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.

 

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Wings on the Wind

August 30, 2011

Sitting on a bluff overlooking a vast landscape is a great way to enjoy a September morning on Mount Magazine. Scanning the horizon with a good set of binoculars helps spot wings on the wind. Southward migration has started for many species of birds and some butterflies. The unpredictable nature of migration watching requires diligence. Some days are a bust due to weather conditions. But other days can be outstanding with a good diversity of species and numbers of individuals.

For the column of states including Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana Mount Magazine is the highest point above sea level. Perhaps to a migrant it represents a landmark and/or an obstacle for navigation. For many it is a convenient rest stop.

A red-tailed hawk catching a thermal.

A red-tailed hawk catching a thermal.

Broad-winged hawks usually top the tally. They rest overnight in forested areas. As thermals begin to build during the day, one by one, they leave the canopy to catch rising air. Circling in these unseen currents hawks gain elevation rapidly. It is possible to have over a hundred broad-winged hawks swirling in a thermal at one time.  This is called a kettle. Reaching the top of the thermal they slip out, with wings set, gliding southward. Losing elevation as they approach the northern edge of Mount Magazine where they take advantage of updrafts to lift them just over the bluffs.

Tall bluffs flanking Ross Hollow create a funnel which many birds of prey use to cross over the mountaintop as if it were a major highway. The northern tip of Cameron Bluff offers a great vantage point for scanning the horizon and the hollow. Birds can be above, below, or even at eye level, offering opportunities to study field marks for identification.

There are many other species seen migrating over Mount Magazine other than broad-winged hawks. Red-tailed, red-shouldered, Cooper’s, and sharp-shinned hawks, northern harriers, ospreys, vultures, bald eagles, American kestrels, and even peregrine falcons have been seen from Cameron Bluff during September. White pelicans, song birds, and butterflies are also seen.

Monarchs and a few other migrating butterflies use the same updrafts to lift themselves over the mountain. Many will take the Mount Magazine exit to refuel on patches of wildflowers along park roadsides. Tickseed sunflower must appear like “golden arches” to these adolescent insects. Late arrivals often cluster together on “tree hotels” with southwestern views.  Some monarchs will be tagged and released to continue their way southward to their winter vacation in Mexican mountains.

A female Monarch Butterfly enjoys a stop over at Mount Magazine.

A female Monarch Butterfly enjoys a stop over at Mount Magazine.

On the south side of the mountain migrating hawks seek out more thermals over the Petit Jean River Valley to help them get through the Ouachita Mountains. Turkey vultures are masters of riding updrafts and thermals. It seems as though some hawks key in on vultures to find thermals.

While sitting on Cameron Bluff, waiting for the next passerby, enjoy either solitude with a spectacular view or conversations with other watchers with various backgrounds and experiences. Pick up tips on hawk identification. Take advantage of unique photo opportunities.

A park interpreter is offering migration watching sessions at Mount Magazine State Park in September. Check the schedule.

So pack your binoculars, lawn chairs, water, and snacks, drive to the northern tip of Cameron Bluff Overlook Drive in Mount Magazine State Park, and watch wings on the wind.

Don Simons, Park Interpreter

Don Simons, Park Interpreter

Don Simons is a Park Interpreter at Mount Magazine State Park. One of the state’s great naturalists, Don has been showing and explaining the “Natural State” to visitors for 29 years, at Daisy State Park, Lake Chicot State Park and now at Mount Magazine. Don is also an excellent photographer whose work can be seen throughout the Mount Magazine Lodge and Visitor Center and in publications. Don has the unique ability to entertain children and adults at the same time while also teaching about the world around them. Don is an active member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter.


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.


Distracted by the Birds at Petit Jean State Park

March 31, 2011
A goldfinch visits a feeder filled with sunflower seeds

A goldfinch visits a feeder filled with sunflower seeds

My office at Petit Jean State Park may be a bit cramped, but I am fortunate to have a window right beside my desk to let in the afternoon sunshine and allow me to see the comings and goings of some of the visitors to our park visitor center.  However, it can be a bit challenging to stay focused on my work at the computer when the birds come to visit.  We interpreters like to feed the songbirds, and this helps folks who come to the visitor center get a better look at them, especially if they go into the exhibit room and look out through the large window at the pond, manmade waterfall and feeders in the back.  From time to time we also put out birdseed and suet in front of the building, which is where my window is located.  The Carolina wren, tufted titmouse, pine siskin, Northern cardinal, and dark-eyed junco are just a few of the numerous bird species that may be observed hanging around bird feeders here on Petit Jean Mountain.

 

Brown-headed nuthatch at Petit Jean State Park

Brown-headed nuthatch at Petit Jean State Park

In the time it has been taking me to write this, I have seen quite a few species of  birds, including white-throated sparrow, pine warbler, red-bellied woodpecker, American crow, white-breasted nuthatch, brown-headed nuthatch, brown creeper, Carolina chickadee, and American goldfinch.  (Not to mention that expert raider of bird feeders, the gray squirrel, busily stuffing itself and close enough to

 

touch if the window were open.)  The woodpecker is particularly distracting, with its brilliant red coloration on its head catching my eye, and the less noticeable red on its belly (which gives it its name) sometimes visible.  The male warblers are also eye catching, with their mixed coloration that includes olive green and vibrant yellow.  (As a co-worker of mine commented about an especially brightly colored male, “If that one doesn’t attract a mate, he’ll just be really unlucky!”)

This woodpecker has red on both its head and belly

This woodpecker has red on both its head and belly

It’s also interesting to observe the “pecking order” among the different kinds of birds.  Some birds give the appearance of being downright “mean” to other birds when competing for food (which is actually just a natural thing for them to do.)  A nuthatch may be chased away from the suet by a warbler.  The warbler is intimidated enough to move out of the way if a woodpecker comes along.  And if a crow comes to feed, all the other birds give him plenty of room as he hacks away and makes short work of the suet block!  (It’s typical to see the smaller birds scrounging on the ground after the crow leaves, cleaning up some of the mess he left behind.)

Educating the public about birds and presenting bird related programs is one of my favorite things about my job.  I am continually getting better at bird identification, and I enjoy observing and learning about birds, as well as inspiring park visitors to get interested in bird watching and make their own observations.

Well, it looks like the birds have consumed most of the birdseed it seems like we just put out for them.  Time to go give them some more!

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.”

 


When All is Lost

January 25, 2011

Interpreters, like most educators, know what it is like to operate on a shoe string budget – utilizing the resources at hand (leaves, seeds, and scenic vistas) and re-utilizing everyday materials (popsicle sticks, material scraps, and my favorite – peanut butter jars). There is something gratifying about not needing all the bells and whistles to highlight the significance of a place as special as Devil’s Den State Park.  However, when the tidbits of ideas, pictures, outlines, and contacts are all taken away, you realize how much time and research has gone into making the history of your park come to life.

On December 20, the interpreters’ office at Devil’s Den State Park was broken into. The perpetrators stole a range of items from our computers that stored things from contact information to pictures to amphitheater programs as well as personal effects like backpacks and hats and program materials like animal skins and binoculars. The saddest part about the loss is not the personal violation one feels when being broken into, but that those items were to help our visitors’ experience the park. These were the tangible items and thoughts that we had accumulated through the years to help tell the unique history of the park.

Although the loss was hard to accept as we walked around in a cloud of disbelief making a list of all the items gone from our repertoire, I am appeased to realize that the story of the park is still here! There was nothing in the office as precious as the materials found throughout the park. I look to the challenge of the days to come as a fresh start, a reason to get out taking photos around the park, a chance to brainstorm ideas, and revamp programs. If my programs were in a rut, they have just been given a fresh start! It will take time to rebuild our interpretive programs, but at least I have a good foundation and a great team to work with. This is a learning experience that has reconnected me to the resources outside my office and the fundamental things that no one can take from you – your ideas, knowledge, and Elmer’s glue (just try it!).

 

The history of Devil's Den is intact, in the park.

The history of Devil's Den is intact, in the park.

Please consider sharing your program ideas with me! What would you like to do on a visit to Devil’s Den State Park?

 

The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

(Interpreter Spurlock is determined to keep walking! Join her on one of her many fascinating, guided hikes through Devil’s Den State Park.)

Rebekah Spurlock, Devil's Den State Park

Rebekah Spurlock, Interpreter, Devil's Den State Park

Rebekah Spurlock is a native Arkansan, originally from the Delta. Since graduating with her Master’s in Geography in 2007 from the University of Memphis, Rebekah has called Devil’s Den State Park home.