystal digging, canoeing/kayaking the Caddo River, Albert Pike Recreational Area, Little Missouri Falls, Hot Springs National Park, trout fishing on the Little Missouri River, and Cossatot River State Park – Natural Area!

After spending these last 10 months working in the park, I have come to realize that the journalist’s description is the daily routine for the park is right on spot; the Ouachita Mountains, Lake Greeson, and Mother Nature join together to create a remarkable place. To camp where these three forces collide and experience their daily interactions is enough to entertain all generations, and all levels of an adventurous spirit. Daisy State Park is beyond a doubt one of Arkansas State Park’s best kept secrets and a place where generations are connected and memories are made.

Sunrise on Lake Greeson, Daisy State Park.

Sunrise on Lake Greeson, Daisy State Park.

Kristina Root, Park Interpreter

Kristina Root, Asst. Park Superintendent

Kristina Root is a strong advocate of environmental education for urban children. She worked for Arkansas State Park since 2007 at Pinnacle Mountain State Park as a park interpreter and recently became the Assistant Park Superintendent at Daisy State Park near Kirby, AR. Her career path was enhanced by her B.S in Environmental Science from the University of Central Arkansas.


Change

November 23, 2010

“Change is the only constant” Proverb quote

The Picture of Change

The Picture of Change

I’m not a big fan of change (and who is really?). If something is working, then why change it? However, in my profession I see a lot of changes. One constant change is in our visitors. As the seasons change, so do our type of visitors. In the summer, we have many people who come for only a day and bask in the sun at the swim beach. Then we see a lot of tents (some with an a/c even hanging out the side!).  During the summer, state parks are great place for families to celebrate together, from birthday parties and BBQ’s, to family reunions. Some of my favorite memories are from attending family reunions through the years atop Petit Jean Mountain at the state park. In fifth grade, I wore a Petit Jean State Park t-shirt so much that my friends starting calling me Petit Jean! Summers tend to give kids their “firsts”; first time to swim, first time to ride a horse, first time to camp, and in my cousin’s case-the first time she rode her bicycle without training wheels.

Big Rig Camping

Big Rig Camping

As the long, hot summer days give way to the cool, shorter days of fall, there comes the changing of how people camp. I will see less tents and more big RV’s. The summer of families with kids turns to a fall with more retired couples. Instead of staying for a weekend, we will have some that stay for several weeks. Our newly renovated campground provides an improved level of comfort for these folks. We now have sites with water, electric, and sewer. This enables the big rigs to have all the conveniences of home at their site.

The programming aspect for me changes as well. In the summer, I do a lot of children’s programming and programming for families. We do more activities at the nature cabin and have something going on every day. In the fall, I change the programming up to offer more adult oriented programs (with still a kick of whimsy in it-for the kid in all of us).  We have weekend programs and some during the week as well. My favorite program to do in the fall is a Dutch oven cooking workshop. I love the smell of cobbler cooking in the crisp air!

Camping & Fishing among the fall color.

Camping & Fishing among the fall color.

The activity level in the campground changes as well. During the spring and fall, the campground is alive with everyone enjoying the nice evenings by walking and biking through the campground. There are dogs barking and fires crackling. The hot summer months drives most everyone inside their campers and there are not that many souls that brave the chilly winter months.

All in all, life is full of change and it is inevitable. Seeing the different changes throughout the year at the park is exciting as you never know what is coming next.

Julie Tharp, Park Interpreter

Julie Tharp, Park Interpreter

Julie Tharp is the park interpreter at Lake Catherine State Park and has worked there since 2006. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Parks and Recreation from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. She is a Certified Interpretive Guide and a member of the National Association for Interpretation. Julie enjoys photography and playing with her dogs in her spare time. She grew up camping in the state parks and likes to share nature with park visitors.


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.


What? No Dinosaurs?

September 22, 2010

As an interpreter at an archeological park, I have my work cut out for me.  I do not have the geology or the beauty of Lake Ouachita, nor do I have Mt. Magazine’s View to draw visitors to my door.  What I do have, is a fabulous resource- an incomparable resource- that never ceases to amaze and astound me.  But, admittedly, it is a resource that only a fraction of a percent of people know and care about.

Parkin Archeological State Park is the location where, in 1541, Hernando de Soto held the first Catholic mass west of the Mississippi.  We are the home of Casqui- the toughest, most feared chief of his time and the chief that de Soto himself mentions about above all others encountered on his 4 year hike though the American southeast.  Pretty cool, huh?  Yeah, maybe if you’re an archeologist or a park interpreter with a few anthropology courses under her belt.

Who doesn't like some good pottery?

Who doesn't like some good pottery?

Then there’s everybody else. I have to work pretty hard to make people interested in this resource.  They are people who are, if truth be told, truly on their way somewhere else but thought this might be a great place to stop and stretch their legs.  I cannot tell you how many people see the “Archeological park” sign on I-40 and exit because they think we’ve got dinosaurs.  When a 9 year old boy thinks he is coming inside to see t-rex only to find that what I have is pottery… that is supreme disappointment.  But what an interpretive opportunity!

Be a Conquistador for a day!

Be a Conquistador for a day!

Here at Parkin, we have an entire collection of Spanish conquistador clothing, armor and weapons. When kids dress like a conquistador, they forget they wanted to see dinosaurs at all.  They put on that helmet and pow! Instantly, they assume the Conquistador pose (you know the one- with one boot clad foot on the mound, hands on hips, hair blowing in the breeze underneath their helmet- don’t act like you’ve never struck this pose before) and from there, they are hooked on Parkin.  Add the conquistador gear to the collection of replica Native American spears, arrows, and atl atls, and we are the coolest thing kids of any age have seen in a while.

Somebody likes history...

Somebody likes history...

We do have other types of visitors besides the interstate exit crowd- visitors who actually know we are about Indian mounds, but are under the impression that they can dig here.  That is another interpretive opportunity completely.  You see, what we have is a finite resource- they just aren’t making Indian mounds anymore.  We cannot let you dig in our mound and expect to have anything left for people to see next week.  What we try and do, diplomatically, firmly, yet with a smile on our face, is tell them about the Federal laws which prohibit such activities and then hand them a Park Informational Brochure about the digging opportunities at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Then there are the immutable types of visitors.  The rockhounds.  The Aztec enthusiasts.  The people who want to establish a connection between our site, the pyramids of Egypt, and possibly even aliens.  These guys are hard sells.  I had a man last week who was disappointed that we did not have more arrowheads on display.  I tried to explain to him that our pottery in the museum is world renowned, and that is what we choose to focus on.  He just would not let it go.  “Well, Cahokia has points everywhere,” he said.  I tried explaining for 20 minutes that I had visited Cahokia and that I was surprised by their lack of pottery on display (with the exception of pieces that were credited as coming from Arkansas) but this did not seem to phase him.  Education did not work with this guy.  He was disinterested in de Soto.  He could care less about headpots.  He told me he wanted to come back, and fully expected us to “make our museum just like everybody else’s.” Well, in the end all I could wonder was if the Interpreters at the Grand Canyon have problems with people wanting a beach.  Probably not.

A little "hands on" history!

A little "hands on" history!

I do welcome the challenge of educating people like him, and the beauty of the job is that very next person to walk in the door could be a visitor like me.  The “one half of one percent” visitors who love de Soto, are familiar with his trek through Arkansas, and who are yearning for me to tell them more.  I love to share the stories de Soto left with us- how Parkin’s Chief Casqui was the most feared chief in Arkansas, and how rich the culture was here in Arkansas.  I love to show our artifacts and leave people pleasantly surprised about our Arkansas history and heritage.

In short, we get all kinds of visitors here.  I like the people who dress like de Soto.  I look for the chance to educate potential collectors about NAGPRA legislation (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) and why it’s important.  I even relish the opportunity to hear an interesting new twist on the Stargate series and how it applies to Parkin.  But as for the man who wants us to make out museum just like everybody else’s… there’s an old adage that gets me through those experiences with sanity and a smile.  “Never try and teach a pig to sing- it wastes your time and just annoys the pig.”

(Note to reader: Ms. Parker in no way is relating visitors to pigs, though she thinks pigs are wonderful and admirable animals.  The adage was meant to be a funny tagline to an exhaustive experience she recently had with a visitor.)

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

~Mary Anne Parker has been with Arkansas State Parks since 2005, and as Interpreter at Parkin Archeological State Park since 2006.  Mary Anne’s primary focus at Parkin has been on the African American Experience in the Delta, and she is extremely proud of the growth in community support the park has experienced with the renovation and opening of the Northern Ohio School in 2006. Her other interests and activities include running the Parker Homestead, which she owns and operated with her husband and his parents, and writing grants to further educational opportunities for students attending Arkansas Delta public schools.


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