Hard Work and Sweat

September 14, 2011

Imagine a group of Indians sitting quietly under the shade of a tree, wiping sweat from their brow and calculating how many more trips they must make with their baskets to complete their newest mound.  They have made countless trips already and their efforts are almost complete.  Hard work and sweat were some of the tools used recently to preserve a piece of Arkansas’ history.  Recently, the staff at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park worked side by side with the Arkansas Archeological Survey, volunteers from the Arkansas Archeological Society, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commissions “Stream Team” to stop the erosion of one of the mound slopes at the park.  A sense of accomplishment was the end result, knowing that we had done our part to preserve this piece of the past.  Here is our story.

Artifacts

Artifacts

One fall afternoon, the park staff was picking up trash along the lake bank and discovered several artifacts that had surfaced on Mound P.  The fluctuating water levels of the lake had partly caused the erosion of the back side of this mound.  The survey archeologist at the time was Dr. Jane Anne Blakney-Bailey.  Under her direction, we surface collected the artifacts and started making plans to stabilize the slope.  The picture to the right shows some of the artifacts that were collected.

Bone disc

Bone disc

One of the first things that needed to be done was to excavate a portion of the mound.  This area of the site was uncharted territory for professional archeologist so this was an exciting opportunity to explore the mound.  The Arkansas Archeological Society and the Arkansas Archeological Survey held the annual training dig at Toltec Mounds during the summer of 2010.  Under the direction of Dr. Blakney-Bailey, Mound P was selected as a dig location.  There were six units opened up and a wide variety of artifacts and features were discovered at this location during excavation.  The picture shows a one of the artifacts  that was found as a result of this excavation.

Once the excavation was complete, further plans were made to stabilize the mound so that more artifacts were not lost to erosion.  Park Superintendent Stewart Carlton worked to find the best possible methods to get the job done.  He enlisted the advice and help of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Stream Team” and the current resident archeologist Dr. Elizabeth Horton.  They worked together to develop a preservation plan.  The plan was carried out on August 31st, 2011.  The loose vegetation was cleared away and coconut matting was placed directly on the mound surface and held in place with wooden stakes.  Large tree trunks were then laid down and secured at the base of the mound with metal cables.  The final step was to plant and encourage vegetation to grow on the mound slope.  Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words…

This long vanished culture (archeologists call them the Plum Bayou Culture) can speak to us only through artifacts and features like the mounds.  Archeologists get one chance to read the true story of the Plum Bayou Culture.  If erosion, animal burrows or looting get in the way, accurate information is lost forever.  Preserving archeological features allows archeologists a chance to see features of the site undisturbed.  Saving these 1,200 year old features provides priceless information for future generations.

Robin Gabe, Park Interpreter

Robin Gabe, Park Interpreter

Robin Gabe has been a park interpreter at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park for eight years. She began her career with Arkansas State Park system as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Poinsett State Park. She grew up in Caldwell, Arkansas and received her Bachelor’s of Science in Education from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in 1997.

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Unique Ways to Support your Arkansas State Parks

July 29, 2010

The Coca-Cola Company and its subsidiary, Odwalla have created some exciting ways to support both state and national parks.

Which is your favorite park?

Which is your favorite park?

From the Live Positively Website: “For over 40 years, Coca-Cola has supported America’s national parks. Through our support of individual parks and the National Park Foundation, we’ve helped maintain and rebuild 260 miles of trails so families can be active together while enjoying the great outdoors. In the last 4 years we’ve donated over 4 million dollars to national parks for restoration and renovation.

To demonstrate our commitment to our parks we’re encouraging all families to come out and play this summer. You can also help support America’s parks by simply voting for your favorite. The national or state park with the most votes will receive a $100,000 grant from Coca-Cola. Vote as many times as you like from 7/29 to 8/31”

This could easily be an Arkansas State Park. It’s up to you. They don’t ask for any personal information and you can vote as often and for as many parks as you would like. We just ask that you make them Arkansas State Parks.

You plant up to 5 trees.

You plant up to 5 trees.

From the Plant-A-Tree Website: “For the past 2 years, along with your help, Odwalla has made a commitment to our state parks by donating money to help plant trees. It’s pretty simple. We provide the trees, and you get to decide how much support each state gets.”

You can plant up to 5 trees and for every tree planted for Arkansas, the state parks gets $1.00 toward the purchase and planting of trees. This could be used for youth programs, facility landscaping or reforestation.

For this one they had us create a video to promote the program. Watch it here. Vote For Trees Thanks for supporting Arkansas State Parks.


Swallowtails in my Heart

June 4, 2010

“What is your favorite butterfly?” I am asked that question by both children and adults. So many of our butterflies are beautiful in both color and grace, so it can be difficult to pick just one to say its your “favorite.” Sometimes a favorite butterfly has a deeper, more personal meaning.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

Maybe it’s just this time of year when the butterflies and wildflowers really begin to thrive, or maybe I’m just feeling sentimental, but when I see a swallowtail, I still feel like a little kid. My first butterfly was a black swallowtail, so for this and other reasons, it remains my personal favorite. Sorry, my beloved Diana fritillary, you are somewhat second when it comes to being my first love.

Balck Swallowtail Butterfly

Black Swallowtail Butterfly

My love of butterflies began with a fifth-grade homework assignment. I am still in contact with my teacher. To a little kid, a caterpillar tucked into an empty pickle jar with a bunch of unidentified leaves wasn’t an epiphany until the black swallowtail emerged eight months later. Then, as my father can corroborate, I was hooked.

As I watch our swallowtails flit through the air, I do look at them with the eyes of an educated adult, but I still have a sense of awe and wonder. The swallowtails living in Arkansas are such amazing creatures, and you can enjoy them in both your yard and in our state parks.

Mud-puddling Zebras and Pipevine Swallowtails

Mud-puddling Zebras and Pipevine Swallowtails

Swallowtails on the wing in May include black, pipevine, zebra, Eastern tiger, spicebush, and giant swallowtails. Since more people are adding both nectar and host plants to their home gardens, more people are looking and attracting these insects. One of the best parts of my job is to give someone advice one year, and then listen to their success stories in the following years.

Perhaps one of the best examples of attempting to live in harmony with butterflies is the gardener who puts up with black swallowtail caterpillars on their parsley, dill, and fennel. To begin life resembling a bird dropping assures some demise. If only they started life as their mature yellow-green color, and if only they wouldn’t chow down on the same leaves we want to eat so rapidly! For this reason, I grow Queen Anne’s lace, just in case I need to transfer caterpillars.

Dark Form Female Tiger Swallowtail

Dark Form Female Tiger Swallowtail

More gardeners are becoming interested in growing Dutchman’s pipevine for pipevine swallowtails. This shade plant contains chemicals that once ingested, help defend both caterpillar and adult from hungry predators. Pipevine swallowtails are often the first swallowtail to emerge in spring, and have multiple generations in one year. Their iridescence is unmatched in the sunlight.

The tails of zebra swallowtails are longer in the summer form than the spring form, and both are master of dizzying flight maneuvers.

To study one or all of the swallowtails is a lifetime of fun in itself. For me, seeing a large butterfly with tails always makes my day a little brighter.

Just this week, I spent a mere 30 minutes standing in one spot on Will Apple’s Road Trail at Mount Magazine State Park, and saw a flurry of activity. A pipevine swallowtail unsuccessfully attempted to court a red-spotted purple. Talk about mistaken identity! A female giant swallowtail was flitting from hop tree to hop tree (aka wafer ash), searching for a suitable place to lay eggs. A dark-form female tiger swallowtail flew into the courtship of the other two black butterflies and disrupted them. A satyr flew by my head. I flushed a red-banded hairstreak from the ground. A fresh silver-spotted skipper was basking in the sunlight near its host plant, a black locust almost in fragrant full bloom. The pipevine swallowtail gave up the courtship and flew away. The red-spotted purple finally alighted on a cherry tree and basked in a sliver of sunlight. Everyone benefits by immersing themselves in a natural setting such as this. It frees the heart and mind.

One of the amazing aspects of nature is the symbiotic relationship between wildflowers and their butterfly pollinators. Later this May, male Diana fritillaries emerge from their chrysalises, with females following approximately three weeks later. This is well synchronized with the blooming of butterfly weed, purple coneflower, bee balm, and several others.

Kids really enjoy the Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival!

Kids really enjoy the Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival!

Arkansas has many butterfly “hot spots,” and special events designed to help visitors enjoy them more. The Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival, coming up June 25-26, is dedicated to creating awareness of butterflies in their natural habitat and their importance as pollinators. The weekend is full of programs, hikes, children’s games and crafts, a live arthropod zoo, garden tours, and two concerts. It is a great way for families to spend a weekend together.

I think I’ll head outside and check my parsley (again) for black swallowtail caterpillars. I’m still a little kid at heart who would much rather be outside.

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer is the author of Arkansas Butterflies and Moths, and has won multiple awards for volunteer work at Mount Magazine State Park and throughout Arkansas. Since she moved to Arkansas in 1992, Lori has been an active voice for creating awareness about Arkansas’s rich butterfly heritage and their conservation needs. She has been associated with the Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival since its inception in 1997. She volunteers for four different organizations, including Logan County Master Gardeners, the Mount Magazine Action Group, and the National Association for Interpretation, and is both the Arkansas and Louisiana coordinator for the Butterflies and Moths of North America website. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Central College in Pella, Iowa, and a master’s degree in entomology from the University of Arkansas. She is both a Certified Heritage Interpreter and Certified Interpretive Guide. She received a national conservation award by the Daughters of the American Revolution recently.


Plant a tree in Arkansas!

May 25, 2010
Vote for Arkansas

Vote for Arkansas

You can vote for Arkansas to receive trees donated by Odwalla’s Plant a Tree program!  Simply log onto the Plant-A-Tree Web site and enter your email address. You can only vote once, so please encourage your friends and family to take part in this event. You can even link it on your Facebook and Twitter accounts.

1 vote = $1 for trees. Odwalla is donating a total of  $200,000 towards the purchase of trees for America’s State Parks.  This is a great opportunity to help the environment as well as your local community so take a minute or two of your time today and vote for Arkansas. Below is a reminder of just what trees mean to Arkansas State Parks!

We don’t have a code in our park guide so we are only able to vote once per person. Now just Vote for Arkansas! Thanks!


Old-fashioned Community Energy

April 8, 2010

Volunteer Days at the Ozark Folk Center

Volunteer Days is a great time to try out new food ideas, like kettle corn.

Volunteer Days is a great time to try out new food ideas, like kettle corn.

The Ozarks is a unique and special place. Well-known for their beauty, these hills are also known for being challenging to live in or travel through. The weather here is a drama queen, tempestuous thundering tantrums one hour – sunshine and flowers the next.

In many ways living in the Ozarks is a balancing act. The abundant water in lakes, streams and falling rain is balanced by muddy, destructive flooding waters. The wild foods, natural fruits, nuts, greens and berries growing with wild abandon are counter-weighted by the challenges of trucking food-stuffs in to hill country supermarkets.

One thing about the Ozarks that has no downside is the people. On the whole, whether native to this land or drawn to it, the people who live in the Ozark Mountains are self-sufficient, creative and caring.

Volunteer and jeweler Linda Widmer paints the trim on the Doll  Shop windows.

Volunteer and jeweler Linda Widmer paints the trim on the Doll Shop windows.

Perhaps because there are relatively few people, everyone is appreciated for their qualities. Now, that doesn’t mean that everybody likes each other or that gossip isn’t the town’s main entertainment, but it does mean that whether you like your neighbor or not, you’ll still go help him raise his barn and bring food to the potluck.

The Ozark Folk Center is an Arkansas State Park that was founded to celebrate and preserve this unique spirit. Where other parks have acres of natural beauty, we have uniquely creative people willing to share their music and crafts. A seasonal park, we don’t officially open until April 16. Starting about mid-March though, we get lots of calls. People are starting to stir in the hills. People want to get out and see people.

Ozark Folk Center volunteer coordinator Kathy Hair encourages volunteers Wayne and Charlotte Russell as they scrub the Spinning and Weaving Shop windows.

Ozark Folk Center volunteer coordinator Kathy Hair encourages volunteers Wayne and Charlotte Russell as they scrub the Spinning and Weaving Shop windows.

Bringing together the barn-raising spirit, spring fever and the spring cleaning urge, we started Volunteer Days at the Ozark Folk Center Craft Village in 2008. This year’s days are April 13 and 14. We invite the public from far and wide to come help us put the finishing touch on our park before we open. We’ve had folks from Colorado, Maryland, Oregon and Louisiana chipping in to scrub walls, paint window and weed gardens right next to the neighbors from down the street.

Some of the projects are planned, like scrubbing the outside of every window in the village, hanging the pictures in the Administration hallway or planting the garden around the Shannon Cabin. Others take stock of volunteer’s strengths like painting shop signs or rebuilding cabin doors. Some volunteers run drinks, tools and messages to other helpers. Musicians who want to practice and warm up their acts after the long winter can perform on the outdoor stage and add energy to the event.

Ozark Folk Center’s Group Sales Manager Jimmie Edwards shares comments with KFFB’s General Manager Bob Connell.

Ozark Folk Center’s Group Sales Manager Jimmie Edwards shares comments with KFFB’s General Manager Bob Connell.

The whole community gets involved in the volunteer cleanup days. Local radio station KFFB has done a remote live broadcast from the event for the last two years and fed the volunteers pizza and soda pop for lunch. In 2009 it seemed like everyone was thanking KFFB’s Bob Connell for his great program during that winter’s ice storm. He kept his station on the air and connecting people during the storm that devastated the areas forests and left many people without electricity for weeks. This year, Centennial Bank is providing lunch on the 13th and of course, people bring cookies, salads and other treats for potluck. There’s always more food than people, so if you’re thinking of driving up to Mountain View for the event, don’t worry about bringing food with you.

The Ozark Folk Center isn’t open during this event, we open officially April 16th. So if you’re looking for top quality music shows and crafters taking the time to demonstrate their crafts, wait a few more days. But if you want to come be a part of the community spirit that the Center was founded to preserve and perpetuate, join us on April 13th and 14th for Volunteer Days.

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.


Artifact Tales

March 25, 2010
More than a collection of rocks. How did they get here?

More than a collection of rocks. How did they get here?

Artifacts amaze me. It is a simple statement but every word is true. In certain cases, they are the only link that we have to past cultures. This is true at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park. The American Indians that lived here are called the Plum Bayou Culture and they left clues to their way of life in the form of artifacts. They lived at this site around 1,200 years ago and were resourceful, innovative human beings that were not that much different from you and I. They probably got up in the morning with a mental “to do” list that may have included going hunting, making pottery or repairing a thatched hut. There is so much that we are still trying to learn about their way of life. We are learning more and more every day thanks to the artifacts and features that were left.

At first glance, stone artifacts are simply pieces of rock that have been shaped into something useful. But upon closer examination, stone artifacts tell a story. I grew up in the natural division of Arkansas known as the Delta. I played in the farm fields, explored wooded areas around my house and helped my parents plant a garden during my childhood. I never thought about it then but looking back, not one time did I ever find a rock in the ground. Toltec Mounds is in the delta and there are no rocks here, yet we find artifacts made of stone. That stone is not native to this natural division. Where did it come from? Some of it can be traced back to the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains as well as the Arkansas River Valley. Whatever the origin, it had to be brought in from a great distance.

Each artifact tells a story.

Each artifact tells a story.

Today, moving supplies over long distances is as simple as getting in the car, driving for a few hours, loading your supplies in the trunk and driving home. Now let yourself go back in time for a moment. Travel wasn’t as easy then as it is now. There were really only two modes of transportation at that time; walking or dugout canoes. If walking was the chosen way to travel, then following a foot path through the woods would have taken you to your destination. Fast, no. Imagine the return journey. Packing heavy loads of chert, novaculite or quartz would have certainly added to the burden. Dugout canoes might have lightened the load but only after you took the time to learn the art of making one strong enough to carry you and your treasure. Cutting/burning down a tree and using coals from a fire along with stone tools to hollow it out was no easy task. What a difference time has made.

When stone artifacts are found here at Toltec, they tell a tale. The material that the artifact is made out of tells where and how far people traveled to get the raw material. The shape and style of the projectile points can help to determine its age. What it was used for helps to reveal a little about the cultures lifestyle. The more artifacts that we find, the clearer the picture becomes.

Could this have once been a major commerce area?

Could this have once been a major commerce area?

Artifacts amaze me. They are the only voice of the Plum Bayou Culture. Something made so long ago can still speak to us if we know how to listen. Archeologists are still uncovering the stories of the past at Toltec. With every artifact that we find, we learn more about this long vanished culture. Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park is hosting the annual training dig June 5th through the 20th of 2010. This dig is coordinated by the Arkansas Archeological Society and they invite you to participate. If you would like more information about how to be involved in this dig, contact the park.

Robin Gabe, Park Interpreter

Robin Gabe, Park Interpreter

Robin Gabe has been a park interpreter at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park for eight years. She began her career with Arkansas State Park system as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Poinsett State Park. She grew up in Caldwell, Arkansas and received her Bachelor’s of Science in Education from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in 1997.


Volunteering “Warms You Twice”

January 18, 2010

Volunteer Lori Spencer reveals the wonders of Arkansas's mints.

Volunteer Lori Spencer reveals the wonders of Arkansas's mints.

Chop your own wood, it will warm you twice. – Henry Ford

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. – Winston Churchill

When you visit an Arkansas State Park, do you notice the condition of trails, campground, signs, exhibits, or roads? If it’s a weekend, do you notice people working who are not in uniform? Do you notice words like “interpretive volunteer” or “docent” on program schedules? If so, then you are experiencing the impact of the park’s volunteers, who are as valuable as the resources they assist in preserving and interpreting.

Just as “wood is the fuel that warms you twice,” the act of volunteering gives the individual so much more. For example, the volunteers of the Mount Magazine Action Group, a non-profit public charity, support Mount Magazine State Park’s conservation and education mission through trail maintenance, resource inventory, program assistance, funding, and other activities. Members of this group come from all walks of life and ages, and have two threads weaving them together: they love the park, and they enjoy volunteering.

Volunteer Beverly Duke leads a garden tour at the Visitor Center.

Volunteer Beverly Duke leads a garden tour at the Visitor Center.

“I joined the volunteer group in anticipation of retirement. A purely selfish reason because I knew that I would need something useful to do with my time after many years in the workforce. I have stayed in the group because I think what we do is important, making visitors feel welcome while they are at the park and assisting them in any way that we can,” states volunteer Beverly Duke, Mount Magazine Action Group secretary and Master Gardener.

As the director of the annual Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival, I remember the years when there were no volunteers, and I did most everything myself. What hard work that was! Now I have trained volunteers to help with every aspect, including front-line with the park visitors and behind the scenes. Some of these tasks include greeting and orienting visitors, collating festival schedules, and providing funding for kids’ activities, guest speakers, and concerts. The butterfly festival has grown in numbers with 50 percent more children participating since the organization began funding these activities.

Volunteer Carolyn Allen greets and orients visitors.

Volunteer Carolyn Allen greets and orients visitors.

According to volunteer Carolyn Morris, “Mount Magazine has fantastic facilities that very few places have, and I am so proud of it. This area has been very good to me, and I want to give back to my community whatever I can.”

Six people can do in three hours what it would take a single park interpreter several days to accomplish. But the experience is so much more rewarding than that.  A volunteer organization gives people both the opportunity to help the park and satisfy their social needs. During the 6-year existence of our group, we have become a tight-knit family. Work days are a family reunion as much as they are for clearing a trail or orienting visitors during an event. We also learn new skills from each other as we work.

The volunteers of Arkansas State Parks often include more people in addition to a “friends” group. Parks state-wide have benefited from trail work projects completed by eagle, cub, boy scouts and girl scouts, Master Gardener chapters, and more recently, the Arkansas Master Naturalist program. These volunteers are typically professionals themselves, and are trained by professionals so they are ready to assist in whatever way park staff needs. These talented people give freely of their time and talent, and donate thousands of hours each year.

Volunteers clean out Historic Buckman's Pool on the Will Apple's Road Trail.

Volunteers clean out Historic Buckman's Pool on the Will Apple's Road Trail.

When you talk to a volunteer in an Arkansas State Park, you are speaking to someone who knows the park’s resources and is genuinely happy to see you. Their enthusiasm is often contagious. They are passionate about what they do and excited to share their skills. They are the reflection of the resource itself.

Volunteering has always been a part of my life, beginning when I was a teenager volunteering at the public library in my hometown. When I became an entomologist, I began volunteering for the butterfly festival in response to the needs of the new park and for myself. My role as an interpretive volunteer for Mount Magazine State Park has shaped my life, and my confidence is boosted with each project completed, each program I present, and each visitor who visits the park on a regular basis.

If you would like to volunteer at a state park, you will be welcomed with open arms. Part of the beauty of volunteering is flexibility of hours and tasks. Most often, you will be working with the park interpreter. If you live near a state park without a “friends” group, perhaps you could start one! It is your park, after all!

What are your strengths and abilities? Ask yourself what new skills you would like to learn, then turn around and give back. If you have time on your hands, how much would you be willing to give? Time is probably the most precious possession we own, and it’s intangible. Consider your time a living legacy. Leave a legacy of good work and volunteer in a state park this year. It will warm you twice.

(editor’s note: In 2008 over 11,908 volunteers contributed over 128,645 hours of work and expertise to Arkansas State Parks. We appreciate every minute they gave us. Contact your favorite Arkansas State Park to learn about volunteer opportunities.)

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.