Saturday, January 30, 2010

3rd Day Off

Today was a lovely, lazy day off.  I spent the whole day at home aside from one quick visit to the office after two or three calls from work.  I did get outside between rain showers to throw some discs down the driveway.  My throw is getting more consistent and I can throw over 100 feet with some reliability and have the occasional throw that reaches 170+ feet.  The usual length from tee to basket in disc golf is 300-500 feet.  I would like to be able to get up to a 200 foot throw.
I didn't take any photos today.  It was gray and cloudy all day.  Here is a fun misty shot from earlier this week.

Q and A for the day:
"Do you like fiction books that are set in State or National parks?"
I do.  Sadly, I don't read as much as I would like to.  I enjoy books that take place in an outdoor setting or in a park.  It makes it familiar to me.

"What is the funniest question ever asked by any Park visitor ?"
I get a lot of questions that seem funny to me, but are really perfectly reasonable if you don't have certain facts.  Our park brochure and web page both mention the Suwannee river and its the only river in our county.  I often get the question "What river is that?"  It surprises me, but its understandable if you were just driving by and saw the park sign and came in to check it out.  I have had several people ask me "how long has the spring been here?", implying that it was built, dug, or discovered at some point.  Some people find it hard to believe that the spring was likely here for mastodons and saber-toothed cats to drink from.  Sturgeon questions make me chuckle too.  Sturgeon are giant (up to 400 lbs fish) that come to the Suwannee from the Gulf to spawn in the summertime.  The Sturgeon jump out of the water occasionally.  Just like the Mullet, there are theories as to why they jump, but nothing is proven.  Because they are giant fish and they jump out of the water, sometimes there are collisions with Sturgeon and boaters.  Advertising attempts to caution boaters to slow down and be aware have sent some people into a scared frenzy.  I have spoken to people who asked me "Do the Sturgeon really attack people?"  One couple would not venture anywhere near the riverbank in fear of Sturgeon.  Some questions are hard to answer nicely like "Where are the manatee?  We want to ride one."  I really got that one, and it came after a discussion where I had to explain to them in detail how I knew that they didn't pay because they were the first and only people in the park and I was holding their empty payment envelope and the number on the envelope matched the number on the tag hanging in their car.
I think the funniest question or reaction that I have gotten though was when I worked at Ichetucknee.  A local boy around 17 or 18 came up to me after swimming in the Blue Hole Spring.  He was disturbed by the plant life in the water and assumed that it shouldn't be there.  He asked me when we (meaning the park) would get rid of it.  I was in the process of explaining that the Eel Grass was a native plant that we encouraged to grow.  When he heard the name of the plant, he stopped me and shouted "there are eels in that water!?"  I assured him that the grass was named for its appearance, not for actual eels.   At that point, he was done talking to me about anything living in the water.  I will never forget that reaction to the thought of having swam with eels.

Friday, January 29, 2010

2nd Day Off

Today really didn't involve any outdoor activity unless you count walking from the car to different stores while I ran errands today.  It was a beautiful day.  When I got home, I did have to close the park though.  I snapped some photos while I was making sure that all of the buildings were secure.  I know you are shocked, but there is more water!  We are over 22 feet above sea level now.  I can't get down to the river dock without walking through water or boating now.  The first photo is of the river dock area.  Remember the sidewalk?  Its completely submerged now.
IMG_6824On we go to the question and answer section of today's blog:
"What advice would you give a young girl (or boy) if she (he) wanted to become a park ranger? What would you tell her (him) to study in school, or do for extra curricular activities?"
I love this question.  This is like asking me to talk about photography.  I could talk all day.  I will try to edit myself.  People can take many different paths and end up as a park ranger.  My story is detailed here.   You also have to understand that rangers in different parks do very different things.  Some rangers are people greeters and question answerers in the ranger station, some rangers are maintenance workers, some rangers are fire fighters, some rangers are wildlife caregivers, some rangers are roving interpreters, some rangers are police officers.  Most rangers are some combination of all of those.  The best advice that I can give to a person wishing to become a ranger is to collect skills.  Here are some more specific ideas.
1. Most people expect a park ranger to be able to name every plant, animal, and bug in the forest.  No one can, but the more you know, the better.  Take biology or ecology classes.  If you can't name each piece of the puzzle, its good to know at least how they fit together.  Volunteer at an animal shelter, park, nature center, outdoor education facility.  The best resource I ever found for nature information was my coworkers at a nature center that I worked at.
2. Its also quite helpful to have some knowledge of fixing things.  Restrooms are a vital, but often overlooked part of a park and its best to be able to fix any restroom problem quickly and efficiently.  "Must have plunger experience" should be on every ranger job posting.  Vehicle maintenance is important as well.  Equipment lasts much longer if you properly maintain it.  Learn how to check oil, add oil, change tires, back up a trailer, charge or jump a battery, etc.  I don't know how people learn these things without having a Dad like mine though, good luck.
3. Gain experience working with people.  This one is easy to come by, people are everywhere.  You are gaining experience working with people if you are working in retail, fast food, or a park setting.  Its important to have confidence when you speak as well as to be welcoming and get your point across effectively.  It also helps to be able to read people.  It helps to know the difference between a funny face because the person is hiding a beer behind their back or a funny face because they are standing on hot pavement to talk to you.  Take advantage of opportunities speaking in public, or in front of a group.  Take speech classes if you can.
4. Be creative.  Its difficult sometimes to do everything that you would like to in the park on a tight budget.  It helps if you can think outside of the box and re-use things that you have on hand or make up an unusual solution to a problem.  In fact, it would be good to learn this skill to deal with life outside of work as well.  Rangers don't make a lot of money.  We have a lot benefits (i.e. going to work everyday in a place where people vacation) but money is not one of them.
5. Have some fun and do some outdoor activities.  I have led canoe trips and canoe tours, I am grateful for my boating and boating instruction experience.  People ask about fishing methods often, its good to know how to fish.  If you have camped before, you know what makes a good campground.  If you have visited a park before, you know what visitors want or are looking for.
6. Volunteer!  There is no better way to learn a job than to take part in it.  You can volunteer at a park or a nature center and accomplish a lot.  You can learn more, you can find out what you like and what you don't, and you can get used to working for next to nothing (kidding.... sort of).  Some great opportunities are out there for outdoorsy folk.  Check out Americorps or the Student Conservation Association or a similar organization.  They are volunteer and/or internship programs that can give you great on-the-job experience and some pay to help with college or living costs.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

1st Day Off

The first day of my four day weekend was nice.  I woke up leisurely and eventually made my muscles loosen up after the pack test yesterday.  I was pretty sore, but as long as I kept moving, I felt alright.  My boyfriend and I tried out another disc golf course today.  It was about 45 minutes away in Live Oak at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. Some of the course had standing water on it, but there is a lot of that going around.  The course was challenging because it is a long course and there are a lot of trees.  It was a lot of fun though, a good kind of challenging.  My sore muscles caught up to me after nine holes and we headed off to do some grocery shopping.  Here are some photos of the disc golf adventure.

Yesterday, I asked for some discussion topics or questions to answer on these days off.  I will do a few each day.  If you think of any other ideas, just post a comment anywhere.

This one was sent to me via facebook:  "If you could do one thing in the park, improvement or project, and money were not an issue, what would you do?"
This question got my mind wandering.  I would do a lot if money were not an issue.  You asked for one thing though, I'll try to scale it back.  I would build a boardwalk system around the spring.  There is currently no suitable or easily accessible path to any area of the spring aside from the spring dock or the river area and the river area is not easily accessible for everyone.  As the park continues to increase in visitation through the years, the footpaths around the spring are eroding more and more.  If the boardwalks were designed well, they could even be used during moderate floods and allow people to utilize the park even during high water.   If our river dock area could be accessed during a flood, we may have some fishermen coming to the park.  There is no way to access the river area to fish during a flood the way that we are set up now.  It would take a lot of careful design consideration and a great deal of money, but I believe that it would do wonders for the interpretation, protection, and enjoyment of this park.

This next question would be a good discussion.  Please feel free to add your own opinion in the comments.
"Are you allowed to have bird feeders? Or would that interfere with the natural order of things?"
 I don't know if there is anything written in to our policies about bird feeders.  I will look into it when I am back at work.  Here is what we guide decisions with though, our mission statement.  'To provide resource-based recreation while preserving, interpreting, and restoring our natural and cultural resources.'  Bird feeders are certainly not preserving or restoring natural processes for our resources, but a bird feeder can definitely be an interpretive aid.  I fondly remember a nature center that I visited once that had an amazing room on the back.  It had a bowed glass window and bird feeders well placed in a nice area for song birds.  There were microphones set up outside and speakers inside.  The birds couldn't see in, but visitors could watch and hear birds up-close without disturbing them.  Bird guides and identification posters were readily available, and it was an excellent way to learn more in an exciting way.
I personally, have mixed feelings about it.  I don't believe in feeding wild animals.  Animals can learn habits that are harmful to them, the fed animals or predators can learn new behaviors, and changing a wild animal's diet can lead to health problems.  On the other hand, if a person learns more about their environment from watching a bird feeder and has a little more respect for their surroundings, then maybe it is worth any possible minor negatives.  What do you think?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Walk Faster!

Today was an exhausting day.  It started in the usual way.  I drove through the park and then to the barn to turn off the faucets.  When I got to the office, I did the paperwork and then headed out for a walk.  The river had risen some more, but it is still slowing down a bit.  The river dock is now under water and the water on the spring walkway has rounded another curve.

I had other things to worry about today than the water rising though.  I returned to my office and finished up the paperwork for the purchases that I had made yesterday.  When I finished, I spoke on the phone to a volunteer who will arriving in March.  Mid-morning, my coworkers and I left to go to Ichetucknee to take our pack test.  In order to participate in prescribed burning in the parks, we have to pass a physical agility test each year.  We have to wear a 25lbs vest and walk two miles in thirty minutes.  We can't run, we have to walk in a very steady, very fast pace.  It is similar to moving along on the fire line carrying all of your equipment.  Hopefully, I will have an opportunity to burn sometime soon and I will talk more about that process then.  The pack test isn't fun, but I passed with a couple minutes to spare.  I am feeling it now.
After the pack test was over, we still weren't done.  Our new buoys had been shipped to Ichetucknee and they had arrived this week.  The rangers at Ichetucknee were kind enough to load them on a trailer for me and I just picked up the trailer.  We secured the boxes on the trailer and headed back to Troy.
When we got back to Troy, we were tired, but we wanted to get the work out of the way.  My coworker and I unloaded all 22 boxes, one at a time, off the trailer, up the step, around a corner, and in to the storage room.  Then we were really worn out.

The new buoys are cool though.  I think they will be much safer and more durable than the old ones.  Now we just have to wait for the water to go down.  Buoy installations require swimming.

I headed home in the afternoon and enjoyed not walking for a while.  I did have to go back and close the park later, but I didn't mind.  Today starts a four day weekend!  I have acquired plenty of time off and now is a great time to use some of it.  The park is not busy at all, and we have plenty of people to cover the park.  I am really looking forward to it.  So... what am I going to do with the blog for four days?  Any ideas?  I will share photos of any outdoorsy activities, but if anyone has any topics of discussion, or questions, feel free to post in the comments.  Come on, what's the question that you really want to ask?  You can post anonymously if you want to...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Water Watch

Up another foot today.  It was slightly less than a foot as opposed to slightly more than a foot as its been the past few days, so I'll take that as a positive sign.  The river is still rising, the park is still quiet, but life goes on, there are still projects to do.
On my drive around the park this morning, I saw that my coworker had done a great job cleaning up the debris left by the water on the road.  Aside from a little residual dampness, you wouldn't be able to tell that the whole area had been submerged for three days.  When I got to the office, I went walking right away to see where the water was today.  It had crossed the sidewalk, as I expected, but it was still passable.

When I walked around the water and made it out to the river dock, I saw that the floating dock that had drifted in from upriver a couple of days ago had moved to a new spot.  It was hanging on to our favorite tree.  Those giant roots held on to it and I began picturing the mess we would have if it stayed there when the water receded.  Fortunately, later in the day as the water came up a little more, it made its way further down the river.
The river was moving quickly, but the surface looked still.  With the bright rising sun and the dense fog on the water, it almost looked like an ice rink.  It was a really beautiful morning.

From the cabin porch, I could see that the water was almost at the high bank across the spring.   The water is now over 19 feet above sea level.  It was around 8.5 feet above sea level in mid-November, before it began to rise again. 

After I finished my paperwork this morning, I went over to the cabin to help our volunteer with a project that he has been working on.  The three pocket doors in the cabin had seen better days.  They were cracking and splintering and needed to be replaced. 

We had purchased three replacements and our volunteer had stained and sealed them.  He did a great job.  He had also gotten the molding around the doors off with minimal damage and removed the old doors.  He just needed an extra set of hands to help guide the new doors into place.  I was happy to help out and it was great to see the new doors in place.

By mid-morning, I was ready to head to the nearby town of Live Oak to run some errands.  I stopped at a tractor supply store to check on a part needed for a piece of equipment at Adams Tract.  The price was higher than I was hoping, and it was a special order item.  I decided to hold off on it and think about other options.  When I got to the hardware store, I purchased some new door knobs for the restrooms at Adams Tract.  I chose hardware that would not remain locked once a person opened the door,  unlike the current door knobs that lock people out all the time.  I also returned the thermostats that didn't work with our heating/cooling systems and purchased ones that will.  I looked at some other prices and picked up a few more odds and ends before heading back to the park.
On my way back to Troy, I stopped in at Adams Tract for a brief visit.  The volunteers were busy taking care of some visitors that had arrived.  I checked in with them, dropped off the door hardware, and went on my way.  Back at Troy, I caught up with my co-worker and brought in all of my purchases.  She informed me that a tree had fallen on the nature trail.  We walked out and took a look at it before I went home.  It won't be hard to clear it from the trail.  It will have to wait a couple of days though.  With the trail flooded as well, I don't think anyone will mind if there is a tree on the path.

When I got home and watched a little TV, I was surprised to find that we are expecting freezing temperatures again tonight.  I was hoping that we were done with all of the cold nonsense.  The dog and I headed out for a walk around the park to visit all of the water faucets and set them dripping... again...

Monday, January 25, 2010

More Water Monday

The park drive was completely clear of water this morning.  I stopped to pick up more fallen branches and then headed back towards the gate.  I took down the 'water on road' sign and put up the flags.  When I got to the office, I emptied the rain gauge... more than a half inch.  I checked the water level on the computer next, it had again come up another foot.  I stayed in the office and completed my end-of-the-week paperwork.  I wasn't anxious to see the water.  When I had done all that I needed to in the office, I finally headed out for a walk.  The sky was beautiful today.  It was nice and sunny, even though it was windy, it was still a warm day.  I started at the cabin porch and moved the hose to another rain barrel to drain.  It is becoming the never ending task to drain those barrels.

When I headed down the hill to the river, some green leaves caught my eye.  There isn't much that is still green, so it was a welcome sight.  I liked how the sun shone through the leaves.

If the river comes up much more, it will flow into the flood plain and over the sidewalk.  I won't be able to reach the river dock any more.  I hope we don't get to that point, that will mean a lot of cleaning later.

The buoy line is pushed in again so there is much more water flowing in than out.  Debris is building in the buoy line again.

The floating dock is now floating slightly above the stationary dock.  If the river comes up a few more feet, the stationary dock will be underwater.  The dock that washed up across the river yesterday was still there.  It moved throughout the day though, it may float away by tomorrow.

When I made my way around to the spring side of the park, I didn't even bother going down the walkway.  I knew that it ended in a lot of water on the sidewalk.  I walked down the hillside to take in the full view.  The dock railing is completely submerged now.  If you look closely you can barely make it out under the surface of the water.

I returned to the office, checked in with my coworkers, and headed out to run my Monday errands.  At Ichetucknee, I dropped off some signs that they needed to borrow, I talked to my Manager, I found out that our new buoys for Troy would be arriving today, and I picked up a case of toilet paper.  I went home for lunch when I got back and then headed back to the office for a while.  I made some calls, and talked to my coworkers.  I also captured and relocated a couple of Anoles who had found themselves stuck inside.  They are silly lizards.  I left a little early because I had to be back later to close the park as well.  It was another quiet and uneventful day.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ebb and Flow

I was pleased to see that the park drive had dried up enough to open the park today.  I was disappointed that the river had come up another foot.  Its a little strange coming to work everyday and not knowing exactly what things will look like.  Will there be more water here or less water there?  Will there be branches on the ground or whole trees on the ground?  What random thing will float by?
On my drive through the park, I found the park drive passable.  It was not completely dry, but any roadworthy vehicle would make it through.  The exit road was completely dry.  When I opened the gate, I removed the temporarily closed sign, put the flags up and headed to the office.

I turned on the computer and checked the river level, it was higher than it was in December.  I looked at the levels up river and they are still rising.  That means that it will be even higher tomorrow.  Not really looking forward to seeing how high the water was in person, I decided to tackle some other tasks first.  I mounted a cautionary sign to a saw horse to warn people of the small amount of water that was still on the road and took it out toward the entrance.  When the sign was in place, I went to work on the little garden in front of our entrance sign.  The plants are native plants that don't require any attention at all.  The dark green Coontie plants had been damaged in the recent frost though.  They each had several dead, brown stalks mixed with the live, green ones.  To keep our entrance looking nice, I trimmed off the brown stalks.  In the early summer, new green stalks will grow, just like they did last year.  Take a look at the before and after.

You may notice that there are some red stalks at the base of the bundles of green.  Coontie are dioecious, meaning that each plant is either male or female.  The leaves on each plant look the same, but a cone grows from the ground that distinguishes the sexes.  The male cone, shown below, holds sacs of pollen under each scale.

The female cone, shown below, is where the seed production happens.  Pollen can be transferred from plant to plant via wind, or insect.  The female cones scales will separate which allows the pollen to make contact.  Later, the cone will break apart and the seeds will fall to the ground.  Other insects will break down the husk around the seed so that it is able to germinate.

After the Coontie garden was freshened up, I drove back to the main area of the park.  I saw that a tree had fallen near the parking lot.  It was not in a pathway, it missed the concrete, and it was not in a mowed area, so it will stay where it is to provide habitat to creatures who enjoy moist, decaying logs.

I finally headed down to the spring, to see how far the water had come up.  It had rounded the first corner of the walkway near the spring dock.  No more than a foot of the railing of the spring dock was still out of the water.

Because there were no rocks or gently sloped banks available for the turtles, some had found another solution.  These three turtles managed to climb aboard this floating log that was making its way around the spring.  These turtles were making the most of this warm day.

When I made my way to the river area, I saw that debris had started to float down the river.  A part of someone's dock had settled directly across the river.  Its former owners must not have been prepared for the rising water.

Our favorite tree was just an ordinary tree, up to its trunk in water.  I just don't know what its holding on to, but I'm glad that it holds its ground flood after flood.

When I returned to my office after my walk, I did the paperwork and started doing some research on thermostat wiring.  I have new programmable thermostats for all of the park buildings to improve our energy efficiency.  After doing a lot of reading and manual consulting and chart making, I determined that I need different thermostats for at least two of the buildings.  The old, mercury switch thermostat will take a little more research.  My list of things to get or return to the hardware store is getting longer.  I will probably have to make a trip this week.  It was a pretty quiet day.  I did speak to two very brief visitors.  They were hoping the spring would dry up soon so that they could fish for some Mullet.  I assured them that I was hoping for the same thing.