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.


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.


Night Lights

July 28, 2010
A field of lights, photo by gmnonic.

A field of lights, photo by gmnonic.

Recently, I had an eye opening experience.  It was when my back sliding glass doors were replaced.  You see, the old ones had clouded over to the point that you couldn’t really see out of them into my backyard.  I had lived with it that way for a few years and had gotten used to it.  However, when the new doors were put in, my eyes were opened up to all of the things I had been missing over the last couple of years.  It really hit home when one night a few weeks ago my backyard lit up in a dance of lights.

Fireflies in a jar, photo by jamelah.

Fireflies in a jar, photo by jamelah.

When I was a child, one of my favorite evening pastimes was to chase down the little flickering lights in my yard known as Lightning Bugs.  Others may know them as Fireflies.  They are the small flying beetles that create light and flash it in patterns that help to attract mates.   My friends and I used to love catching a bunch and putting them in a glass mason jar with holes in the lid and watch them light up.  They would dance around inside and climb up the walls of the jar flashing their lights and generating wonder in our minds.  A short time later we would release them back out into the night and watch them dance away, still repeating the same patterns as we had watched earlier.  We would do this night after night until it was time for us to go inside.

Firefly up close, photo by James Jordan.

Firefly up close, photo by James Jordan.

When I was cut off from that sight on a nightly basis it made me forget the wonder that I felt watching those tiny beetles.  Sure, I still saw them from time to time when I was out in the evenings.  But when my back doors were replaced and I was able to watch for them on a nightly basis, that excitement crept back in.  It was fun waiting in anticipation for the first one to flash each evening.  It drew me outside again to watch them dance and catch one or two to marvel at.  They opened my eyes to what I had been missing spending too many evenings indoors instead of outside enjoying the sights of the transition from day to night.

I’m glad those back sliding glass doors were replaced; not because they let more light in or because they are more energy efficient, though those are both important, but because they encouraged me to open them up and walk outside.

Kathy Evans, Assistant Park Superintendent.

Kathy Evans, Assistant 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.

(Photos obtained on Flickr.com through creative commons license.)


Connecting Kids’ Minds and Hearts to State Parks…

July 12, 2010

…Announcing the State Park Explorer Program

“Throwing rocks in the river

Is oh so very fun

Rocks splashing in the water

The fun has just begun!

Hiking along the many trails

Are fun things to do here too!

But throwing rocks in the river

Is my favorite thing to do!”

–Poem by Linda S., Arkansas State Parks’ first official State Park Explorer, May 30, 2010

Linda S., first to complete the Arkansas State Park Explorer Program.

Linda S., first to complete the Arkansas State Park Explorer Program.

On May 30, 2010, ten year old Linda S. wrote this poem as one of the activities in her quest to become the first recipient of an Arkansas State Parks Explorer badge and certificate. To earn this honor, she completed nine park-related activities and took an official pledge, promising to love and respect State Parks and help spread the word that conservation is “cool.”

Starting this summer, Linda and other young people across Arkansas are exploring the Natural State in new ways, thanks to the launch of the State Park Explorer program.  Our aim is to help kids connect with State Parks in ways they might not otherwise. The concept is simple: Kids receive an Explorer Field Guide at any State Park, complete a series of activities, take a pledge, and earn a certificate and badge.

What is the State Park Explorer program?

The Arkansas State Parks Explorer is our new youth conservation program. It replaces our former Junior Naturalist and Junior Explorer programs.

Our previous program required attendance at five interpretive programs and completion of a service project. The new program keeps the heart of those requirements, but also goes more in-depth, promoting deeper intellectual and emotional connections with State Parks. It should also foster a greater sense of accomplishment, without being too difficult or lengthy to complete in a short time. Most questions and activities are open ended, allow kids with a range of ages and life experiences to participate. Activities fall into four component areas, listed below. Kids will:

Another Arkansas State Park Explorer!

Another Arkansas State Park Explorer!

Discover what State Parks are (activities related to understanding us and our mission)

These four activities help children begin to explore and understand the identity, mission, and resources of State Parks.

Prepare to be safe (activities related to safety)

These activities help children understand the importance of being proactive about safety in State Parks. They also help promote an awareness of the quality and quantity of safety training our employees receive, in order to best protect resources and serve guests. Finally, they help children approach and interact with employees in a positive, friendly way.

Connect your mind and heart to State Parks (attend interpretive programs)

This section is adapted from the previous “Junior Naturalist” program, requiring attendance at

park interpretive programs. However, it goes beyond asking kids what they learned at a program,

instead asking them to reflect on how they made connections with their minds and hearts.

Share your experience (activities promote thinking beyond self, serving park and others)

These two sections prompt thoughts and actions outside of the self, asking kids to consider helping the resources and other visitors. These activities foster a sense of ownership of the parks, responsibility for actions, and service to others.

Who can become a State Park Explorer?

The program is suggested for kids ages 6-14 who care about nature, history, safety, and FUN!

A group of kids receive their Explorer Certificates at Parkin Archeological State Park.

A group of kids receive their Explorer Certificates at Parkin Archeological State Park.

What is the purpose?

For participants, the purpose is to have fun, gain a sense of accomplishment, get to know the parks’ resources, meet park staff, and make positive memories in State Parks.

For Arkansas State Parks, the goal is to connect young people to Arkansas’s State Park system through a variety of in-park, open-ended, self-initiated activities that are designed to introduce

them to the system and cultivate future generations of park stewards.

Where can Explorer be completed?

The program is designed to be completed at any Arkansas State Park, including historic parks and museums. Activities can be completed at several different locations, or all at one site.

When is the Explorer program available?

The program is available year round. It is designed to be simple enough to be completed in a single

weekend, but also could be stretched out across multiple visits throughout the year.

How much does it cost?

This program is free to all who wish to participate.

How does the Explorer program work? What do I do to get my child started?

• Interested children request and receive Field Guides from park staff.

• They complete all the activities, filling in the yellow circles in the upper right corner of each section as they go. Activities can be completed in any order.

• Upon completion, they present the Field Guide to a park official for review. Most of the questions/activities are open-ended, meaning the responses are not judged for “correctness” but simply for completion.

• Staff sign completed Field Guides and either 1) immediately invite children to take the Explorer pledge and then present them with official Explorer badges and certificates, or 2) schedule a time when they will receive awards as part of a special ceremony (e.g. with other kids at the start of that night’s evening program in the campground). We are able to be flexible depending on that child’s family or group schedule.

• Children fill in their names and addresses on the top (inside cover) portion of the Field Guide. Staff carefully cut that section off and keep it for our records, leaving the majority of the Field Guide for the children to keep as a memento. (Records are kept for the purposes of tracking overall program data and estimating materials numbers for future materials orders.)

Another young park visitor starts the road to appreciating Arkansas natural and historical treasures.

Another young park visitor starts down the road to appreciating Arkansas natural and historical treasures.

Doing our part to walk the walk: Green Practices

Part of our purpose of forging connections between young people and State Parks is to build a more conservation-minded citizenship. Participants naturally progress through a continuum, beginning with curiosity and awareness and moving toward personal stewardship ethics. It is important, then, to let Explorers and their families know we try to practice what we teach. In developing new Explorer materials, we worked hard to reduce our environmental impact:

Badges: The plastic part of our Explorer badges are 100% recycled (90% post industrial and 10% post consumer). They are also made in the USA.

Field Guides & Certificates: The Explorer Field Guides are designed for two-sided printing, with two pieces per sheet using a maximum printing area on the largest paper that fits our press. This means our printing requires very little trimming and is extremely low-waste. The Field Guides are printed on cover stock that is Forest Stewardship Council certified to contain product from well-managed forests, controlled sources and recycled wood or fiber. It is also Green Seal™ certified, containing recycled post-consumer fiber. Our Explorer certificates are printed on the same cardstock as the Field Guides.

For further information:

Contact any Arkansas State Park office.


The Mighty Mississippi River – Up Close

July 7, 2010
Canoeing at Dawn

Canoeing at Dawn

When I was asked if I was interested in going out on the Mississippi River to see the river firsthand, I said absolutely.  When I was told I had to meet in Helena at 4:30AM to make the trip, I didn’t hesitate.  When they said, “by the way, you will be in a canoe” I immediately thought of quiet stillness of a non-motorized vessel, slipping stealthily through the trees.   Okay, so maybe I thought that traveling on the largest river in the nation, dodging towboats and whirlpools in a canoe was a bit edgy, but my curiosity and excitement easily won.

The Mighty Mississippi at canoe level.

The Mighty Mississippi at canoe level.

It turned out that any apprehension I had of being in a small canoe on the open river was unfounded.  We were to be in a 14 person wooden monster and accompanied by two smaller, but not any less impressive, wooden craft.  We gathered our gear and made ready to get to the river.  In a few short minutes we transitioned from sleepy city to full awake forest.  After getting situated at the boat ramp, we sat forth on the gentle currents of the St Francis River at dawn.

Another chance in the making.

Another chance in the making.

Accompanied by the swirls of fish, calls of birds and a few stares from fishermen who weren’t sure what they saw, we made our way downstream the two miles to the mouth of the St. Francis.  Where it emptied into the Mississippi, we skirted over a flooded point that only a few weeks before I had driven my truck on.  The great expanse of the massive river stood before us and its mighty current began to be felt gently on our craft.    “7 mph” was the call from the front of the boat.  “My GPS says we’re doing 7 mph.”  Our paddles were motionless and staring straight ahead gave the illusion we were sitting still.  When we passed a channel marker the full power of the river was evident.  The 12 foot tall buoy was heeled over in the current, its cable so tight that it had to have been dragging the 1 ton concrete anchor on the bottom.  We had seen two already torn loose by the river and drifting in the backwater.

Paddling lazily south we skirted the top of Buck Island and made landing on an immense sandbar.   About 300 yards away, the sand was liberally spotted with nesting Least Terns.  While our hosts made breakfast, my wife and I headed cautiously out to the colony, where these endangered species were swirling and dipping in mating ritual and totally ignoring us.  We cautiously picked our way along the outskirts until I found what I was looking for- the small divot in the sand and a precious egg.  It was this little egg that made the biggest impact to me.  An endangered species, the Least Tern has suffered from loss of nesting habitat.  Its choice of sandy beachfront property along the gulf is always under pressure and its use of sandbars along our inland rivers has been mitigated by regular releases of water from dams.  On the Mississippi the tern colony was at the mercy of Mother Nature not to cause a rise in the river and wash the fragile nests away.  But even this precarious niche was threatened by man, for if the river dropped too low the locals could ride this same sand with four wheelers.

Crossing at Helena.

Crossing at Helena.

We ate, cleaned up and proceeded back onto the river.  Our guide pointed us to the opposite shore, and we paddled across the mile wide river.  After sampling the east side of the river we headed back across the Mississippi, dodging a tow boat as we slipped into Helena harbor.  Our adventure was over for today, but the enduring memories of the experience will go on for a lifetime.

John Morrow, Park Superintendent (left)

John Morrow, Park Superintendent (left)

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.   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 children and wife, pictured here, who took these photos.

Special thanks to Quapaw Canoe Company of Helena Arkansas.  You can have this same adventure and more by contacting them at www.island63.com.


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.


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.


Memorial Day Message

May 27, 2010

This special installment of the Arkansas State Park Blog serves as a reminder of what Memorial Day is all about. Although originally designated as a remembrance of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country, it is also a time that we may want to reflect on other uniformed men and women who have sacrificed themselves and put themselves in harms way to protect us. Please do what you can to make their jobs easier this weekend. Be careful and say a little thank you to those military and other uniformed people who do so much for us every day. Thank you.

It is with a heavy heart that I submit this installment of the State Parks blog. As a Commissioned Officer with Arkansas State Parks, and as a citizen of this great state, I share the burden of losing two West Memphis police officers to a senseless act of violence while carrying out a routine traffic stop on Interstate 40 last week. Many across the nation share in our grief and question why these types of things happen. Officers traveled from New York, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, and all over the state of Arkansas to come and pay tribute to men who were just doing their jobs, trying to uphold the law and keep the peace. The funeral was packed with literally hundreds of officers who make the same “routine” traffic stops every day, and who will continue to do it over and over again after they left the memorial service. I was lucky enough to attend with other representatives of the Arkansas State Parks Rangers, and the fellowship and brotherhood experienced there in West Memphis will be something I will never forget.

Arkansas State Park Rangers wear many hats.

Arkansas State Park Rangers wear many hats.

Many people I meet have no idea that Arkansas State Parks have law enforcement officers. They wonder out loud what could we possibly have to deal with at the State Park? I have other law enforcement friends that ask me “Doesn’t it make you angry that people think you guys never do anything?” No- in fact, I believe the exact opposite.

Many Arkansas State Park Rangers are fully trained in Search and Rescue techniques.

Many Arkansas State Park Rangers are fully trained in Search and Rescue techniques.

I think the fact that the public wonder “Why in a place as safe as a State Park we would need officers?” is a testament to all of my brother and sister rangers throughout the system. The Rangers you happen to see on your camping trip, and more often than not the Rangers you do not see, are on a continual mission to keep our parks safe, educational, and enjoyable. It is not because “we have nothing to do.” It is because of all the work required of Rangers every day that State Parks are so safe.

Park Rangers are there to serve and assist park visitors.

Park Rangers are there to serve and assist park visitors.

The day to day lives of Park Rangers involve all kinds of various tasks- from cleaning up ice storm damage, to checking on the welfare of local citizens. Rangers help children learn how to fish and tell Grandpas the location of the best secret fishing hole on the lake. Other Ranger tasks include performing search and rescue operations in impenetrable forested and mountainous areas, and helping register campers for their ultimate vacation spot. On occasion, Rangers are called upon to aid people who are in the midst of a medical emergency or to help locate the parents of a child who has wandered a little too far away from their campsite. We also get a lot of directions requests (particularly to the best restaurants in the area), and program time and location questions.

Some Arkansas State Park Rangers are also trained park interpreters.

Some Arkansas State Park Rangers are also trained park interpreters.

Law Enforcement Officers are a thankless bunch, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Because of our “fade into the background” status, I won’t call any officers by name when mentioning a few heroes of our Department. We have Rangers who respond to plane crashes. We have Rangers who have searched for days on end in freezing conditions to help find a missing senior citizen who had wandered away from her car two counties away from their park. We have Rangers who have administered life saving medical care to boating accident victims and Rangers who have stepped up to protect an endangered child. I am happy to call these officers brothers and proud to line up next to them every day.

I am a relatively new officer with the Department, and have already received 16 weeks of law enforcement training. All of our officers are required to train in first aid, CPR, and first responder courses. We are also trained in search and rescue, DWI enforcement, and firearms proficiency. It is our goal to be well trained ambassadors of Arkansas State Parks who will make each and every visitor’s experience pleasant and safe. I am proud to serve my park, my community and my state as a State Park Law Enforcement Officer, and am equally proud to line up beside my fellow Rangers to protect and serve. We will do our best to never forget the legacies of the fallen West Memphis Officers, and in their spirit of service will continue to make your local Arkansas State Parks safe.

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

Mary Anne Parker has been with Arkansas State Parks since 2005, and as Interpreter at Parkin Archeological State Park since 2006. She recently graduated the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy and is now an Arkansas State Parks’ Commissioned Law Enforcement Officer. Mary Anne’s other interests and activities include running the Parker Homestead, which she owns and operates with her husband and his parents, and writing grants to further educational opportunities for students attending Arkansas Delta public schools.


Whatever Floats Your Boat

April 19, 2010

There are many things I enjoy doing in my free time, but my favorite way to pass the time in spring and summer is fishing.  To begin with fishing helps me relax.  Sometimes after a stressful day, I grab my fishing pole and paddle my canoe up Moro Bay to places that motor boats seldom venture.  I like to go just before sunset when the water is still and the cypress trees take on a ghostly appearance. I don’t always go to catch fish; sometimes I like the solitude that nature offers.  It is a spiritual feeling that calms the soul.

It's always relaxing moving through the quiet backwaters at Moro Bay.

It's always relaxing moving through the quiet backwaters at Moro Bay.

Still, I enjoy fishing with other people as well.  In my youth, the hot summer days I spent fishing with my best friend Robert cannot easily be counted.  On several occasions Robert would wade out chest deep and grab a catfish with his bare hands while I reeled it in.   I still enjoy fishing with my father.  There are days when we do not catch a fish but that never keeps us from trying again.  Fishing for me has become more about the experience than catching my limit.  While fishing I have established two lifelong relationships.   One is with my best friend Robert.  He is like a brother to me

Nothing goes together like kids and fishing.

Nothing goes together like kids and fishing.

because our friendship cannot be broken.  The other is with my father.  I know that when he dies I will remember all the good times we had fishing and store those warm memories in my heart.  In the future I will reflect on the good advice he gave me on the long rides to the lake and pass it on to my children.

A reason to smile.

A reason to smile.

As a Park interpreter and now a Park Superintendent I have been able to share the experiences of fishing with a number of visitors.  Sometimes the experiences are with children who attend a day camp. I enjoying fishing with the kids who know how to fish and helping them become better at it.  However, I like to work with the kids who have never caught a fish before even more.  The look on child’s face when they reel in a slimy fish for the first time is priceless.  Many times they forget to reel and instead run backwards up the bank until the fish is dragged in.  In my time here at Moro Bay State Park I have seen some awesome fishing experiences.  Often times my role in them has been small.  In these photos all I did was say congratulations and took a picture.

Quality family time and a big 'ol fish!

Quality family time and a big 'ol fish!

I love to catch big fish.  However, these days I find myself more excited watching the next generation make memories like the ones I made when I was their age.  This is what our Perch Jerk Classic Fishing Tournament is about and this is one of the reasons many people visit Moro Bay State Park.

Another beautiful sunset at Moro Bay State Park.

Another beautiful sunset at Moro Bay State Park.

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.


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.