Winter at the Ozark Folk Center State Park

November 19, 2010
Walking among the rocks and leaves.

Walking among the rocks and leaves.

The fallen leaves crunch under my feet as I walk down the path from the Administration building to the Homespun Gift Shop. The sunlight has a strobe effect through the newly barren limbs.  I pull my jacket snug in front and wish I had remembered a hat.

John the potter hollers a friendly, “Hello,” from the front of his workshop. I reply in kind and continue on my errand. It’s a typical relaxed November afternoon at the Ozark Folk Center.

The Ozark Folk Center State Park is in Mountain View, Arkansas. This energetic little town has less than 3,000 residents. It is hard to reach and not really on the way to anywhere. However, the creativity of the mountain music and crafts and the genuine friendliness of the residents offered here draw many thousand visitors over steep and winding Ozark roads every year.

I’ve often said that local people are so friendly because it is so hard to get here. Whenever someone makes the effort to visit with us, we let them know how much we appreciate it by smiling, talking their ears off and offering to feed them.

Disappearing leaves equals reappearing views.

Disappearing leaves equals reappearing views.

As the trees lose their leaves and the days get shorter, visitors to the area seem to disappear. The area does have one winter event that is incredibly popular, Caroling in the Caverns at Blanchard Caverns, so people do venture into these hills in November and December. But we wanted to find a way to connect those visitors to our town, and to draw others to our relaxing holiday atmosphere. Ozark Folk Center staff members got together with local bed and breakfast owners, town merchants and other crafts people to try to bring people to our area in the winter months.

We started working on this project three years ago. Each group planned separate events and did separate promotions. Some events worked and some failed to draw people in. This year we worked on coordinating and cooperating as much as possible on winter events. We published a combined winter schedule and printed 10,000 rack cards which were distributed throughout the state. The events listed range from the Handmade Christmas Folk School classes here at the Ozark Folk Center State Park to the local churches candlelight services and the Christmas Tree lighting on the historic courthouse square. We want to share our relaxed version of the holidays with people.

Here at the Ozark Folk Center, we do slow down for the winter, just like the natural world, but we have some of our most treasured events in the winter months. These include:

1.       Thanksgiving buffet and Ozark Holidays Craft Show

2.       Loco Ropes tree top adventures

3.       Extended Season in the Craft Village

4.       Christmas Feast and holiday weekend

5.       January and February cooking classes

6.       Valentines get-away with Cupid in the Caverns

7.       Quilt Retreat

8.       Spring Bluegrass & Handpicked and Handmade Craft Show

9.       Ozark Folk School, sessions 1 and 2

10.   Our Cabins at Dry Creek are open year-around.

11.    See more below…

A restful place amidst all the activity.

A restful place amidst all the activity.

Our winter weather can be rough at times, but much of the winter is sunny and gentle. Gathering firewood is our Sunday afternoon family chore. We do it in the winter, because the weather is cool, the bugs are gone and you can see to get around in the woods. It is a rare Sunday when we cannot make our trek into the forest because of weather.

A friend recently asked me what my favorite season of the year was.

I replied “Fall. The weather is cool, the leaves are beautiful, its harvest time in the garden and breeding season for the sheep and goats. It’s fall shearing time for the angora goats and I have such beautiful new fleeces to spin!”

But after thinking about it, I realized I would have said “Spring” in that season, or “Summer” in June, July and August. I love winter when it is cold and the days are short and the leaves are off the trees and you can see all the beautiful vistas that hide in the other seasons. The Ozarks are always beautiful and I love all four of our seasons.

Many people don’t think of enjoying their state parks in the winter, but it is a wonderful time to visit them here in Arkansas. Events and hours may be different than they are during the rest of the year, so contact the park before heading out to visit.

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.

 

 

 

More stuff happening in Mountain View and the Ozark Folk Center State Park (click for larger image):

Mountains, Music & Mistletoe

Mountains, Music & Mistletoe

Advertisements

The Clean-up Crew

November 12, 2010

We had a school group come the park today and they raided the snack part of our gift shop during a break in the program.  So, it will be a good evening for our clean-up crew.  We have a special clean-up crew that works nights, 365 days a year, without holidays.  No, I am not talking about the two-legged kind of maintenance crew that comes in every morning early to shine the bathrooms, empty the trash, and get us ready for a new day of visitors.  I’m talking about the two- and four-legged kind, both furry and feathered, who make their appearance as soon as the last employee and last visitor leaves the public parts of the park–the squirrels, raccoons, opossums, crows, and other birds.

I often work farther into the evening than other staff members, so I hear noises that sound like some ghost or spirit is rattling around outside my office.  One night I found the source of all of that after-hours racket.  A raccoon hopped out of the trash can just as I walked past.  I think that we were both scared an equal amount.  Most evenings as I walk up through the parking lot, I will also disturb two or three crows stalking around and looking for treats.

A missed learning opportunity

A missed learning opportunity

Once in a while I eat lunch on our upper deck after a school group like today’s has sat and eaten their snacks or lunches.  That’s when you find out which are the braver songbirds living in the park.  Especially the tufted titmice seem to have no fear of humans when the snacks are really plentiful.  First, they fly to the rail that goes around the deck.  From there if you watch you can see them carefully scoping out the tables vacant of people and with the best looking crumbs under them.  The birds then flit down, grab up some of the good stuff, and head back to the railing to enjoy the treats.  After an hour or so of this diligent work, they can have things pretty well cleaned up.

I don’t mean to imply that I think that this human food is particularly good for our animal friends.  Sometimes I wonder if those jalapeño Cheetos ever keep them up at night like they do me.  Most of the time parks try to limit the amount of access that the animals have to our leftovers.  So, the design of garbage cans continue to evolve, as the animals continue to get smarter.  They can leave an awfully large mess when they really go through a trash can.  The mess shown in the photo below shows just how bad things can get.

Our "Old" Trash Cans

Our "Old" Trash Cans

Our "New" Trash Cans

Our "New" Trash Cans

The raccoons are the most adept at getting into human trash cans.  So, our old design trash cans had a hidden latch that you had to work before you could open the lid.  The problem with these cans was that the latches were so well hidden that humans had to study the little instruction picture carefully and then try it two or three times before getting the hang of it.  The raccoons never did figure it out, but they certainly did love the piles of trash that were left on top of or next to the trash cans by frustrated visitors.  Now I think that the trash can designers finally have the winning design (see below).  No fancy hidden latches, but a fairly heavy lid that covers the entire top of the square can.  If the raccoon tries to open it from on top, then their own weight and the lid’s weight will keep it closed.  A side attack doesn’t work either, because the tops of the cans are too high to be reached from the ground by even the tallest raccoons, and the cans don’t have any lip for the acrobatic raccoons to hang on as they lift the lid.

So, as we phase in these new-design cans, the pickings for those furry folks who are used to dining out on our leftovers will become much slimmer.  That is the reason days like today are a smorgasbord feast for our evening “clean-up crew”.

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks is working on her “next” career as a park interpreter.  For twenty years she worked as a geologist, making new geologic maps of parts of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington State. Her research interests were volcanoes and their interactions with ancient large lakes.  So, working at the Crater of Diamonds State Park is a natural fit, with its 106 million-year-old volcanic crater containing those fascinating diamonds.


Petit Jean State Park’s Archeological Treasures

July 1, 2010
Bison Drawing

Bison Drawing

Most visitors to Petit Jean State Park in the Arkansas River Valley remember it as a place of majestic scenery, beautiful trails, and hospitable, friendly people at the park’s visitor center or historic Mather Lodge.  But those interested in the distant past will also remember fascinating geology, as well as rare rock art found in the park’s primary archeological site: the Rock House Cave.  Petit Jean State Park holds a treasure trove of archeological significance.

By 900 AD, Native Americans across the southeast began to settle along main waterways, including the great Mississippi River as well the Arkansas River to the west.  This time

Footprint Drawing

Footprint Drawing

period is known as the Mississippian Era.  A new way of life developed based on the agricultural production of beans and squash, as well as corn imported from long-distance trade with people from the south.  Fortified towns arose, and platform mounds were used for ceremonial purposes.  Societies developed that were highly organized, and there were powerful leaders among provinces.

One such province was called Cayas, and it was located near Petit Jean Mountain.  The Arkansas River, which flows just north of Petit Jean Mountain, was then called the River of Cayas.  The people of the scattered settlement of Tanico, in the province of Cayas just

Head Dress Drawing

Head Dress Drawing

west of Petit Jean Mountain, made beautiful pottery, gathered crops, made excursions to find wild game, and to gather salt – a highly-valued element necessary to the survival of the people.  Salt was also traded for other goods when enough could be gleaned by boiling it from brackish ponds.  It is highly probable that rock art found today in Petit Jean State Park was created by the culture that inhabited Tanico.

During tours to the Rock House Cave, visitors often ask if Indians once lived on the mountain.  The answer is yes, especially in earlier eras dating back to the Paleoindiantime, around 10,000 years ago.  By the time of Mississippian culture, though,

Mississipian Symbol Drawing

Mississipian Symbol Drawing

what we know today as Rock House Cave, above Cedar Creek’s lower canyon, was only inhabited during special rites of passage or sacred ceremonies.  In fact, the Petit Jean Mountain plateau was possibly considered a sacred area – a great temple mound above the River of Cayas.

The meaning of the rock art that remains today is still mysterious in many regards.  Some figures clearly represent animals – zoomorphic.  Others are in the likeness of people – anthropomorphic.  Painted images are called pictographs.  Etched or carved images are called petroglyphs.  Long-lasting paint was probably made by adding ground-up mineral pigments of hematite, magnetite, or possibly charcoal to a sticky substance such as

Paddlefish in Trap Drawing

Paddlefish in Trap Drawing

blood, animal fat or even egg white.

In the Rock House Cave today, interested people may find the likeness of a paddlefish, next to a fish trap made of woven wood, or an often-used symbol which also appeared on Tanico pottery but whose meaning has been lost, or the likeness of a woodland bison, or a symbol of an important person in headdress, or a strange snake-like, or river-like, curved image next to a footprint.  The visitor’s guess may be as good as the local archeologist’s.

Those who come to Petit Jean State Park are invited to see this authentic Native American rock art first hand.  But please treat it with care.  Graffiti and wear-and-tear from heavy park visitation takes its toll.  The Rock House Cave is one of the few places where anyone, with no special permission required, may discover such precious windows to the past on any day of the week, from 8:00 AM until dusk.  Come and see them for yourself.

BT Jones, Park Interpreter

BT Jones, Park Interpreter

BT Jones is a park interpreter at Petit Jean State Park and has worked there since 2005.  He holds a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  BT is a member of the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) and holds a Certified Interpretive Guide credential.  He is also a Leave No Trace (LNT) master educator and works as an advocate for Arkansas wilderness as a wilderness ranger.  BT’s pasttimes are nature and wildlife photography, hiking and backpacking, and helping to preserve Arkansas’s wilderness and natural areas.  He most enjoys hiking with park visitors and presenting programs on Petit Jean’s natural and historical features.


Herbal Feasts and Sumptuous Suppers

April 28, 2010
Decorative and tasty.

Decorative and tasty.

Over the long history of Arkansas State Parks there have been a myriad of surprising delights and educational opportunities that cannot be found anywhere else. For example, the very first Lavish Herbal Feast occurred on April 22, 1989, at the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View, Arkansas. It was a collaborative production of the all-woman volunteer organization, The Committee of 100 for the Ozark Folk Center, herbal experts Jim Long and Billy Joe Tatum and the Heritage Herb Garden and the park staff. The meal began with a Sweet Woodruff May Punch reception hosted by the Herb Garden Committee of the Committee of 100. The feast featured five courses with live violin music by Maestro James Gambino. The dinner was the opening event of the third annual Heritage Herb Weekend.

Cream Dill

Cream Dill

The Lavish Herbal Feast in the spring and the autumnal Herb Harvest Sumptuous Supper are a part of the herbal traditions that set the Ozark Folk Center Arkansas State Parks apart from any other park system. Arkansas State Parks boast a nationally noted herb garden at the Ozark Folk Center that was funded by monies raised by The Committee of 100. The collaborative spirit that was planted in the garden by the Committee of 100 has grown to include the participation of the Ozark Folk Center volunteers, Arkansas Master Gardeners, the Mountain View Garden Club and the Ozark Chapter of the Herb Society of America, and a small army of individual friends. Many young people have completed community service hours working in the greenhouse and gardens while helping to prepare for the herb dinners and events.

Pansy-Saled Burrnet

Pansy-Saled Burrnet

Today, at the entrance of the Skillet Restaurant, pause to stroke and inhale the essential oil of the rosemary bushes and pinch a bay leaf from the towering tree in the native stone alcove. Once inside, be seated at oak tables in high back chairs to enjoy a meal in comfortable elegance. Only glass separates you from birds feathered in every hue; catch the flash of a pileated woodpecker and the antics of chipmunks and squirrels. Admire the homestead antiques that are displayed on the cornice; cast iron chandeliers suspended from exposed wooden beams, shine light on an evening meal. The Skillet’s hospitable wait staff serves great country cooking every day, during the season, between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m..

Garlic Flower and Flat Leaf Parsley.

Garlic Flower and Flat Leaf Parsley.

For future fun, foodies and herb enthusiasts might visit The Ozark Folk Center State Park and mark your calendars. Each spring and fall, preceding the Heritage Herb Spring Extravaganza and the Herb Harvest Fall Festival, The Skillet Restaurant becomes an epicurean destination. Fresh themes are explored at every event. The reception is comprised of live music, artful arrangements of flowers, multi-textured and scented leaves, herbal libations and tantalizing appetizers. Seasonal foods are selected for the menu with conscious consideration for the satisfaction of meat lovers and vegetarians. Fresh herbs and greens are harvested from the park’s Kitchen Garden. The Skillet is festooned, a special program is always included as a part of the evening and the appetite is whetted for more knowledge of herbs.

Kale and Pansy.

Kale and Pansy.

The next Lavish Herbal Feast is Thursday, April 29, 2010. The menu begins with a Summer Greek Salad followed by Tomato Bisque Soup with Dill, Herb of the Year 2010. There are three entrees from which to choose: Vegetables and Tempeh Au Gratin, Roast Leg of Lamb with Pistachio-Mint Pesto, Chicken with Amaretto Tarragon Sauce. The spring vegetables include New Potatoes with Dill and Lemon Zest and Fresh Snow Peas with Chervil. The grand finale is Tres Leche Cake served with Strawberries in Lemon Verbena Syrup.

Committee of 100 member Patricia French with cookbook authors Pat Crocker and Susan Belsinger have designed the dinner. Members of the Ozark Chapter of the Herb Society of America will assist the Committee of 100 with the reception. The Lavish Herbal Feast sells out every year. Reservations are required by April 21. The Herb Harvest Sumptuous Supper is Thursday, September 30, 2010. The reception begins at 6 p.m., with dinner at 6:30 both evenings.  Visit The Ozark Folk Center State Park for further details or call (870) 269-3851.

Lemon Cheese Cake-nast, Pineapple, Sageleaf, Sunflower.

Lemon Cheese Cake-nast, Pineapple, Sageleaf, Sunflower.

Tina Wilcox, Park Gardener and Herbalist

Tina Wilcox, Park Gardener and Herbalist

Tina Marie Wilcox has been the head gardener and herbalist at the Ozark Folk Center’s Heritage Herb Garden in Mountain View, Arkansas since 1984. She tends the extensive gardens, plans and coordinates annual herbal events and workshops and facilitates the production of sale plants, seeds and herbal products for the park.  She is a well-seasoned herbal educator and entertainer and co-author of the creative herbal home, which has been translated into Japanese and will be released in Japan in 2010.

Tina is currently collaborating with co-Author, Susan Belsinger, on articles for The Herb Companion, and Grit magazines. She writes a weekly herb and garden column entitled “Yarb Tales” for the Stone County Leader.

Tina is a member of the Herb Society of America, the American Botanical Council, and serves on the board of the International Herb Association.

Tina Marie Wilcox sings and plays guitar with a women’s trio known as The Herbin’ League.  The trio performs traditional mountain folk music and an eclectic blend of favorite tunes with an emphasis on three-part harmony.

Tina’s philosophy is based upon experiencing the joy of the process, perpetrating no harm, and understanding life through play with plants and people.