Spring Fever!

March 1, 2011

It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!Mark Twain

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. Margaret Atwood

Who’s ready for spring? Signs of this much-anticipated season are everywhere, from fields carpeted with henbit to blooming elm trees; March reminds us that warmer weather is on the way. After this harsh winter in the Arkansas River Valley, I freely admit I have spring fever.

Falcate orangetip

Falcate orangetip

When I look ahead to March on the calendar, “spring break” comes to mind, a reminder that it’s time to schedule park programs that coincide with wildflower blooming and emergence of butterflies. It’s time to wipe the dust off the boxes holding my spring crafts for kids. It’s also time to work on my garden chore list and think about plants for this growing season. See? I have spring fever.

Due to higher elevation, spring temperatures come a bit later to Mount Magazine. A general rule of thumb is to add one week of greening or blooming for each 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The door of the season still opens in March.

Serviceberry dots the mountain.

Serviceberry dots the mountain.

Serviceberry will soon dot the landscape with bright white blossoms. Spring beauties, trout lilies, and daffodils begin to emerge this month. Bloodroot, with its one-day-only white flowers and large leaves will emerge like a phoenix from the fallen leaves.

The symbiosis of flowering plants and animals is easily seen during the spring months. In mutualism, both organisms benefit. Flowers advertise their nectar rewards with specific colors, shapes, and nectar rewards, much like the advertising we see everyday in every form. Insects and birds are attracted as the consumer, and pollinate the plant in the process, enabling the plant to reproduce. Lack of color, unique shape, and putrid scent attract flies and gnats as pollinators.

Count the question marks.

Count the question marks

As birds begin to migrate north, many will drill into trees in search of food. Sap trickling down a tree trunk left behind afterwards attracts butterflies that have emerged from torpor. Question marks, goatweed leafwings, and mourning cloaks feast on the sugar-laden sap.

Zebra swallowtail

Zebra swallowtail

Butterflies that emerge from chrysalides in early spring are darker and smaller than summer forms in order to use the sun’s energy more efficiently. Zebra swallowtails, falcate orangetips, hairstreaks, duskywings, and elfins begin to take nectar from sources such as plum blossoms, redbud, spiderwort, wild hyacinth, blue star, and so many more. Ruby-throated hummingbirds usually arrive the first full week of April, and the flowers of Ohio buckeye and yellow honeysuckle are usually ready for them.  The best way to experience these flowers is to bring a field guide, get a park wildflower checklist, and of course, go on a wildflower hike with a park interpreter.

I’m not quite certain when my love affair with wildflowers began. Part of my affection stems from my love of butterflies; a lepidopterist has to be part botanist in order to understand the relationship between them. But my love of spring wildflowers is separate, and not just because the majority of them aren’t pollinated by butterflies. I admire these flowers with a short blooming period; completing their life cycles before the leaves take over with such precision and efficiency.

Seldom-seen yellow trout lily

Seldom-seen yellow trout lily

After so many years of living and working at Mount Magazine State Park, I delight in being able to take visitors to fire pink, spiderwort, Ohio buckeye, historic quince, and lilac shrubs on Will Apple’s Road Trail; bloodroot, trillium, and crested iris on the Signal Hill trail, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit on the Cove Lake trail. I am asked lots of questions about which trail to take to see wildflowers, and am often asked to identify photos of wildflowers after the hike is over. Helping visitors connect to nature in this way, and helping them gain confidence in their identification skills, and helping kids begin their own butterfly gardens are highlights of spring.

If not during spring break, then at some point in spring, I encourage you to visit a state park and walk a trail to cure your spring fever.

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer has been a volunteer at Mount Magazine State Park since 1997, and is chairman of the Mount Magazine Action Group. She holds a M.S. in entomology and is the author of Arkansas Butterflies and Moths.

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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.


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.


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.


The Milkweed Archipelago

October 8, 2010

“The universe has as many different centers as there are living beings in it.”  Alexander Solzhenitsyn

A tiny island of orange beckons an orange butterfly.  Down she goes as millions of her ancestors have for eons of time.  This brilliant orange flower and this beautiful insect have a relationship common in nature.  Milkweed is required for the reproduction of the Monarch butterfly.  The plant has many defenses for protection from hungry bugs.  One of the most potent is a chemical called cardiac glycoside.  It is poisonous to most animals.  It is life to the Monarch.

The female carefully sticks her cone shaped eggs to the bottom of the milkweed leaves.  In a few days they will hatch, and the tiny caterpillars will find themselves on a salad bar perfect for their taste.  Cardiac glycoside is the flavor they crave.  They like it so much it becomes part of them, stored in their tissues.

When they emerge from the chrysalis, their bright orange wings will fill with fluid.  Not only are they bold and bright in color, they fly slowly.  They are an easy target for insect eating birds.  Monarchs are easy to catch, but hard to digest.  Glycoside from the milkweed causes a nasty stomach upset for the hungry bird, and the bright orange and black pattern of the Monarch makes it easier to remember the nauseating dining experience.  It is no longer on the menu.  Monarchs that fly past this bird in the future can pass in safety.  The bold pattern of the monarch is a warning coloration.  While many species in the animal kingdom try to blend in, the monarch, armed with its own version of chemical warfare, stands out.

At least two other insects have adapted to eating milkweed and making glycoside their own.  The Milkweed Beetle and Milkweed Bug feed only on milkweed.  The orange-red Milkweed Beetles are often seen on the leaves, and the red and black Milkweed Bugs can be found on the seedpods.  They are brilliant, beautiful, and a sickening meal for predators.

 

Milkweed

Milkweed

 

Rich Mountain is an excellent stopover for Monarchs due to the many species of wildflowers that bloom during the end of September and the beginning of October. We can’t predict the exact days of the migration, but it usually happens in the first days of October.

A wave of orange will descend onto the white, yellow and blue flowers along the Lover’s Leap Trail.  The adult Monarchs are not limited to milkweed, but nectar on many different wildflowers.  Only as caterpillars are they tied exclusively to members of the milkweed clan.  Thousands of Monarch butterflies will steadily move over the mountain toward their wintering ground in Mexico.

A few Monarchs trickle through the park all through August and September. These early individuals are just the preview of the flood that will come.

This remarkable phenomenon of the fall season reminds us of the unending cycle of life. Each year Monarchs wing their way across the Ouachitas persistently fluttering toward the southwest.  Grounded, we watch them pass and take comfort in the promise it gives us for the years to come.

Next year the Monarchs will head north from their wintering ground in Mexico searching for the scattered clumps of milkweed. Their islands of survival, the milkweed archipelago, is the center of the Monarch’s universe.

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.


Kayaking Campout!

August 10, 2010

As the kayaking trip approaches, I can hardly hold back the excitement of hitting the water for some much needed paddling on beautiful Lake Ouachita.  It’s the first overnight kayaking trip of the year and I’ve been making preparations for weeks.  As the park interpreter at Lake Ouachita State Park, I host these trips to let others marvel at the wonders of this truly exceptional lake.  Many times, visitors to Lake Ouachita never even get on the water.  They don’t take the opportunity to immerse themselves in the beauty of this 48,000 acre lake with nearly 975 miles of pristine shorelines and countless islands.  I find kayaking to be one of the best ways to experience Lake Ouachita and create some cherished memories.

Morning fog before the launch.

Morning fog before the launch.

Saturday morning finally arrives, it’s 7:30 am and the others are unloading their kayak laden vehicles and gear.  We strategically place all our supplies onto the support barge that will shadow us throughout the trip and offer us a refuge if necessary.   After a safety brief and introduction, we set out on our two-day adventure.  The calmness of the lake is broken by the ripples our paddles create as we follow the shoreline of the park towards a destination unknown by most.   As we tuck in and out of the coves along the peninsula, the morning fog begins to unveil the vast lake before us.  I can’t help but breathe a little deeper as I take in the refreshing air.  No matter how many times I paddle on Lake Ouachita, I always experience the same tranquility as the stresses of life are carried away with each of the small waves I leave behind.  I’m snapped back into reality as a kingfisher breaks the silence with its load chatter.  I realize we have paddled a few

Paddling along the shoreline.

Paddling along the shoreline.

miles up the shoreline, but I don’t feel the least bit fatigued.  It’s almost time for lunch, so I radio the support barge to begin preparations on a nearby island.   Refueled by our lunch of sandwiches, chips, cookies and cold drinks, it’s back to the water.  By 3:00 pm, we are arriving at our campsite.  It’s a beautiful island with plenty of room for all of our tents and camping supplies.  For the next few hours, everyone sets up camp and enjoys some free time to explore, relax or visit with new friends.  Soon, we are greeted with a visitor to our camp.  Dinner is here!  I have catered a barbeque dinner with all the fixings from a local restaurant.  It’s a nice treat after a day of paddling.  The sun is about to set, so we decide to go for a barge tour on the lake.  It’s rather quiet on the ride.  I’m not sure if it is because everyone is tired or if it’s just that sunsets on Lake Ouachita can leave you speechless.  As the colorful skies transform into distant twinkles of light, we pull up to an island for an astronomy program.  The nighttime sky is unaffected by the light pollution of neighboring cities, so we are able to gaze at thousands of stars in all directions.

The welcoming campsite.

The welcoming campsite.

After listening to a few star legends, it’s time to head back to camp.  The light of our campfire serves as a beacon as we navigate the dark waters.  It’s getting late, so some call it a night, while others gather around the campfire for some campfire stories and smores.  Finally, the firewood turns to embers and we all crawl into our tents.  For most of us, we are fast asleep as our heads hit our pillows.  It’s been a full day and we need to a good nights’ rest for the return trip in the morning.

Nothing brings people together like a campfire in the fall.

Nothing brings people together like a campfire in the fall.

The campers awaken to the smell of coffee brewing and breakfast cooking in a Dutch oven over the campfire.  After a hearty meal, it’s time to break camp.  We gather for a final group photo and then it’s time to launch.  As we paddle back to the park, I can’t help but smile when I think about the friends I have made and the satisfaction of knowing this trip helped each of us connect with the natural treasures of Lake Ouachita.

Lake Ouachita State Park offers overnight kayaking trips in the fall and spring.  Space is limited on the trips and are quite popular, so make your reservations early by contacting the park interpreter.  You may also come out for our 1 ½ hour kayak tours of nearby coves scheduled weekly throughout the summer months.

Please contact the park to make reservations for this or other programs. 501-767-9366

(Learn about the next Kayaking Campout and other programs on the Lake Ouachita State Park Calendar of Events)

Susan Tigert, Park Interpreter

Susan Tigert, Park Interpreter

Susan has Bachelor of Science in Psychology.  She grew up in Hot Springs and spent lots of time camping on the area lakes.  Susan wants her children to have those same great memories she has from her childhood.