Training for Fall Fun

August 23, 2011
Camping in an Arkansas State Park, a fall tradition.

Camping in an Arkansas State Park, a fall tradition.

After weeks of 100-degree heat  that seemed unrelenting, Arkansas received that summer break in temperature.  It happens every year, and we seem to forget about it every year, so when it arrives it comes as a surprise.  As the air turns cooler who can resist the fun of sleeping outside?  Something about cooler nights, when you can sit at a fire comfortably, makes fall a magical time.  Some can argue that it is the long hot summer, but I feel that it might just be that point of equilibrium- you know, when the nights get longer, the days get shorter and we start to see that tip in temperature to our favor.

The early fall and the late winter are usually our peak times for staff training in Arkansas State Parks.  After the busy summer and before the peak fall rushes our staff generally squeezes in required training and refreshers.  These are all done to keep us sharp, teach us new skills and to make sure we stay proficient in our duties.

Practice makes Perfect!

Practice makes Perfect!

It does not hurt to stay proficient in your outdoor recreational skills too; and there is no better place to practice than in an Arkansas State Park.  Most folks plan one or two big camping trips a year, but the skills that it takes to have a good experience need to be kept up.  Now is a perfect time to plan one of those quick weekend trips.  This is a chance to get the equipment out and give it a going over before that big trip.  Take the opportunity to spend a weekend with us to brush up.  Whether you hike, camp, canoe or kayak, State Park’s can offer you the perfect local spot to spend the weekend.

Arkansas State Parks are also the perfect spots to learn new skills.  With a variety interpretive programs scheduled around the state, you can learn paddling, hiking skills, orienteering and even how best to cook with that Dutch Oven you received for Christmas two years ago.  You can learn to geocache or even to spot fall migrating birds.

Take advantage of the break in the weather: we all know that there are a few hot days left in the season and summer will come again for one last round before the coolness of fall prevails.  Check the calendar of events for your local park’s programs, and sharpen your skills up for outdoor fall fun.

John Morrow, Park Superintendent

John Morrow, Park Superintendent

John Morrow began work at Mississippi River State Park as the first superintendent for the park in February 2009.  He has worked for Arkansas State Parks since 2000, first as interpreter at Lake Chicot (2000-2003), then as interpreter at Petit Jean State Park (2003-2005), then as the first Chief Interpreter at Historic Washington (2005-2009).  His specialties are in interpretation and the application of interpretation to planning and managing a park.  He has graduated from the Park Superintendent Training Program, is a Certified Heritage Interpreter, Certified Interpretive Trainer as well as a First Responder and SAR Tech II.  He likes spending time with his family and antiquing with his wife, Nikki. They have a daughter Riley and son Carson. 


Growing up in day camps

August 15, 2011

For kids here in Arkansas, August means it’s time to head back to school.  The end of the summer is near.  School sports have started, school supply shopping is in full swing, and kids are slipping back into their educational routines.  However, a few weeks ago many of our kids were enjoying their summer breaks without a thought of routine and involving themselves in one of my best summer memories: day camp.

Growing up, I looked forward to summertime as a chance at adventure.  I was always looking for something new to try, new people to meet, a chance to see new things.  Sometimes my crazy ideas would make my mother laugh and others would terrify her.  One thing that we could both agree on was a week of camp during the summer.  One year it was horse camp, another year outdoor sports camp (canoeing, hiking, biking, etc.), and another was Girl Scout camp.  It was always something different which appealed to my adventurous side and my mother was always glad to know there were people there to keep us safe while we had these childhood adventures.  Sometimes it was the counselors that made what would have been just an alright camp into one that I would never forget.  At the end of the summer I would always delight in sharing my stories of adventure and new people with all my friends and teachers as I started back to school and my regular routine.

That’s why I love being a part of day camps as an Interpreter with Arkansas State Parks.  I get to be one of those fun counselors that can be a part of an amazing adventure for a kid who is used to the same old routine.  Over the last few years I’ve even got to know some of our regular campers and it’s been wonderful to see each summer as they grow and change.

Arkansas State Parks host a variety of camps including Archeology Camps, Adventure Camps, Traveling Camps, Nature Camps, and History Camps.  With so much to choose from maybe we can turn “I’m bored” into “I want to have an adventure”!  Check out all of the day camps Arkansas State Parks offer at www.ArkansasStateParks.com  There is definitely an adventure for everyone! We also have many already listed for next summer!

Here is proof of the good times:

SPLASH FIGHT!

SPLASH FIGHT!

History can be fun too!

History can be fun too!

Horseback riding is one of our most popular adventures!

Horseback riding is one of our most popular adventures!

Some of our campers trying out kayaking for the first time.

Some of our campers trying out kayaking for the first time.

Marc, one of our camp counselors that always makes things fun!

Marc, one of our camp counselors that always makes things fun!

A little friendly competition is always fun!

A little friendly competition is always fun!

These three have been participating in our day camps since they were 8 years old.

These three have been participating in our day camps since they were 8 years old.

Kathrine Evans, Asst. Park Superintendent

Kathrine Evans, Asst. 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. 


Crater of Diamonds State Park: A wonderful and crazy place

July 28, 2011

When I accepted the park interpreter job at the Crater of Diamonds State Park, I had no idea what a wonderful, fascinating, amazing, and sometimes crazy place this park would turn out to be.  So, I want to share with you some of the wonderful and crazy things that make this park so unique.

Visitors heading out from the Diamond Discovery Center to "the field."

Visitors heading out from the Diamond Discovery Center to "the field."

Of course, the first thing that makes this park so unique is that our visitors are allowed to hunt for diamonds, and then are allowed to keep them.  Yes, real, sometimes valuable, diamonds.  But, the crazy part is that they not only get to keep any of the diamonds that they find, they also are allowed to take home any of the over 40 other rocks and minerals that are found here.  In fact, each visitor is allowed to take home the equivalent of a 5-gallon bucket of those rocks and minerals.

The Crater is a small park, only a little over 800 acres, in a rural area of southwest Arkansas, 40 miles from the interstate and 60 miles from the nearest city.  The crazy part is that last year over 119,000 people found their way to this park.  Even more amazing is the distance that people will come to this visit this park.  Last spring I gave a demonstration to three men—one from Washington State, one from Florida, and one from Texas.  As I am chatting with visitors I often ask them if their stop at the Crater is part of a more extensive road trip.  I find it astonishing the number of times they answer “Oh no, we intended to come here and this was the only destination on our trip.”  So, this obscure little park is actually a destination, in the same way that Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks are destinations.  Every year we have visitors from almost every state in the Union, including Alaska and Hawaii.  We even have a significant number of visitors from foreign countries.  It is a wonderful place to work because our visitors are so diverse.

Just some of what can be found and kept at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Just some of what can be found and kept at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

All of the dreams that people have when they come to this park is another wonderful thing.  For many of our visitors their Crater visit is the fulfillment of a dream that sometimes has continued for as long as twenty years.  The crazy part is that it is impossible to guess which person in the group was the one with the dream.  Sometimes it is a young child, as young as 10 years old, who somehow learned about the Crater and has been badgering his or her parents to bring him here ever since.  Sometimes it is an elderly person, like one visitor, who was in hospice and decided that one of the last things she wanted to do was to gather her family, come to the Crater, and watch them hunt for diamonds as she sat at the edge of the field in a wheelchair.  Grandparents who visited the park as a child bring their grandchildren.  Often the trip is a family outing, bringing everyone from the newborn to the great-grand parent, and all of the parents and cousins in between.

I enjoy eavesdropping on our visitors as they dream aloud to the other members of their party about what they would do if they found “The Big One.”  Everyone, young or old, always has something that they would do or buy if they found that large diamond.  But it is also crazy that coming to this small state park can be, and sometimes has been, a life-changing event for our visitors.  Everyone celebrates when they find a diamond, whether it is the tiniest gem that is just industrial grade, or it is a large, flawless diamond, possibly worth tens of thousands of dollars.  For those of us who work at the park and get to be part of these almost daily celebrations, each diamond registration is a fun experience.

Everyone enjoys a day in the dirt!

Everyone enjoys a day in the dirt!

Most people have a pretty good idea about what they are going to do when they plan their visit to a state park.  They already know how to fish or play golf, and have been hiking and camping for many years.  At the Crater it is a rare individual who arrives already knowing how to hunt for diamonds.  Many expect it to be a mine and they will have to go underground.  Most have never seen a rough diamond, and so have no idea what they are looking for.  As a staff member it is a constant challenge to help our visitors figure out the information they need to find a diamond.  We provide videos, demonstrations, and exhibits on finding diamonds, so that our visitors will have the best possible chance.  However, I find it fascinating to see the inventive things that people bring to the Crater as potential diamond finding equipment.  The range is very broad, from a dryer lint screen to elaborate homemade and hand-powered shakers and sifters.

But, the most crazy and wonderful part of the Crater experience is what a good time people have when they visit.  It can be 20 degrees in January with a quarter of an inch of ice on the wash troughs, or it can be 100 degrees in the shade in July.  It can be a sea of mud from one end of the field to the other.  If you ask a visitor if they had a good time, when they bring up their precious rocks that they have carefully chosen, hoping that one is a diamond, they almost all will report that they had fun.  Many of them are already planning what they will do when they come back the next time.  With that kind of response, it is a privilege to work at this small unique park with its large visitor experience.

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks is a recent convert to working 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 beautiful and fascinating diamonds.


Songs of the Woods

June 29, 2011
The Green Treefrog is a small frog with a big voice.

The Green Tree frog is a small frog with a big voice.

I almost always have music playing.  I have radios, cd players, mp3 players, and music on my computer and phone.  But when I go hiking I don’t take anything for music.  Nature has its own song.

The rhythm section is filled by the frogs.  Frogs aren’t the most melodic animals, but add a beat to the song of the woods.  Cricket frogs have a clicking noise that to me sounds like marbles clacking together.  Green Tree frogs look cute and small, but have a loud noise best described as a bark. And when you talk about frogs, you can’t forget the bullfrog, with its load croak that can be heard from more than a quarter of a mile away.

Insects, like this newly molted cicada, make an interesting addition to the song of the woods.

Insects, like this newly molted cicada, make an interesting addition to the song of the woods.

The background vocals are provided by the insects.  I like the katydids with their cry of “katy-DID, katy-DID.”  Late summer brings the cicadas which produce a constant hum, a sound that for many people becomes so common it fades into the background.  Crickets not only add to the background music, but you can actually figure out the temperature by counting the chirps of certain species.

Mockingbirds steal the show with a variety of calls.

Mockingbirds steal the show with a variety of calls.

Without a doubt, the lead singers of the woods are the birds.  Right now the mockingbirds seem to drown out everyone else, as if trying to steal center stage at the concert.  That doesn’t stop the others from singing though.  Every bird keeps up its call and they sing with no thought to harmonies and chords.  Despite the chaos of too many leads, it has a unique sound that works in a way that I don’t truly understand, but I certainly appreciate.

The best thing about this song is that it changes from day to day, moment to moment.  Some animals are out during the day, others only call at night.  Different species are calling at different times of the year.  This means that I don’t ever get bored; I just wait a little while and see what changes.

So take some time to visit an Arkansas State Park near you, there will be plenty of opportunities to listen.  Don’t forget to try a few different areas and times of the day.  Also, many parks offer programs that will help you figure out what it is you are listening to.  If you haven’t listened to the music of the woods lately, it is definitely time to turn off the radio and head outside.

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.


Exploring Nature on the Trails at Cossatot River State Park

March 15, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Brush Creek Nature Trail Sign.

Brush Creek Nature Trail Sign.

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

Harris Creek Trail Sign.

Harris Creek Trail Sign.

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

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

River Corridor Trail Sign.

River Corridor Trail Sign.

Steps and Bridge on the River Corridor Trail.

Steps and Bridge on the River Corridor Trail.

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

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

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

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

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

Shelley Flanary, Park Interpreter

Shelley Flanary, Park Interpreter

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


Snow Business Beats No Business

February 15, 2011

Now I’ll be the first to admit I am not a fan of the snow.  In fact I consider snow a 4-letter word that should not be spoken aloud, but when it adds to the fun and enjoyment of park visitors joining me for a program even a die hard rather melt in the sun individual such as me can find snow a positive thing.

Snowman on the Lake Dunn Dam.

Snowman on the Lake Dunn Dam.

Last month as the snow was blanketing the park the wheels in my head started spinning.  You see I had planned a Guardian and Me:  Mammals program as one of our regular weekend programs trying to entice our locals to bring their little ones (3-6 year olds) out to the park.  The program was already planned I knew I would introduce the children to the world of mammals and tell them how mammals are different from other animals.  I was going the bring out our furs and skulls for them to touch and examine,  we were going to make animal track soaps for the children to take home, and of course no trip to the park is complete without a hike to look for animals.  But as the snow piled up and started to stick I thought if we get lucky it be fun to make snow mammals as part of the program.

Snow Squirrel

Snow Squirrel

So I hoped the roads would stay clear and the ground would stay covered.  Well when Saturday arrived the snow was starting to melt, but we still had several patches.

The children seemed to really enjoy making snow mammals.  We had a snow bunny, a snow squirrel and we almost had a snow deer but there just wasn’t quite enough snow for the deer.  The remaining snow also increased the success of our hike.  The snow was a great medium for animal tracks especially on the many bridges along the trail, so even though we did not see any of our resident mammals we saw more pristine animal tracks then I have ever seen on a group hike.  We had several canids (mostly domestic dog), what was probably a member of the cat family and an eastern cottontail Rabbit.  So I guess I will have to change my mind about snow and maybe remember that a little snow can be a great thing.

Mamma & Baby White-tailed deer tracks.

Mamma & Baby White-tailed deer tracks.

Dark-Eyed Junco tracks.

Dark-Eyed Junco tracks.

Raccon Tracks

Raccon Tracks

Tara Gillanders, Park Interpreter

Tara Gillanders, Park Interpreter

Raised in Kingsville, TX, Tara’s family moved to Jonesboro, AR in the mid 1980s where she graduated from high school and earned a bachelor’s degree in science education from Arkansas State University.  Tara taught high school science for 3 years before finding out about the profession of interpretation.  She has been the park interpreter at Village Creek State Park since 2008. “I cannot imagine a more fulfilling job.  What other profession allows you to connect people to the things you are passionate about?”


A Daisy of a Park!

February 9, 2011

I recently took a promotion and moved from the county with the most stop lights in the state to the only county with no stop lights. If you have explored Arkansas thoroughly, you probably guessed I moved from Pulaski County to Pike County. If I had liked stop lights, it would have been a drastic move. Luckily, I am not a fan. Moving from Pinnacle Mountain State Park to Daisy State Park has given me the opportunity to discover Daisy State Park— One of Arkansas State Park’s Best Kept Secrets.

The Author at Devil's Den State Park, back in the day. (center)

The Author at Devil's Den State Park, back in the day. (center)

I grew up in Alma, Arkansas. So as all first loves, I am a devoted fanatic of Lake Fort Smith State Park and Devil’s Den State Park. I made some of my first state park memories with my family and friends there. During my college years in Conway, I made even more memories at Pinnacle Mountain State Park and eventually worked there after college.  However, southwest Arkansas was an unknown adventure.  I knew there were Crater of Diamonds State Park, Historical Washington State Park, and DeGray Lake Resort State Park.  But what was Daisy State Park?  I had heard it was a quaint park, but what did that mean? What was the attraction? What made it special?  I decided what better way to explore a place then to move there and experience a quaint park atmosphere.

My first week in the office I read a newspaper article about Daisy State Park titled “Uneventful camping trip.” At first, I was disappointed after reading the headline. It seemed downbeat and during my first week at the park, I was overwhelmed with outdoor activities that I wanted to get out and try. How could a park guests describe Daisy State Park as uneventful? However, disappointment was quickly replaced with understanding. I finished reading the headline “Uneventful camping trip — was a beauty.” The journalist’s article was about his recent trip to Daisy State Park where the only things that happen were “the Milky Way, a victim of city lights in most places, was a white ribbon across a great gift of Arkansas sky, the early morning fog, both misty and mystical, danced silently atop the water, and a woodpecker pecked just enough to be cute.” What he meant by uneventful was that they didn’t catch the biggest fish, there weren’t noisy campers to complain about, and the park hosted a niche that fostered relaxing.

As this 1959 photo shows, Daisy State Park has been a great place for family receration for a long time.

As this 1959 photo shows, Daisy State Park has been a great place for family receration for a long time.

What he didn’t mention was if you wanted an action packed camping adventure, you can get that at the park, too. Daisy State Park is a hub of southwest Arkansas adventures. The park hosts the 7,000 acre clear water Lake Greeson and a trailhead for the 18 mile Bear Creek Cycle Trail (ATV trail). Within an hour or less driving time of the park is so many outdoor adventures; I haven’t even explored all of them in the 10 months I’ve been here! These activities include diamond digging, crystal digging, canoeing/kayaking the Caddo River, Albert Pike Recreational Area, Little Missouri Falls, Hot Springs National Park, trout fishing on the Little Missouri River, and Cossatot River State Park – Natural Area!

After spending these last 10 months working in the park, I have come to realize that the journalist’s description is the daily routine for the park is right on spot; the Ouachita Mountains, Lake Greeson, and Mother Nature join together to create a remarkable place. To camp where these three forces collide and experience their daily interactions is enough to entertain all generations, and all levels of an adventurous spirit. Daisy State Park is beyond a doubt one of Arkansas State Park’s best kept secrets and a place where generations are connected and memories are made.

Sunrise on Lake Greeson, Daisy State Park.

Sunrise on Lake Greeson, Daisy State Park.

Kristina Root, Park Interpreter

Kristina Root, Asst. Park Superintendent

Kristina Root is a strong advocate of environmental education for urban children. She worked for Arkansas State Park since 2007 at Pinnacle Mountain State Park as a park interpreter and recently became the Assistant Park Superintendent at Daisy State Park near Kirby, AR. Her career path was enhanced by her B.S in Environmental Science from the University of Central Arkansas.