Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

The spring was beautiful when I got to work this morning. It has cleared up so nicely and the timing couldn't have been better. The dark, tannic water is almost to the buoy line, and we are only a few feet away from being back to normal. You can see (barely, the water is so clear) that only 4 steps are wet now. This stairway will be totally dry and there will be dry land at the bottom of these steps, eventually. Its still a vast improvement from this. My co-worker and I worked quickly to get the paperwork done and get all of the walkways, building areas and picnic tables blown clean with the leaf blower. We were ready for the crowds to start filing in... well, there weren't any real crowds to speak of, but there were people in the park again and it felt great! One thing that I love about working in a state park is that most visitors are there because they want to be and they want to have a good time. Somehow on a holiday weekend, that feeling is amplified and its really nice to be around happy people. I didn't have to ask anyone to pay the park fee or tell them to stop trying to grab the animals or tell them to stay on the walkway... all I did was greet people, answer questions, and sell T-shirts. My job was too easy today, I wonder if I should be nervous about tomorrow...
I did stay busy though. Our little parking lot was full by the end of my shift, it was about halfway there at noon when I took the picture of the lot. There were enough people that I spent most of the day just walking around and keeping an eye on everything. My co-worker kept watch of the honor pay station and made sure to keep the payment envelopes stocked. People were swimming, and picnicking all afternoon.
I had one very large group come in with the most amazing float thingies. They were like giant, inflatable party barges. They were circular and seated 8-10 people each. After a lot of inflating, hauling stuff, and child wrangling, the group got on the river to float to a cabin downriver. It looked like alot of fun, I got a picture before they floated away.
The only wildlife I saw today (aside from the visitors) was one of my regulars. There are two fence lizards that hang out near my office. They like to sun themselves on some paving stones near the lawnmower or on a tree next to where I park my truck. One of them we have named Stubby because she evidently lost her tail at some point and it is taking its time growing back. The other has no striking qualities so he is just... Stubby's boyfriend. I don't know their sexes for sure, but that is my guess. I was able to photograph Stubby's boyfriend today. Stubby has been avoiding the camera lately, maybe she will be more cooperative tomorrow.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Today is day off number 2 this week. I expect a busy weekend at the park, so I am enjoying a peaceful day to myself today. Last Friday, I gave you all some background on the reasons that I started this blog. I think that some history and/or Q & A could be a good, ongoing theme for Fridays. So, while you readers think up some questions to post in the comments section for next week, I will answer a question that I get at the park often. How did you become a park ranger? I usually give a quick answer to visitors, but because I have a captive audience, I will give you all the details!

I lived in 3 houses throughout my childhood. One was in the mountains of North Carolina (the pic is me in our yard in NC), where I was born, and the other two in northern Indiana where I was raised. I was a lucky kid. I always had a big backyard with lots of natural space where I could play. I had neighbors that provided me with my own personal petting zoo and we always had a collection of horses, cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, etc at home as well. I have great memories of working in our household gardens with my parents or following my Dad around the yard to help mend fences or pick up fallen branches. My parents are great teachers who always helped me to learn about my surroundings. I remember picking up leaves in the yard and my dad could tell me their names. I was fascinated that each kind of tree had its own name and even more intrigued that my Dad knew so many of them. My mom could name every plant in her gardens as well and I tried hard to absorb it all. I also had the incredible experiences of summer camp. I spent 10 summers as a camper at YMCA Camp Eberhart in Michigan and returned for another 3 summers to be a counselor. As a counselor, I worked at the horseback riding program and the nature program teaching skills that I had learned as a camper. I had more than one child tell me that I was a good teacher. At that point I didn't know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but the thought of being a teacher in a classroom made me feel claustrophobic. I knew that working outdoors in some way seemed right, but I had no idea what that meant at the time.
In college, I studied Natural Resources and Environmental Management and focused on Outdoor Recreation and Interpretation. I still didn't know where that was going to take me though. My main professor in the NREM department did a wonderful job of bringing in professionals from our field to speak with us. All of their jobs sounded exciting. I loved the ideas of collecting and analyzing samples, working with animals, prescribed fire, teaching children about nature, developing community greenspace. I wanted to do ALL of those jobs! The summer after my junior year, did a 3 month internship working as a seasonal ranger at one of Delaware's state parks... I HATED it and vowed to NEVER work in a state park again. I loved the park, but the rangers there are police officers. I carried handcuffs, and an ASP (an extendable metal rod used to inflict extreme pain), and pepper spray (training to carry the spray involved being sprayed with it). Park visitors were nervous when a ranger approached them, and it seemed to me that they had good reason to be. I realized that Law Enforcement was NOT an interest of mine.
When I finished college, I moved to Delaware and worked at Ashland Nature Center. I loved the time that I spent working there. I worked with a lot of wonderful people, many of which volunteered their time to teach school groups about nature. We worked with the local schools to teach outdoor education to second and fifth graders. The children were bussed to our locations at different nature preserves and took part in hands on learning. They could catch and touch and experience things that were shockingly foreign to them. Every kid needs to feel connected to their environment and we provided that to city kids who may never have that chance again. It was amazing.
Next, life carried me to Florida. I had a lifetime's worth of plant/bug/animal knowledge that was almost useless in this new environment. I loved it! I felt like an explorer just sitting in the backyard waiting for something to walk by so that I could look it up in a field guide. Even though I felt that I was basically without experience or skills because of my new surroundings, I had to find a job. I tried the local nature center and was disappointed to find that they weren't hiring, I looked into county and city jobs that seemed miles away from the kind of work I wanted to do. I really didn't want to even look into state parks, but I put a resume on the state webpage anyway and requested an e-mail update when jobs nearby came available. In the meantime, I contacted a local state park and asked if I could volunteer. It was a very fun volunteer position and I found myself warming up to the idea of working at state park again. I found out that while rangers where responsible for enforcing park rules, they did so with a friendly discussion, not with weapons and tickets. It wasn't long before a job at Ichetucknee Springs State Park came available. I was shocked when I was chosen for the position! I spent one terrific year there, traveling 45 minutes each way to work. When the Troy Springs position came available, I was able to transfer over to this resident position. I will have been here for three years in August.
So that's my story. What else do you want to know? If you think of a question, please post it in the comments today. I will answer one or more in next Friday's post. There are no stupid questions, please ask whatever is on your mind... its probably something that everyone else is wondering and I may never address.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Throwback Thursday

I am off today. I am going to spend the day out of the park so here are some unused images from the past weeks to tide you all over until I get back to work. The first photo is of two Oakworm Moths... I'm sure you can guess what they were doing. The next is another Bagworm Moth similar to the one I saw on Tuesday.
I like to see the different construction materials and designs that they use to build their little houses. The third photo is yet another unidentified frog (still can't find my guide book, grrr). The last two photos are more rain photos. Rain on the spring and rain on a coontie plant. Coontie is a Florida native plant that was often used by native people as well as early settlers. Its name is a Seminole word for "flour root." Parts of the plant can be pounded to make an edible, starchy, flour-like substance. We have coontie all over the park, but this plant is one by our entrance sign. Most of the leaves where killed by a very frosty winter but they have been growing back beautiful, pale green leaves in full force.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Welcome Back!

Today the spring opened!! Today was the start of summer for the park, and it felt like it! The day started out with a beautiful foggy mist in the air, leftover from yesterday's rain. I gladly took down the "Spring closed for swimming and diving due to flood conditions" signs on my morning drive around the park. I snapped some photos of the fog on my rounds and the spider webs along the way too. They look like tiny strands of pearls when there is so much moisture on them. I checked e-mail when I got to my office and got the final details for the fee increase at the park. I was creative with cutting and reassembling the patch stickers that I had to make the signs accurate... it was a challenge, but I think it looks fine until we can order a replacement. (It looks fine but maybe not good enough to have a photo of it critiqued online, thanks). Once the park was open and presentable, I settled into my desk chair to complete monthly paperwork. I have 8 different monthly reports to fill out on the computer, I also have to compile vehicle log reports and gas receipts for the park truck and tractor. All of this is in addition to the normal daily paperwork that I do.
I briefly met with my co-worker to talk about the changes in the fee schedule and some projects that need to be taken care of in the park. Then I headed out to Ichetucknee to turn in paperwork and pick up some new tools!! Surprise gifts from the district office came just in time. About two weeks ago I broke our weed eater. It was a freak accident in which a tiny pebble shot from the mower and managed to break the choke switch off of the weed eater but caused no other damage. The choke switch was very important. Not only was it necessary for starting the weed eater, but the on/off switch has not worked in years so the choke was needed to turn it off as well. I was looking into repair or new purchase possibilities the other day when my boss informed me that I had a new weed eater/pole saw waiting for me. I love it when things work out that way! It was a good day.
After I left Ichetucknee, I headed to Adams Tract to replace the tire that I had repaired for the lawn mower. I dropped off new tools for the river camp as well and then saw a beautiful pink moth. I grabbed a quick photo and headed back to Troy. I got back around 2:00 and people were starting to drift in to swim. I was DETERMINED to get in the water today! I said goodbye to my co-worker, met with the person who was working the closing shift and went over some new details with her. I tied up loose ends in my office, crossed off several items on my to-do list and changed into my swimsuit! I took a shovel, a long scrub brush, a hand-held scrub brush, my beach bag, and my camera (complete with underwater housing). It was probably kind of funny looking. There was a really nice family at the spring dock when I got there. They were definately as happy as I was to be in the water today. I scrubbed both sets of steps and shoveled sand off of a landing between steps. I scrubbed all of the railing going into the water and had it all looking pretty nice. THEN I WENT SWIMMING!!! The two rock photos are the same clump of rocks. The photo of the rocks peaking out of the water was taken early this morning. Today was the first time they have surfaced since the flooding. Throughout the summer, people jump off of this rock into the water. The underwater picture shows the base of that rock. The rock at the very bottom of the picture that has small bumps is usually just at the surface of the water when we are at our normal water level. The water is still slightly silt-colored but it has improved so dramatically from this. The water is clear in the deep spring area and out for about 3/4 of the spring run. I wanted to take a photo of where the dark water and the clear water mixed, but I saw a stick that looked a lot like an alligator and I chickened out.... maybe I will try again with some company with me in a few days. I did see some mullet though. Not the redneck haircut, the fish! They are silly fish. They jump out of the water for unknown reasons (we have lots of theories but nothing is proven.) They are vegetarian, algae eaters and they even have a gizzard! They will live in fresh water and salt water. In fresh water, people fish for them using a little bit of algae on a hook. They put up a good fight when they are caught and they are a tasty, flaky fish. In salt water, people cast net for them and use them for bait. The mullet in the photo are scouring the bottom of the spring looking for algae. They will have more to eat when the spring clears up too, the sunlight will reach the algae more easily and cause it to grow. The mullet will be more prevalent, then all the fishermen will return... its the circle of life at the park.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rain Check

I had a great day planned. I was going to get some sweaty outside work done in the morning and then I was going to get in the water and clean the rest of the steps into the spring. I had my swimsuit with me and the underwater housing for my camera so that you all didn't miss out on the fun. I was really looking forward to my first dip in the spring this summer. When I left the house, I realized that my plans were about to change. It was very cloudy and dark outside. I still stayed busy today though. Two steps from the front door I noticed a dragonfly on a plant in my garden. It was very tolerant of me and I got some cool pictures of it. I love the way a bug's face can look human or even cartoon-like when you get close to them.
I went about my usual morning business, opening the park, and the morning paperwork. Then I took a walk around the park while I could before the rain started. I was so happy to see that the rocks in the middle of the spring were visible from the cabin porch today. The spring is able to push the dark, tannic water almost halfway out of the spring run now. The rocks are hard to see in the photo because of the tree reflection, but they are almost exactly in the middle of the water.
I had another cool bug encounter. The little pile of sticks hanging from the branch is a caterpillar. It is in this protective cocoon of sticks that it has built around itself. The caterpillar inside will pupate and become a moth if it is male or it will remain a caterpillar if it is female. The caterpillar can come out of its cocoon and will sometimes stick its head and front feet out and move to a different location, dragging its sticks behind it.
I was just finishing my walk when the sky got really dark and a light rain started. I spent the rest of the morning inside the log cabin visitor center. I put up a display of photos of the spring from the early 1900's all the way to the present. I had thrown the photos together for an event we had at the park last spring. I added dates to the photos and moved the display to the cabin. I also organized all of the craft supplies in the activity room. One room of the cabin is a children's activity room where I provide directions and supplies to make and take a craft project that relates to the park. Each month there is a new project. This month for obvious reasons, the craft is frog related. I need to go to the nearest large town (1 hour away) to pick up the supplies I need for July's project. It will have to wait until Thursday. I also straightened up the work table and replaced the plastic table cloth... its amazing how quickly those table cloths can be coated in glitter glue, googly eyes and feathers!
After lunch, the rain took another break. I was able to get started on changing the prices on our entrance signs because of the fee increase happening in all Florida State Parks tomorrow. I was given stickers to place over the old price on the signs. Halfway through the project, I realized that I didn't have all of the numbers I needed. I will have to get creative tomorrow. I went back to the office and changed the prices in the register and updated our price list cheat sheet in the office. I also spent a bit of time clarifying all of the details of the fee changes with my superiors. I hope I have everything figured out by the weekend... it should be a busy one!
I got home late because I was trying to make sure I could do as much as I could today to prevent a stressful day tomorrow. I have a lot to do tomorrow... I hope I remember to take some photos. Wish me luck for Day 1 of summer with an open spring!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Monotonous Monday

Today is Monday. Mondays are always the same (unless there is a bank holiday). As I do everyday, I put up the flags, unlocked the gate, and headed to the office for paperwork. Paperwork entails recording rainfall and water levels, preparing the daily deposit, doing the daily income report, filling in that day on the weekly visitation report, processing the receipts on the cash register, making copies of everything I've done, as well as answering e-mails and returning phone messages. On Mondays, I have to add a few more steps to complete all of the forms and run a weekly register report. Then I am usually ready to get out of the office! I open the visitor center and check the restrooms and take a walk around the park. My little park is managed by a larger park, Ichetucknee Springs, 15 miles away. Each Monday I have to take my weekly paperwork to Ichetucknee (pronounced Itch*tuck*knee, if you were wondering). So that is what I did. I made a stop at a local farm supply store to get the valve stem on the mower tire replaced on the way.
I also stopped at the bank and chatted with my favorite bank ladies while I picked up the deposit slips. When I got to Ichetucknee, I handed over my paperwork, said hi to everyone in the office, and made copies of some brochures for the park (they have a big fancy xerox machine!) I headed back to Troy and picked up lunch on the way.
When I got back to the park I met with an employee and completed some paperwork with her.
Just when I thought that I was done with indoor work... the afternoon rain started. I was back in the office to start working on monthly reports. I'll save those details for Wednesday.
When my afternoon relief came in, I chatted with her for a bit, set her up with a few projects for the evening and headed home.
The lower photos will show the amazing progress that the spring has made and the afternoon rain on the water. There are still only two dry steps on the stairs, but the color of the water has improved drastically since yesterday and more of the ground is visible through the water. Tomorrow will be more interesting, I promise!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Good News

I got some good news today. My request to reopen the spring for the 4th of July weekend was approved! The spring is getting more clear every day. The water level is dropping a little faster each day. Look at the difference in the steps today compared to yesterday. There are TWO dry steps, not just ONE! We are opening the spring on July 1st. My summer starts July 1st! I e-mailed a request to update our park web page to reflect the change in status (it will be updated next week), I changed the message on our answering machine, and I notified a few others by e-mail. As the calls came in today, it felt great to be able to tell people "yes, we are still closed but we will be open for the holiday weekend!!!" Its good news to a lot of people.
So, after I collected myself and contained my joy, I did some actual work today too.
I had to go to Adams Tract to get a tire off of the mower. The valve stem had dry rotted and the tire was flat. That is the second time this has happened to this mower... two front wheels, two bad valve stems, hopefully this is the last of this silliness for a while. I will get the tire fixed tomorrow and will return to Adams Tract one day next week to put the tire back on the mower. Fortunately the volunteer at the Tract had finished mowing for the week.
When I got back to Troy, I stopped home for lunch and got back to the park just in time for a rush (a very small rush) of people. We had a few people looking for a spring to swim in, a few who just wanted to see the park, and many more who were boating on the river and stopped in to see the spring progress. Between visitors, I picked up some garbage, cleaned off a gutter and swept off the walkway at the visitor center. It was HOT today, between tasks I checked e-mail and took care of what I could in the office to cool off.
While I was walking around the park, I took a few other photos to share. One is the high bank of the spring (the hill that I watched a turtle tumble down yesterday). The photo will give you a good idea of how much the water has dropped. I will take another in the future to show you what "normal" looks like. I also had to put some more frogs into the photo mix because everyone's comments and interest in the flying frogs makes me laugh every time I see them on the walkway. I found some interesting ones. I believe that the grey frog is a tree frog and the red one is a toad. I really need to find my reptile and amphibian ID guide. The frog looked very hot on the sunny sidewalk. After his photo session, I gently moved him to a grassy area nearby where he could find some shade and moisture. The toads are a little more tolerant of drier conditions so I let them fend for themselves... until I need to blow off the walkway again.