Saturday, July 11, 2009

Simple Saturday

I am off today. From the vehicle sounds that I have been hearing, it sounds like the park has been busy. I hope that tomorrow is the same. I am looking forward to a busy day in the park again. Today I was finally able to get the supplies for the craft project in the cabin. We have a different project that kids can make and take set up in the log cabin visitor center every month. This month the project is going out a little late, but I think it is a good one. I find most of my project ideas on a great webpage called Family Fun. They have a large variety of projects and they are searchable so that I can find nature related projects that I can make somewhat educational. So, this month we are doing the Cricket Chirper. We will put beads on wooden skewers that when rubbed together make cricket noises. I have already made the directions and an interpretive sheet on grasshoppers and crickets to hang in the activity room. The interpretive sheet may not be read, but having a toy that makes cricket noises may make a child pay more attention to a cricket in the future and maybe even learn something. Every once in a while, a parent will read the sheet and share with the child.
I haven't taken any photos today and I don't have any great ones from the week that I haven't used yet, so I will take this opportunity to respond to a comment on the post about the Madison. If you don't know what the Madison is, click the link, read, then come back. Here are the photos of Captain James Tucker as well as the Madison in the spring at the turn of the century. There was a lot more left of it then than there is now. The photos of the Captain came from a relative of his. The Madison photo is still a bit of a mystery. I have seen the photo in news articles. I vaguely remember reading that it was an image used in a postcard, but I can't find where I read that. I also had a park visitor drop off a CD with the image files on it to the park, but I don't have that person's contact information so I can't ask where the image came from. I am happy to have it though, and maybe someday the mystery will be solved. Until then, enjoy the photos.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dog Days of Summer

Today felt a little off. Friday is normally my day off, but we switched the schedule around this week and I will be off tomorrow. All day it felt like a Saturday and everytime I got an e-mail it was a surprise because everyone that e-mails me does not work weekends. Fortunately, I was not in the office much today to receive those confusing e-mails. After almost 3 inches of rain yesterday, I think that Mother Nature finally got it out of her system. We actually had a dry and sunny day today!
I started the day by breaking out the noisemaker before anyone arrived. I used the leaf blower to clear the walkway to the spring and the parking lot. I included before and after photos of the parking lot. I don't think that it is obvious when the parking lot has been cleared, but it really makes a difference when you see it beforehand. The week's storms had left leaves, pine needles, and branches EVERYWHERE! One of my volunteers informed me just before I left today that there is a big tree down on the nature trail... it will have to wait until Monday.
The first visitors pulled in right after I turned off the leaf blower. They laughed when I thanked them for waiting for me to finish. It was another quiet day though. I saw no more than a dozen cars in and out throughout the day. There were only 3 divers, but many more divers called the park and were happy to find out that the spring was open again. I expect we may be busy this weekend.
After finishing the paperwork, and opening the visitor center, I started on mowing. I had to make a quick stop in town to fill up gas cans though. I was amazed to find that even with 3 inches of rain yesterday, my co-worker somehow, between raindrops, got all of the visitor-use areas mowed. I have suspicions that he may be a superhero. I had just the area by the flagpoles and the area around our dumpster to mow. I also used the mower to clear the pine needles off of the road near the park gate. I even mowed the area around my house during my lunch break because the mower and I were already dirty... it just worked out. After that project was finished and I cleaned off the mower (and myself) with the air compressor, I took a walk around the park.
It was evident that a pack of wild, unsupervised children had been in the visitor center. The door was wide open and the craft room was trashed. It really felt like a Saturday then! While I straightened up the cabin, I found that I had another visitor. It was the biggest dragonfly that I have ever seen!! He was easily the length of my hand. He was enjoying the view at the window, but I guided him toward the door with the broom and he seemed relieved to be outside.
The dragonfly wasn't the only stray that I had to deal with today. The volunteer at Adams Tract informed me that there were two stray dogs hanging around the camp. It is common for dogs to wander through that area. There are farms all around and most people do not keep their dogs contained. Usually the dogs leave on their own, but these two made it clear that they were intent on staying. I went to collect them and found that they were really sweet dogs. If I didn't already have a dog, I would be tempted to keep them. They didn't bark, they didn't jump up, they followed me wherever I went and they hopped right into my truck when I opened the door. They made themselves comfortable in my truck and it seemed like they knew that they would be home soon... wherever that may be. I secured them until someone from the animal shelter can pick them up tomorrow.
Its amazing how fast the day flies by when it isn't raining!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


This week is a little mixed up. I was off today, like usual, but I traded a co-worker Friday for Saturday. I usually use Friday as a day to answer questions because I am not at work, so I will go ahead and do that today. I apologize for the late post (I think its awesome that there are some of you that come by to read each day, sorry to keep you waiting) it has been stormy again today and the internet connection has been spotty.
So, I didn't get any questions last week on the Reflections page. If you think of anything you would like to know, post in the comments and I will answer next week. I will try to anticipate what you might want to know and I will give you all a little tour this week. I know that some of you readers have been to the park and some have not, so this won't be news to everyone, but it might help keep us all on the same page.
I don't have a map of the park, but I have a lot of photos and hopefully I can give you all a mental picture of the place. The park has just over 80 acres. It is a big, long rectangle with one short side on the river and the other near a county road and private property. The long edges border another state agency's land and private property. When first entering the gate, you pass our entrance sign and the flags. A short distance after the flags is the honor station where visitors take an envelope, insert their park fee and drop the envelope into a metal pipe (called the iron ranger). A tear-off slip on the envelope is then hung on the rear view mirror of the vehicle so that we know that the fee was paid. After a curvy, pleasant, one half mile drive under a canopy of oak trees you will find out parking lot. From the parking lot, you can see the restrooms on the left and the picnic area on the right. Straight ahead is a switchback, concrete walkway (frog town) which takes you down the hill to the spring dock which is the main swimming and diving area. The spring is a first magnitude spring pumping out an average of 90 million gallons of water each day. The deepest area is usually around 70 feet deep. The spring run is about 100 yards long and flows out into the Suwannee River. Within the spring run, just before the river, lies the remains of the civil war era steamship, Madison.
If you walked through the picnic area to the right, you would be able to access the 1/2 mile nature trail through the woods or walk towards the office and the cabin. The cabin, built in the late 1950's by a previous land owner is now our visitor center. It has a large picture window that looks down from the top of the hill onto the spring. It is one of the best views in the park. Across from the visitor center is the office and shop in the same building. The office was also built by a previous land owner. She was the second occupant of the cabin and she loved animals. She would take in stray dogs and she had so many that she needed a dog kennel to keep them all. She built the office as a dog kennel and it was later converted into the office and shop area. It has 4 rooms in total. One is the office, two are for storage, and one is where we keep tools and have some workspace.
Behind the visitor center is a trail that takes you down the hill to the river. It has a small look out area to view the Madison wreckage in the spring run and then the walkway carries you to the river dock and the floating dock. This area is also a second entrance to the park for visitors in boats.
That is the extent of the main visitor area of the park. There are some other areas which are not commonly used by visitors. A large, 14 stall horse barn was on the property before it was state owned. Our long term plan is to acquire more land which would make equestrian trails and an equestrian camp ground possible. For now, the barn area is used for storage and we allow scout groups and youth groups to camp in the area around the barn.
Both the barn and the ranger residence, my house, are accessed by the service road that runs through a back area of the park. My house is far enough in the park that I don't really have neighbors and rarely experience neighbor noise, but it is far enough from the main visitor area that I can pretend to leave work and go home in the evenings.
So that is the quick tour of the park. If you want to see more, come for a visit!!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Its Still Raining

I miss our afternoon showers. Florida isn't supposed to have all day (or all week for that matter) rain... we get our afternoon showers that can be easily planned around or waited out. I am just plain out of indoor things to do at work. I took my morning walk around the park with my umbrella, but most of the photos that I took didn't turn out well. They were either to dark or washed out from the flash. Here are the two that I am willing to show. One is a picturesque view of the rain on the spring through the trees, and the other is a Buttonbush blossom. I like the Buttonbush one, the blossom reminds me of Horton Hears A Who. Maybe there is a Whoville speck on that flower.
I left early to use up the rest of my holiday time earned for the 4th of July. It was a dreadfully boring day at work, but I don't want to disappoint anyone with a tiny blog. I will fill you all in on the story of the steamship wreckage that I mentioned yesterday.
Paddle wheel steamships were commonly run on the Suwannee River from 1800-1900. One ship captain, Captain Tucker, is the star of our story. He ran away from home at a young age and became somewhat of an apprentice to a ship captain. He eventually became a captain himself and had several ships throughout his lifetime. One (or possibly more) was run aground in the shallow waters of the upper Suwannee River. He returned to ship builders in Indiana and requested a ship with a very shallow draft, meaning that less of the ship's hull extended under water. This ship was made just for the Suwannee River, and he called it Madison. It was 120 feet long and weighed 99 tons.
Captain Tucker used the Madison to deliver mail. He traveled regularly from the Gulf area up the river as far as the river level would allow delivering mail and would buy/sell/trade with farmers along the way. You can imagine that at the turn of the century, when a trip to the store may have meant a full day of traveling by horse, having a floating general store come by was an incredible and much appreciated thing. Captain Tucker ran this route for several years and even added a second ship to his business for a route on another river. When the civil war started, every able man helped to defend his family, his land, and his way of life. Captain Tucker was no exception. He mounted a gun to the deck of his ship and helped the war effort as much as he could. There are stories of him rounding up three Union ships in the Gulf... though there are also stories that say those ship captains were drunk and unsure of their orders and Captain Tucker did little more than herd them in toward shore. Eventually, the Union troops had the Suwannee River surrounded and the Captain could be of no more use on the river. He and his men were going to leave and join the infantry in Virginia. He didn't want to leave the Madison where the Union troops could use it for their own benefit. Meanwhile, a farmer contacted Captain Tucker and said he needed to carry a load of corn (maybe for livestock feed, maybe for moonshine, you decide). Captain Tucker loaned the Madison to this farmer and told him to use it as long as he needed to as long as he would sink it in "Old Troy Spring" when he was done with it. The farmer did as he was told and the Madison has been in Troy Spring ever since. During the war, much of the Madison was salvaged for supplies. Large metal pieces were taken for the sugar cane industry, we assume lumber and other metal pieces would have been taken by anyone in need. Throughout the years, divers and swimmers have collected bits and pieces. Some pieces have probably even drifted down river. For the most part, what is left is safely nestled in the sand of the spring run. Boats are not allowed in the spring area so there won't be any heavy equipment damage. Most people are respectful of the history of the wreckage now and leave it to rest. I have only had one person in my 3 years at this park try to take a piece of the ship. Another visitor came and got me right away and was ready to go to court and testify against the person. I didn't take the matter that far though, I was able to recover the piece and put it back in place where it belonged, for everyone to enjoy.
I enjoy reading through all of the articles and stories about Captain Tucker and the Madison. The Captain was a bold and determined man who worked hard for everything that he had. There are stories about him having a goal in mind and tackling what no one thought possible. At the time, the Suwannee was declared a navigable waterway from the Gulf to a town called Columbus which is no longer in existence, but was located upriver from Troy. Captain Tucker wanted the river to be declared navigable as far up as White Springs, a shallow and narrow part of the river. The Captain would have to cross rocky shoals and very shallow water to get there. He said he would put the Madison in White Springs if he had to do it on wheels. The story goes that he waited for the river to rise and then headed upriver. He made it! He came back without a cabin on the top of the ship anymore, but he did it. Another story involves him marching into the White House in an attempt to get his postal route back after the war. For whatever reason, his request was refused through the proper channels. He met with the president's wife and she was so impressed that he had the guts to just come to the White House. He got his postal route back!
The stories of the Madison are fascinating, but they are just stories. We don't have a lot of official documentation of the ship aside from the logs of its production. There are no known photos or images of it until after it was sunk. The farmer who sunk the ship wrote a story for a local newspaper many years after it happened. The story seems to be embellished a bit or perhaps his memory was a little clouded after so many years. We do have some great information about Captain Tucker from genealogy research and from information given to us by descendants of the Captain. Some people doubt that the ship in Troy Spring is the Madison, but the research and writings that I have seen have enough common details that I believe it is true. A couple years ago, I was interviewed by National Geographic News when they did an article on the Madison. It can be found here. Unfortunately, the article leans a little more toward the negative side of the argument, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. A little mystery keeps the old ship interesting, I guess.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rain Rain, Go Away!

It was another rainy day at the park. After almost 1/2" of rain yesterday, it rained all day today with only a short break in the afternoon. It forced me to get to some projects that I have been avoiding, but I don't like being stuck in the office. I tackled the quarterly Manpower Augmentation Report. It really kind of sounds scary, doesn't it? It is just a record of volunteer hours served at the park. There were 533 hours donated by volunteers this quarter. Thanks volunteers!!!!! I really would not be able to keep the park staffed without their assistance. I also tossed around budget figures to get the schedule figured out... no comment. I tied up some other loose ends and finally the sun came out for a little while. Maybe it was Mother Nature's reward to me for completing unpleasant tasks.

I was able to take a walk around and see the progress that the spring has made with flood recovery. The spring was pushing out into the river even farther today than it was yesterday! You can see the clear water meeting the tannic river water just outside of the buoy line. I was also able to see Madison clearly for the first time in a while. Madison was a paddle wheel steamship that ran on the Suwannee in the Civil War days. I will be sure to give you all the full story of the Madison another day. The short version is that it was sunk intentionally in the spring run to keep it out of Union hands. The ship has been there ever since and the bottom ribs of it are still visible today. Look for the straight lines under the water that run almost parallel with the branch in the photo. Also, the v-shaped disturbance on the top of the water is one of my favorite water bugs. It is a whirligig beetle! They act like their name and they skate around in wild patterns all over the surface of the water. They are very small, but easy to spot because of the wake that they leave.
The only thing that I did today that made me feel that I had accomplished anything was when my co-worker and I removed 60 feet of chain from the floating dock and a tree. During the flooding, there was some concern over whether the floating dock might come off of its pillars and float away. The chain was put on the dock and fastened to the nearest large tree just in case. Fortunately the water stopped rising just before we found out what happens when the dock comes off of its pillars. I have two photos for comparison. The one with giant pillars behind the dock was taken today. The one with a dock and no pillars was taken in April at the peak of the flood.
After we finished that project, the rain started again. At least we got a little break. Keep your fingers crossed for a dry day tomorrow... the grass is tall enough!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Melancholy Monday

Today was a normal Monday. I did all of the Monday type things. I made my walk through the park before I sat down to do paperwork though, the weather report told me that it would be a wet day. The river area is really beautiful when a storm is rolling in. Its the only place in the park where you can see a lot of sky all around you. I was also happy to see that there is finally clear water pushing out into the river. Its only a little area, but it will grow in the coming days. I spotted a Bowfin cruising through the clear spot. They are cool looking fish, with the shape of a catfish and a long dorsal fin that covers most of their back. They are one of a few species of local fish that were around when dinosaurs were alive. They no doubt adapted easily to water level changes throughout history because of adaptations to its swim bladder that let it gulp air out of water. The swim bladder is able to act like a lung and fishermen find that they will stay alive for a LONG time out of water. They will readily take a fisherman's baited hook and they put up a strong fight. Though edible, they are usually considered a junk fish.
My Monday errands took up most of the afternoon, but when I returned, I had a few divers and a few families in the park. There were lots of kids "rescuing" little toads from the walkway. I also caught a picture of another fence lizard who was looking down at the kids from the high wall above the walkway, obviously glad to not be a toad today!
I cut my day short today. I finished everything that I needed to inside and the on-again-off-again rain kept me from getting into any projects outside. Also, Friday was a state holiday, but it was also my day off. Because I am on salary, I don't get paid for holidays but I get 8 hours of "comp time." That means that I get another day off. Its hard for me to just leave the park unmanned, so to get my 8 hours I am shaving a couple hours off each day this week. I left as soon as my relief came in instead of having some overlap time like we usually do.
I hope the rest of the week is not as rainy as predicted. If it is, you are in for a lot of dark cloud pictures this week.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Peaceful Summer Day

Today felt like a weekday in the park. It definitely did not seem like a holiday weekend. I don't know if word has not yet spread that the spring is open again or if gas prices are keeping people closer to home, but the park was not as busy as I expected it to be all weekend. I didn't have anyone in the park at all until 10:45 am (we open at 8am) and even then it was just a few people. It worked out great for park visitors expecting crowds though. Everyone was pleasantly surprised at the peacefulness in the park today.
I did a walk through of the park first this morning to make sure it was ready for visitors. I was greeted by a Green Heron at the spring... well, he didn't exactly greet me, in fact he moved along in the opposite direction of me. I got a few photos, but none where crisp. This was the best one, the heron is in the middle of the photo, at the water line (look for the yellow legs).
At the river, I was happy to see that the spring is pushing out even farther than yesterday! The dark river water is almost all the way out. I had a bit of garbage to pick up by the river this morning. It seemed like we may have had some boaters in yesterday evening that didn't pick up after themselves. I first spotted some Mountain Dew cans and when I got closer to pick them up I also found bloody cotton balls... yuck. Thank goodness for garbage grabbers, I didn't have to touch anything! A little further down, I found a no longer inflated dragon toy. Its not everyday that I find a dead dragon by the spring. Oh, summer has arrived. I was also finally able to get to an area where the flood waters had deposited a lot of garbage. I wasn't able to reach it until today because of the water. I don' t like seeing so much trash left behind, but a full garbage bucket gives me a great sense of accomplishment.
After my walk, I headed in to the air conditioning to get the paperwork done. I had enough time to answer e-mails, send some e-mails, and return phone calls. I even took care of a few things on Monday's To Do List! After finishing all of that I STILL didn't have any park visitors. I decided to update a kiosk in the picnic area and make new signs to replace ones that had outdated information. I found that the kiosk has become a suburb of Troy Springs State Park! I found that a total of 4 crickets, 1 cockroach, 1 wasp, 1 green anole (lizard), and 1 spider have taken up residency in the kiosk. Everyone can stay except for the wasp, he will be served with eviction spray tomorrow. That particular type of wasp gives me a terrible reaction if I am stung.
After completing the kiosk project, I finally had some vehicles pulling into the parking lot. I still had the stapler in my hand from hanging the sign in the kiosk and one park visitor asked me if state budget cut backs made it so that I couldn't carry a gun, if I was given only a stapler for defense. We had a good laugh about that and he even took a photo of me with the stapler. The afternoon continued with a similar tone. More friendly people drifted in and we even had a few divers today. I enjoy watching their bubbles float to the surface.