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. 


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.


Exploring Nature on the Trails at Cossatot River State Park

March 15, 2011

“The book of nature has no beginning as it has no end.” (Jim Corbett)

I am excited to tell you about the four trails we have and how our longest trail (“River Corridor”) is now completed for you to “experience the seasonal natural beauty along this wild and scenic river.”

The Visitor Center at Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area is a good place to start before any hike.

The Visitor Center at Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area is a good place to start before any hike.

Starting with our shortest trail, “The Waterleaf Interpretive Trail.”   This trail begins at the Visitor Center and includes a section of barrier-free trail along the ridge top.  This ½ mile trail goes down the North Slope to the Highway 278 river access.  Please be careful and enjoy Arkansas’s natural world.  The trail is marked with yellow medallions with a backpacker in the middle to help guide you along.  This trail is rated easy to moderate (moderate meaning a hill to climb either way back to the top of the ridge).

Brush Creek Nature Trail Sign.

Brush Creek Nature Trail Sign.

Our next shortest trail is, “Brushy Creek Interpretive Trail.”  This trail starts on the west side of the river and provides barrier-free access to a pedestrian walkway over the river.  The trail continues to the picnic area on the east side of this recreation area.  This ¾ mile trail meanders through mixed—Pine and hardwood, and offers a scenic view overlooking the Cossatot River/Brushy Creek union.  The numbered trees in the Trail Guide brochure corresponds with numeric labels placed near matching species along the trail.  The Trail head is located 9 miles east of Vandervoort on the east side of Brushy Creek Recreation Area.  It will end after you descend a flight of stairs into the parking lot.  This trail is also marked with yellow medallions with a backpacker in the middle to help guide you along.  This trail is rated easy to moderate (moderate meaning stairs to climb and a few small hills to get to the top of the ridge).  Please be careful and enjoy Arkansas’s natural world.

Harris Creek Trail Sign.

Harris Creek Trail Sign.

Starting with our longer trails, the “Harris Creek Trail,” begins just off of Highway 278 near the Baker Creek Bridge and meanders through 3.5 miles of mature forest between Harris Creek and the river.  The trail is marked with a blue medallion with a backpacker in the middle to show you the way.  The trail is scenic, and sections of the trail are rugged and steep.  Wear appropriate shoes and clothing and carry water.  This trail is rated easy (short section of the trail), then moderate to difficult (moderate meaning several inclines and then it changes into steep switch backs.  After you have made it to the top of the switch backs you will be walking on an old log road back to the parking area/trail head area.)  Please be careful and enjoy Arkansas’s natural world.

Finally, our last trail is the “River Corridor Trail.”  The River Corridor trail has been reconstructed over the last two years and is now a first class hiking facility. This trail is 14 miles long with several access points along the way.  The trail is divided into three segments the first section starting at the park’s Brushy Creek Recreational Area on Arkansas Highway 246; approximately nine miles east of Vandervoort.  It ends at Ed Banks, which is a five mile hike.  The second section is from Ed Banks to the Falls, and it is a 2 mile hike.  The third and final section is the longest part.  It is a 7 mile hike from the Falls to the U.S. Highway 278 Access Area, below the Visitor Center.

River Corridor Trail Sign.

River Corridor Trail Sign.

Steps and Bridge on the River Corridor Trail.

Steps and Bridge on the River Corridor Trail.

This entire trail is blazed in blue and is rated strenuous.  Hikers have the option of walking the entire trail or choosing a particular segment.  The trail is excellent for a two-to-three-day backpacking adventure; however, hikers are asked to camp at the park’s designated camping facilities located at the Cossatot Falls, Sandbar Area, and the Ed Banks Area, or the undeveloped U.S. Highway 278 Access.  Also you need to stop in at the Visitor Center (located on the U.S. Highway 278 Area) to fill out a Yellow Slip (Trail Register) to hang on your mirror.

According to Park Superintendent Stan Speight, “hikers have the opportunity to choose a trail length that best fits the amount of time they have to go hiking.”  He noted that the shortest segment is the middle section which stretches two miles in length.  “Trail enthusiasts can enjoy a morning or afternoon hike, and all-day hike, or a weekend of adventure experiencing the entire 14 miles,” said Speight.  “And since the trail follows the Cossatot River Corridor, each segment offers the opportunity to experience the seasonal natural beauty along this wild and scenic river.”

With all four of our trails, Please take only pictures and leave only footprints.  We support the LNT (Leave No Trace) Principles, which are:  Plan Ahead and Prepare, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave what you Find, Respect Wildlife, and Be Considerate of other Visitors.

If you have any questions or comments contact a park ranger or call (870) 385-2201.  We hope you enjoy your stay at the Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area.

From start to finish there are 20 –miles of different diverse hiking trails.  Trails are a great way to engage in nature.  There are amazing things to see if you look close enough.  Start with experiencing aspects of nature that you can directly relate to with your physical, sensory, or emotional senses.  You can also join or make reservations to have a personal Interpreter Guide as you hike along a trail.Your connections with nature will continue to go deeper and deeper as you ask questions and follow your sense of wonder.  This connection is what brings about a sense of meaning in our lives—it deepens in each one of us a sense that we have a special place in this precious world.

Shelley Flanary, Park Interpreter

Shelley Flanary, Park Interpreter

Shelley Flanary is a park interpreter at Cossatot River State Park – Natural Area. She has worked for Arkansas State Parks since 2001, starting out as a seasonal interpreter at DeGray Lake Resort, Lake Catherine, and Petit Jean State Parks. Shelley earned her degree in Parks and Recreation Management from Henderson State University in 2005. She is also an NAI Certified Interpretive Guide, recreational kayak instructor, and emergency first responder.


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.


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?”


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.


With Eyes Like a Child

June 23, 2010
Something as simple as a mussel shell can hold a world of mysteries for a child.

Something as simple as a mussel shell can hold a world of mysteries for a child.

It started as a simple hike at day camp.  We were walking around Walcott Lake and talking about what lived there.  Suddenly one of the kids spotted a mussel shell and they were all immediately captivated by the “seashells.”  They wanted to know what it was and when they found out that an animal lived in it, they wanted to know what it ate and what ate it.  A simple shell, that most adults would have walked right past, opened up a new area of interest for these kids.

Always remember to take time to explore the small wonders in nature, like the emergence of the cicadas.

Always remember to take time to explore the small wonders in nature, like the emergence of the cicadas.

I love getting to work with children in my job because they have a need to explore and learn about their surroundings that adults often leave behind as they get older.  For an adult, a trail is a way to get from one place to another, a way to stay fit, or a simple walk through the woods.  For a child, that same trail is unexplored territory filled with new creatures, strange plants, and thrilling experiences.

They also have a slightly different way of exploring things.  They use all of their senses to learn about an object.  Leaves are rubbed and sniffed, furs are touched, and everything is looked at with an eye for detail that might surprise someone unfamiliar with children.   This allows them to understand an object at a deeper level than they would from just looking at it and moving on.

I learn so much from watching the children in the park.  They remind me that every day is a new chance to explore and learn about the world around me.  They remind me that a walk in the woods should always be an adventure full of things I may not have ever noticed before.  They remind me that using all of my senses makes the experience that much richer and, maybe most importantly, they help me to see simple, familiar objects with a new appreciation that only comes by looking at it with eyes like a child.

Sassafras leaves, when crushed or torn, smell slightly of lemons.

Sassafras leaves, when crushed or torn, smell slightly of lemons.

Heather Runyan, Park Interpreter

Heather Runyan, Park Interpreter

Heather Runyan graduated from Henderson State University with a bachelor’s degree in Recreation and Park Administration and after college served two terms as an AmeriCorps member.   She began working for Arkansas State Parks in 2006 as the Park Interpreter at Crowley’s Ridge State Park.   Heather is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and a Certified Interpretive Guide.