Saturday, April 3, 2010

What A Day!

It was a busy one!  As was expected, we did reach capacity in the park today.  The morning was slow enough and we were prepared, so everything went well and the day flew by.  It was not nearly as bad as everyone had been telling me it would be, at least it wasn't today.  I may have a different opinion by the end of the summer.
In the morning, I opened the ranger station and spent some time there learning a little more.  I feel pretty comfortable selling passes, using the register, and even checking out campers.  I need a little more practice with checking them in, but I'm getting there.  The more time I spend there, especially when its busy, the more scenarios I come across and the more I learn.  After a couple hours in the ranger station, I headed back to the office to open up our offices for a cleaning crew. A squirrel was there to great me, it was having some breakfast while it sat on a branch in front of our offices.

We had our air ducts and carpets cleaned today and it made a world of difference.  The cleaning took a little longer than expected though, and I felt bad that I had to leave one of the district personnel there to wait by himself all day.  I had to get back to the park because it was getting busy.
I was really glad that we had some community service workers come in today.  They were able to help with the morning clean-up and continued to keep the litter at bay throughout the day.  The gate had steady traffic flowing through it all day, but the real rush came around 1:30.  One of the rangers kept an eye on the parking lot and came to the ranger station when there were only 10-15 left.  We put out orange cones in front of the ranger station and put up signs that notified people that the park was closed temporarily.  We also had to put out a sign making people aware that if they left the park, they may not be able to return.  Once we reached our maximum capacity, we closed the ranger station window.  I manned my post which was to wave everyone through the turn around area made by the cones.  By the time they got to me, the visitors had already passed two signs explaining the closure.  About every third person stopped to ask me something.  One carload passed me three times and stopped to give me a different "what if" or "why can't we" every time.  I heard an awful lot of excuses today.  Everyone had a reason as to why they should still be able to come in.  I don't understand why it was so hard to convince them that there were no parking spots and crowds everywhere.  I can certainly understand their frustration, but I don't like crowds when I am recreating.  "Temporarily Closed Due To Overcrowding" would have sent me away in a hurry.  As I mentioned on Thursday, there are a lot of different mindsets that come to this park.  Some people were very upset with us, but they were usually the people who cheered and waved when they did finally get to come in.
One ranger watched the parking lot and called the ranger station to let us know when we could let in 10 cars or 15 cars, as the spaces came available.  We closed and opened again three times today.  By around 4:00, we knew that the rush was over.  We took down the signs and the half circle of cones.  Then we all breathed a sigh of relief.  I never made it down to the spring area when we were at the peak of it all.  I will try to get a picture soon.  I also need to get a photo of the turn-around set up for you all.  I will try to remember tomorrow morning before it is full of cars.
Once things were calm at the park, I decided to head towards home.  I checked in at the office with the carpet cleaners and the person watching over them.  They were still hard at work, but were done with all of the offices that I am associated with.  I turned on the thermostats and locked them up.  I offered to stay with the cleaning crew, but my offer was not accepted (I didn't mind at all).  I closed the gate that they were using near the offices and headed home.  The other person had the gate code to let the cleaners out.  On my way out to the truck, I noticed something on the light outside.  It was a Bagworm Moth, one of my favorite critters.

 Thought of the Day #82
While my current position does not leave me working in the ranger station normally, I want to learn how to do everything.  There is nothing that frustrated me more when I worked retail in the past than when I asked a supervisor how to do something that I needed to do and they couldn't tell me.  I don't ever want to be that supervisor that can't answer questions.  Spending time observing in the ranger station will serve many other purposes as well.  I can be helpful when the attendant is slammed with visitors.  It can get very overwhelming when there is a line of cars at the window, a line of people at the counter, and a ringing phone that just won't stop.  I am also getting to know the rangers and how they interact with visitors.  Finally, and I think most importantly, I am learning what procedures are working well, what procedures need to change, and the training or re-training that is needed for all of the rangers.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Here Comes The Fun

I had a little taste of what my weekend is going to hold for me.  The day started out slowly and I was able to finish up the updates to our emergency action plan.  It started to get a little more challenging when I got a call from one of the closing rangers who was sick.  I was already down a person for that shift so I had to call in another ranger and move some things around.  The next call was that a ranger at a distant property got his truck stuck in a big puddle hole and needed help.  My coworker went out to help him and take care of some other tasks that we had to do while he was out there.
Sometime after lunch, I ventured into the ranger station.  It was during the overlap period when the morning and evening ranger station attendant were both there.  I definitely see the need for the overlap.  One person was checking in campers and one person was at the register at the window taking entrance fees.  There was a line of cars out to the road.  The phone was ringing off the hook and people where coming in around the campers to ask questions.  I got a quick lesson on the register and helped out at the window for a little while.  The person who had been at the window was doing her best to help everyone else, the ringing phone, the community service workers who needed assignments and the people with questions.  It was chaos, but the visitors were happy and none of them had to wait very long.  The other rangers and I were spinning.
The afternoon continued that way.  When I was able to break free of the ranger station, another ranger and I were making frequent checks of the parking lot.  When the parking lot fills up, we have to start turning people away until some people leave.  It didn't get to that point today, but we are all fairly certain that it will tomorrow.  The weather will be sunny and in the mid 80's and its a holiday weekend.
In the late afternoon, I talked to one of the rangers who needed to check on some maintenance issues in one of the women's restrooms in the campground.  I went with him to make sure that no one was in there and to watch the door while he checked things out.  I saw these beautiful Oxalis flowers outside of the restroom while I stood guard.  Their leaves were like clovers, but they were giant!  The leaves were about the size of the palm of my hand.  They were well hidden in a woodsy area, I would have never spotted them if I hadn't just been standing around.

I walked down to the spring area at one point.  It was really quite busy.  There were too many people to speak to everyone that I passed, the way that I did at Troy.  I spoke to everyone that I made eye contact with and answered a few questions.  It was really busy around the spring, but I'm sure that it will be more-so tomorrow.  I am looking forward to seeing the park at its busiest, but I am a little apprehensive as well.  I think that everyone is trying to prepare me for the worst.  I hope that it won't be quite as bad as what they are telling me.

I think that the day went well today.  There were challenges and I think that they were handled well.  We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Thought of the Day #83
It is interesting to me how different holidays are between Wekiwa Springs and Troy Springs.  At Troy, most holidays were very quiet.  I guess people were at home spending time with their families.  Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the Fourth of July were busier than normal, but other holidays were quiet.  Usually the only visitors were people who just wanted to get out of the house for a little while.  They would walk around a little and then leave again.  I was surprised when everyone expected Easter weekend to be a busy weekend here at Wekiwa, and its proving to be quite busy.  I wonder if it is the demographic of people or that the visitors who came to Troy lived in rural areas and had plenty of room to do Easter Egg hunts as opposed to the urban and suburban dwellers that come to Wekiwa.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Manatee Mania

Today started out nicely and calmly.  My coworker was back from his days off and I was glad to have the assistance.  We were able to alternately take the calls that came in through the day for various things and also alternate with the odd ball calls when something unusual was happening in the park.
Once everyone had their assignments for the day, I retreated to the office to try to make some progress on some projects that I have been working on.  I was able to finish up a small hand-out for campers to be given out at the ranger station.  We are participating in a trial period to evaluate the possibility of Wi-Fi in our campground.  The hand-out that I made gave visitors directions to log onto the connection and provided them with a web address for a survey that we put together to evaluate the system.  I got the hand-outs cut out and taken to the ranger station. 
Back at the office, I talked with my coworker and we caught each other up on what we have been working on and upcoming projects.  I am getting better at continuing a conversation through several interruptions.  When we were done talking, I started reading through our emergency action plans.  It is time to update the plan, so I am keeping an eye out for things that need to be changed, but I am also learning a lot.  The emergency action plan details facilities, property locations, and park areas in list format.  Its nice to see the big picture on paper.  I marked some items that need updating, but I didn't get all the way through it.  It was getting to be lunch time and I was ready for a break.  I headed to the ranger station to put in my secret code to allow a procedure on the computer before heading home.  While I was there, they got a call that there was a manatee near the boat rental area.  The few rangers on duty were busy, so I headed down to check it out.  Some park staff suspected that this report may be an April Fool's Day prank because manatee sightings are rare at this park.  There are shallow places in the river that keep them from coming to our location usually, but the water is high right now.  When I got to the canoe beach, one of the concessionaires took me out in a canoe to see the manatee.  It was young and very happily munching on some Hydrilla which is an invasive, exotic water plant.  We definitely wanted to encourage that manatee to eat!

The manatee was in a great area.  It was out of the swim area, in our lagoon between the spring and the river.  Boats with motors are not allowed in that area and swimming is not allowed in that area, so the manatee was safe from human disruption.  I asked the concessionaire to keep an eye on canoers to make sure that no one was bothering the manatee.
I finally made it home for lunch and then headed back to the office to work with a ranger who needed to try out a connection for an online training.  We had some technical difficulties, but eventually got the information that we needed.  After that, I began to wrap things up in the office.  I actually believed that I might be able to leave a little early today.  Just as I was having those thoughts, we heard a report of motor boats in the lagoon near the manatee.  My coworker headed out to handle that matter.  Soon after that, there was another call about some stranded hikers.  They had tried to hike out to one of our backpacking primitive sites last night.  They had a rough time and only half of their party was able to make it back to their car today to get help.  We of course, do not want to encourage people to call the rangers for rides whenever they want, however, the people told me that their friends were not doing very well.  I drove out with them to find their friends.  I found a lot of mud puddles out on the interior roads and my clean, white truck is covered in mud.  The exhausted campers were very grateful and promised that they learned a lot and would plan better next time.
As I was driving the campers back to their vehicle, my coworker called to say that the manatee had entered the spring area.  We had to get all of the swimmers out of the water to keep them from bothering the manatee.  I arrived to help a little late.  Everyone was out of the water and gathered at the water's edge to watch the manatee.  There were a few people who were upset that they couldn't swim, but most of the visitors were excited to see a manatee.  While we kept an eye on the situation, we helped the late ranger pick up garbage in the spring area and answered visitor questions.  It wasn't long before the manatee decided that there were no tasty plants to eat in the spring area and it began to swim back to the lagoon.  We were almost trampled by the herd of people running to the other side of the spring to watch it swim away.  When we gave the all clear for people to return to the water, I headed home.  It was a good day and a busy day.  I might get the hang of this yet.

Thought of the Day #84
The variation in people who visit parks is always interesting to me.  Many of the people who come to Wekiwa are excited about the possibility of bear sightings.  Like me, there are people who ask when and where they might see one and if they have been sighted lately, in the hopes of catching a rare glimpse of a bear.  There are other people that hear about bears in the park and think that they will be waiting by the water to eat their children.  They need reassurance just to come in the gate.  At some point during my first week here, I was flagged down on the park drive by another vehicle.  The woman inside asked me if we had Fox Squirrels in the park because she thought she had just seen one for the first time.  She was so excited, she could hardly get out what she was trying to say.  All I could do was smile because I had a very similar reaction in this very same park at Ranger Academy when I saw my first Fox Squirrel.  Other people come in to swim at the community pool (aka the spring) and will tolerate all the naturey stuff around them.  We are here to serve all of those people.  The nature lovers and the nature-phobes and everyone in between.  It can definitely be difficult to make everyone happy!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another Long Day

I was the only manager again today, and it was another very busy day for me.  Looking back on it now, it doesn't seem like I accomplished much.  I was running and running all day long though.  There were more people on duty today, but plenty of projects to go around.  After everyone got started on their tasks, I headed out to start on mine.  I went to the youth camp again to get another angle of the grease trap on the sewer line.  Another shot was needed of the relationship of the grease trap to the youth camp dining hall.  It seems a little silly to be photographing a manhole cover day after day, but sometimes my job has me doing some silly things for the greater good.
I managed to return to the office and get a couple of e-mails answered and the latest grease trap photo e-mailed.  Anytime that I got close to progress, I got a phone call or a radio call or a visitor.  Not long after I had gone to the youth camp, I had a call on the radio that a county inspector had arrived to do a routine inspection on the dining hall.  I picked him up and headed right back to the youth camp.  I showed him around the dining hall and answered his questions.  Then he asked me if we had a grease trap.  He was lucky that I had just been acquainted with our recently popular but very stinky grease trap.
I returned to the office again and tried to get some work done.  Throughout the morning, I had two people request time off through the weekend.  A third person then came to my office to tell me that he would not be coming back to work at all.  I had to do some final paperwork with him and then I needed to look at the schedule.  I bothered my coworker on his day off to discuss the schedule changes, which I felt badly about.  I checked in with the people in the field after that to see how they were doing and to request that some changes be made to the schedule.  I finally headed to the office to check in and head home for lunch.  I think it was around 2:00 and as I walked up to the office, I found that I had another chauffeur job.  I was headed back to the youth camp to take someone to see another building.  When I finally got to my lunch, it tasted so good!
I did manage to get back to the office to accomplish what I absolutely had to get done.  Maybe tomorrow when the other assistant manager returns I will be able to focus on the office a little more.  Sometime after 4:00 I switched gears to being the late ranger to cover a hole in the schedule.  I checked over the park and picked up some garbage here and there.  I talked to a few visitors and had a nice drive through the park.  It felt great to clear my head and just do some purely rangery duties.  I saw some nice sights as I patrolled the area.  This little Gopher Tortoise was on the move.  I'm glad that it was obeying the speed limit.

I really love this section of the park drive.  I sure did see it a lot today on my multiple trips to the youth camp.  In the evening, I saw 2 or 3 deer wandering through the tall grasses.  I didn't get any good photos of the deer, but just imagine what they would look like as they casually browse through the grasses.

Closing the park at the end of the night went well too.  It was a little smoother than yesterday and I think I accomplished more of the things that should have been done.  I am really looking forward to going home at a reasonable time tomorrow though.

Thought of the Day #85
Note taking is becoming very important to me.  There is always so much going on and so many constant interruptions that my mind is always going in a few directions at once.  If someone tells me something, I write it down immediately.  I am finding already that I can't remember everything.  Someone mentioned an upcoming event to me that I didn't think I had heard about at all.  When I went to add it to my calendar, I saw that it was already there.  I am wondering if as I take on more responsibilities and the park gets busier whether my mind will cope better with it all or if I will just get more frazzled.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Busy Bee

It was a busy day for me.  My coworker was off today so I was Assistant Park Manager times two.  I had several administrative tasks that I needed to accomplish today but I was also keeping an eye on all of the field operations and helping out when I could.  We were short staffed today because of a training and an illness so everyone was spread thin today.  We did what we had to do though and there were a lot of happy visitors in the park.
In the morning, I met with the park staff to discuss the plan for the day.  After the meeting, I followed another employee to the auto repair shop to drop off a vehicle.  I headed to the office next and then to the more distant park entrances to check on the honor payment boxes.  While I was at Rock Springs Run, I saw two Sandhill Cranes.  I was so surprised to see them and I was driving pretty close, but they didn't seem to mind me at all.  I took a few photos and moved on because I had so much to do, but I could have sat there watching them all day.  I used to see and hear Sandhill Cranes flying high above Troy Springs, but it is a real treat to see them right in front of me.  I have always been fascinated by Great Blue Herons, and the Sandhill Cranes are another very large grey bird with the same grace and elegance.

My next stop was Katie's Landing.  I dropped off the new chlorine test kit that I ordered for the well maintenance.  I checked the chlorine and found it to be just right.  As I was closing up the well storage building, I found that I was not alone.  This little wasp was diligently working on building a nest.  Its lucky that I didn't have wasp spray with me.  That was not a good spot for a wasp.  I will get him next time.

When I checked the honor box, I found a little extra in there.  There were two frogs enjoying the dark, damp, box.  They did not enjoy it when I lifted the lid and exposed them to the hot sun.  I had to be very careful not to squish them as they tried to stay hidden while I moved the box mechanisms around.  They were both tucked into a safe area when I closed it up.

Katie's Landing is a newly reconstructed and re-landscaped area.  It was previously under private ownership and only recently became park property.  The area is still being refined a bit, but the landscaping around the entrance is beautiful.  There are a lot of Palmettos and these lovely white flowers.  I think that they are in the Hyssop family, but I am having trouble finding a definite ID.

When I got back to the main park area, I settled into the office for a little while.  I had to do some paperwork for the areas that I visited.  I also took a few phone calls and checked e-mail.  I got called away a little later to help out in the ranger station.  I also had to take care of some things while I was there.  I ran an errand outside of the park and then checked in with the few people working in the park.  I had to go to the youth camp area next to take a photo of a portion of our septic system.  Be glad that I didn't show the photo that I took after this of the area underneath the metal lid.

When I returned to the office, I had just enough time to e-mail the photo to the people requesting it before I got a call from the Ranger Station.  I was not able to finish the rest of the office work that I needed to do because I had to head back out into the field to retrieve an honor payment for a visitor who paid a fee that he didn't have to pay.  It was at the river access area and I had to take my shoes and socks off to wade into the water to get the payment because the water level is higher than usual.  I've got to tell you that I did not mind sticking my feet in the water one bit.  I wish that I could have jumped all the way into the spring.  It was a beautiful day out today.
I went home soon after I returned from dipping my toes in the water.  It was late in the day and my day was still not over.  The evening shift was light so I had to go in at closing to help finish things up.  I hope that we will have a full staff tomorrow to get back into the swing of things.

Thought of the Day #86
The closing procedure at Wekiwa is very different from Troy.  At Troy, we cleaned restrooms at night and at Wekiwa, they are cleaned in the morning.  At Troy, you couldn't close and lock the gate until every last person was out of the park.  I don't know how many times I talked to people several times and then still waited at the gate for another 30 minutes after closing time for them to make their way out.  At Wekiwa, there is an automatic gate that opens on its own and closes on its own, right on time.  Visitors can still leave after the gate is closed because of the automatic sensor, but only campers with the gate code can come back in after closing.  Its like having a permanent gate attendant.  At Troy, the full park drive was just over a mile.  It didn't take long to check the park to see if everyone was out.  At Wekiwa, it takes about 15 minutes to drive the park road (at 25 mph or less) from end to end.  At Troy, I could check the whole park, lock all of the buildings and even sweep the restroom in 30 minutes.  At Wekiwa, I could spend 30 minutes in each activity area of the park and another 30 minutes driving from place to place.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Monday

I can't believe that this was my third Monday at Wekiwa.  Time is really flying... I must be having fun.  Today included the usual morning meeting with the park staff at the shop and then the Monday morning meeting with the administrative staff.  A good portion of the day was spent in the office writing a memo and finishing up some other projects.  After lunch, I got out of the office for a little while to unlock a box at the ranger station and take a walk around the spring.  It was nice to talk to a few visitors and I even got to see some butterflies.  Two Eastern Tiger Swallowtails were feasting on a vitamin shake (aka mud puddle) and they let me get so close.  I tried to take a picture and realized that even though I had been toting my camera on my hip all day, I did not have a memory card in the camera.  I was able to quickly switch to my phone and get one photo before they flew away.

When I got back to the office, I did a little more paperwork and then my coworker received a call notifying us of some canoers who were having some trouble on the river.  My coworker did some calling around and checking into available resources to help these people.  It eventually looked as though we would have to canoe out to look for them because no one else was available.  By the time we made it down to the water though, some other canoers arrived and reported that the group in need of assistance had been righted and was back on track to return to the park.  River exploration will have to wait for another day.  We returned to the office and talked about the rest of the week and the projects on the agenda before calling it a day.

Thought of the Day #87
My Mondays have changed a lot from Troy to Wekiwa, but a Monday is a Monday everywhere.  At Troy, Mondays were full of reports and bank deposits and paperwork.  At Wekiwa Mondays are kind of a reset day where we meet with each other and discuss ongoing and upcoming projects and events.  Mondays at both places are like black holes where time goes.  While important and productive in their own way, Mondays are seemingly time consuming with little to show for it at the end of the day.  We'll see what the rest of the week will bring.

Settling In

Today was my second day off of the weekend.  It rained pretty steadily all day long which kept me indoors and focused on the projects of the day.  We were working on organizing and unpacking.  After a run to the dumpster last night, we had space cleared to open more boxes and put our lives back in order.  I spent the majority of the day in our home office.  The closet has become our craft and game closet and I was able to empty several boxes, filling that closet.  I also filled a bookshelf in the office with photo albums, field guides, and other reference books from college and job trainings.  I emptied about twelve boxes today which felt like a big accomplishment.  For some reason though, it doesn't seem like there are fewer boxes stacked around the house.  I think the boxes are multiplying.  Dozer helped to keep me company (get in my way) all day.  He really loves the carpeted floors in this house.  Bare floors are just not comfortable enough for him and our last house was wall to wall linoleum.  We had to keep a bed for the dog in every room.  Now, some rooms in the house are wall to wall dog bed (aka carpet).

Thought of the Day #88
Did you know that the Florida State Parks are celebrating a 75 year anniversary this year?  In commemoration of the big year, there are some new additions to the Florida State Park web page.  There is page all about the history of Florida State Parks, but each park has some photos and individual historical information.  On the Wekiwa page, you can see the old bath house that use to sit above the spring.  Use the pull down menu to find a little bit of history about your favorite Florida State Park.