Saturday, April 10, 2010

Weekend Fun

Today was peaceful and relaxing.  We went to visit some friends of ours who live outside of Gainesville.  We didn't think about spring break traffic before we left though.  The northbound roads were bumper to bumper with people heading to Michigan, Indiana, New Jersey, Georgia and Ohio.  We left the main roads as soon as we could and took the back roads to avoid the traffic.  It took a little longer, but it was much calmer.
We enjoyed a beautiful day outside with our friends.  Their little girl picked wildflowers for us and showed us how she could catch her baby chickens.  The wildflowers were beautiful in their fields and I was happy to see one of my favorites, Spiderwort still blooming.  There is nothing like seeing this bold blue in nature.

Another gorgeous color that I saw was on an unusual beauty.  These Bottle Flies have an absolutely beautiful color, but they spend their time on very yucky things.  The feed and lay their eggs on animal waste, decaying animals, and generally smelly things.  They have even been known to enjoy the Stinkhorn fungii that I have blogged about before.  Have you ever stopped to appreciate a fly?  They are impressive creatures in their own icky way.

We had a good day with our friends and headed back home to attend to our dog.  The ride home went much faster, there weren't many other people headed back towards Orlando.  I wonder if the traffic flow will be a clue to the week ahead.  If spring break is over, things might slow down a little at the park.  It is warm and beautiful almost every day though... the busy season may be here to stay.  We will see what happens.

Thought of the Day #75
When I worked at Troy, we had a fixed schedule.  I always worked the same days, the same shifts, and I always had the same days off.  I worked weekends, but I always had Thursday and Friday that I could plan on having free.  There were times when we moved the schedule around, but it stayed pretty constant.  Here at Wekiwa, we do things a little differently.  We have rotating schedules.  The rangers rotate through different job functions and different schedules throughout the month.  Each week, they work early or late and they will either work the weekend or be off.  The jobs that they do are field duty (roving through the park, cleaning as needed, helping park visitors), gate duty (working in the ranger station), clean-up (morning restroom cleaning, garbage pick-up, general park tidying), resource management (which could include mowing, tree trimming, trail clearing, prescribed fire, etc), or Rock Springs (going to do whatever needs to be done at the more distant park properties).  The other Assistant Manager and I rotate our weekends as well.  We take Tuesday and Wednesday off when we work the weekend.  The rotating schedules keep things fresh and interesting.  They also create a long week and a short week.  There are ups and downs for both methods, and there are other rotating arrangements that I have heard of in other parks.  There are lots of ways to spread out the responsibility and its interesting to see how it works.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Today was another office day, but as promised, I am getting around to a full park tour.  I had to swing by the campground this morning to drop off some fliers that I made about our Wi-Fi trial program.  While I was there, I snapped a few photos to share.  There are 60 sites in two loops in the main, family campground.  The loops look like two kidneys on the lower left of the park map.  Each loop has a restroom and 30 sites.  Each site has electric, a picnic table, and a fire ring.  The sites can accommodate tent campers or RV campers.

The campsites vary slightly in the amount of vegetation around them or the proximity to the restroom, but they are all very similar.  The whole campground is located within a beautiful Sandhill area.  There are sparse pines and dense grass everywhere.  I am sure that campers wake up to deer filled views often.

There is currently, a central dump station near the entrance of the campground, however we won't need it much longer.  Starting very shortly and continuing for up to two years, construction will begin in the park to make some upgrades.  The areas of the park which are currently utilizing septic tanks will be switched over to join with the city sewer.  This project will add sewer hookups to each camping site, eliminating the need for the dump station.  The upgrade will also lessen our impact on groundwater and reduce maintenance needs in the park.  We will no longer need the lift stations and treatment facility.  The construction will disrupt the campground significantly.  We will not be taking camping reservations anymore starting in June.  We will try to keep the campground open and do construction in stages to minimize disruptions, but we will have to see what happens.
The rest of my day was spent in the office.  I had just a few things to work on, some documents to read, reports to sign, and I helped a ranger with his time sheet because the program that we use was being difficult.  My office work was made a little brighter because one of my coworkers added a rose to each person's desk.  It was opening very slowly throughout the day and just got prettier and prettier.

In the afternoon, I left a little early.  I worked so many long days last week and over the weekend, so I decided to reward myself with an early start to my weekend off.  I went out and ran some errands and made it back in time to meet some of the other ladies from the office at a local restaurant for 'girl's night.'  It was a lot of fun.

Thought of the Day #76
I did a full grocery shopping trip today for the first time since the move.  What a joy!  Who knew that grocery shopping could be so great?!  When I lived at Troy, I went to Lake City to shop for groceries.  It was about a 45 minute drive to get there and then I always spent an hour or two there.  It was such an ordeal that I only went once every two weeks or even once a month.  Once the shopping was done, I had to load up the car.  I brought insulated cooler bags with me to keep the perishables cold for the trip home.  While I loaded the car, I also had to strategically select items that needed to go in the cooler bags.  Space was limited so I had to be choosy.  I then made the 45 minute drive home and was usually worn out by the time I had to unload and put away a month's worth of groceries.  So today, I drove past the Publix that is 1.5 miles from my home.  I don't care for the layout of that store and I live close enough to several different Publix locations to be picky.  I drove about another 5 miles to a nicer Publix and leisurely shopped for only a week's worth of groceries.  I was able to easily load the groceries onto the checkout belt and the whole load fit comfortably on the belt.  On the way home, I realized that I forgot to buy potatoes... and it didn't matter because there is a grocery store 1.5 miles from my home.  I returned home and put away all of the groceries.  When I looked at the clock, I realized that the whole ordeal took less than 2 hours.  What an improvement!!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Office Day

It was another day spent almost entirely in the office.  I meant to take a photo of my desk this morning and again this afternoon, but my brain was only on paperwork.  Throughout the last week or so, things had begun to pile up on my desk.  The mess had been forming due to the absence of any kind of organizational structure of my own and several projects that need one more detail or question answered to be complete.
I spent the morning getting a quick tutorial on the documents that need to be filled out for a new employee and then working through the process.  We are replacing a ranger that we lost last week.  Its so nice to have things like this come up while I am learning.  Once I had all of the paperwork mostly complete and I was waiting on the answer to a question, I moved on to tackle the mountain of clutter that was hiding my desk.  Its funny, at home I don't mind a certain amount of clutter, but at work... no matter where I have worked... I like things neat and tidy.  I got a new file folder holder for my desk today and I turned a pile of papers into an organized rack of projects in their own folders.  As I came across each project, I worked it until I couldn't get any further.  I would do what I could and follow up on things that I was waiting on.  It felt great to make so much progress and to see my desk again.  It is nice to be organized, I just hope that I can stay that way.
I didn't get out into the park at all today, but it is on my agenda for tomorrow.  I did go home for lunch today though, and I walked my dog while I was home.  My dog tried to drag me across the yard because our neighbor was out and about.  We have a Gopher Tortoise for a neighbor.  Her burrow is at the edge of the mowed part of the yard, just slightly into the woods.  It is an unusual spot for a Gopher, but she is safe and happy here... as long as my dog doesn't get his way.  I'm not sure what he would do with a Gopher Tortoise if he were able to get to one.  They can tuck themselves into their shell to stay safe, and I think Dozer would just get bored.  I don't want to find out for sure though... he can stick to pouncing Armadillos.

I took the photo after I put Dozer back in the house.  When I was walking towards the front of the house to go back to work, I looked at the tiny blue flowers that were just buds yesterday.  To my surprise, they had opened into bright, beautiful flowers.  I didn't expect them to look the way that they do.  What a surprise!  I still can't find an ID for them though.  The leaves in the photo behind the flowers are not leaves associated with these flowers.  The flowers' stems are the tiny threads of green that go to the right.  Its amazing that they can hold up the flowers as well as they do.

Thought of the Day #77
I talked to my replacement today.  He will be starting at Troy Springs in just over a week.  I was glad that he called, I was hoping that the new person would want to talk to me.  I still care very much about Troy Springs and the people associated with the park.  I want to see good things happen there and I want my replacement to succeed.  I don't want to be overbearing though.  Things don't have to be done the way that I did them, and I was afraid that I might seem too pushy if I called to see how he was doing.  I am glad to still be involved in some way with Troy.  I am also looking forward to getting to know the new person.  It seems like there are some similarities between us... he is a photographer too.  I wonder if a Troy blog will continue?!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Better Today

I woke up today feeling refreshed.  The combination of chicken soup, tea, decongestants, and rest seemed to do wonders for me.  While I am still congested, I am feeling much much better.  I spent the afternoon on laundry and general house straightening.  The house still isn't all put together from the move, so the straightening is more habitual than productive.  I made sure to not overdo it today and still took the time to just enjoy the day off.  In the evening, I went to the park for a little while for our CSO meeting.  A CSO, or a Citizen Support Organization is a volunteer group that supports the park.  Wekiwa's CSO is the Wekiva Wilderness Trust and they seem to be a motivated group of people.  They chop and sell firewood to raise money while serving our campground visitors.  They maintain and man the nature center at the park.  They hold guided interpretive walks.  They host special events in the park that help to raise money as well as entertain and educate park visitors.  They also serve as an additional source of funding for specific park projects.  I'm sure that I am only touching the surface of the many roles that the Wekiva Wilderness Trust fills, but I am looking forward to learning more about their activities as I work with them more in the future.
After the meeting, I decided to enjoy some of the beautiful warm weather.  I took my camera to the back yard and started looking.  I couldn't pass up another opportunity to photograph the Coral Honeysuckle that grows outside of my home office window.  It is covered in blooms now, its really beautiful.

Growing below the Honeysuckle, I spotted this tiny bluish-purple flower.  It was such a tiny and delicate thing that I had to go in to get my 10X macro lens.  The flowers themselves were no bigger than my pinky fingernail.  The plants that produced them where tiny wisps of grass.  I didn't even see the point at the top of each petal until I saw the photo on the computer.  I poured through my wild flower book and found nothing about them.  I think I need to look into an additional wild flower field guide.

With magnification in mind, I started looking closely at the ground.  I decided to take another photo of these pale purple flowers.  I still don't know what they are, but they are everywhere around the park right now.
Looking at them closely, they remind me of popcorn.

Growing near the purple popcorn flowers, I found these minute little white flowers.  I never would have seen them if I wasn't leaning down for the purple flowers.  I can imagine the equally minuscule flying insect that must visit and pollinate each delicate blossom.

While I was stopping to smell the flowers, I heard something else walking through the leaves in my front yard.  I snuck around the fence just in time to catch this distant photo of a great big Tom Turkey who was strutting his stuff in search of some hens.

Thought of the Day # 78
I know that I have mentioned volunteerism in the parks on the blog before, but it seems to fit so well into today's activities, I thought I might bring it up again.  There are so many ways to volunteer and get involved with your local parks.  You may not have thought that your skills would be useful to a park, but you would be surprised.  People who know the park well or know a lot about a particular subject can be very helpful with park programs, but someone with accounting know-how could be just as important to do the bookkeeping for fundraisers.  Skills in the trades can be very useful with park projects, but web-design or graphic design talents can help maintain a web page, make fliers, or t-shirts.  Simply knowing how to manage people can be a very useful trait when trying to organize an event.  If you want to be more involved with your local park, just ask.  You don't have to fit any particular description to be helpful as a volunteer.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Under The Weather

I am so glad that I was off today.  I have been struggling with some congestion for the last week or so from a heavy allergy season.  Well, I think the allergens have won the battle.  I was down and out for most of the day.  I really hope that I can enjoy some of my weekend tomorrow.  For now, here are some leftovers taken from the park drive.

Thought of the Day #79
I am going to make a conscious effort to give you a thorough tour of the park.  I think it will have to happen in sections, but to get you started, here is a map of the main area of the park.  This entrance contains the 60 site family campground, the spring, the picnic area, the youth camp, Lake Prevatt, Sand Lake and 13 miles of hiking trails.  I have shown you some of Katie's Landing, and a smidge of Rock Springs Run State Reserve.  There is so much more to see.  The 42,000+acres managed by Wekiwa Springs is immense, but I hope that I will be able to show you a good representation of the stunning acreage.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Bring on The Weekend!

Today was my last workday this week.  It was Friday for me!  Today was mostly meetings and office work and a little time out in the field.  It wasn't busy or stressful and it was a nice way to wind down and head into my weekend.  The day started with the morning meeting.  The rangers work on a rotating schedule and I had worked with the same group of people all weekend.  There were all fresh faces at the morning meeting today, back from their weekend off.  We all discussed the past weekend, the current week, and I filled everyone in on the new Wi-Fi test in the campground.  When we broke for the day, I headed to our offices for the Monday morning meeting with our Park Manager.  I helped to return chairs and floor mats and things to where they belonged now that the carpet cleaning was complete.
When there were enough chairs for all of us, we started the Monday meeting and got our Manger up to date on our projects and happenings in the park.  He had some information and direction for us and then we broke for a little office work.  Around lunchtime, my coworker and I headed out to visit some of our newer properties with our Park Manager.  Because they are newer properties, many of them need work done to clean them up from their last use or to remove unsafe facilities or to restore them to a more natural condition.  It was nice to have all the background information on these properties from the Park Manager.
Near one property, we saw a sign posted at the road.  It cautioned drivers to "Drive carefully, our squirrels can't tell one nut from another."  We had a laugh over that one.
One area that we visited was really a neat place.  It was a cabin in the woods that had fallen into disrepair, but the land around it was beautiful.  There were so many huge, trees that surrounded the cabin beautifully.  I especially love the Oaks with their gnarly limbs that give them so much character.

The poor old cabin didn't appreciate the trees as much as I did.  There were places in the roof where tree branches had obviously fallen to cause damage.  One corner of the house had a giant pine that was trying to replace the corner post of the house, I think.  It was growing against the house and had even pushed into the roof.  It is the pine in the left of the photo below.

The removal of this cabin and the site clean-up are an upcoming priority for us.  I am looking forward to seeing this amazing site when the work is complete.  Our Park Manager has some very cool ideas for the area.
Our next stop was at Katie's Landing, along the river.  We were looking at the construction of the bulkhead in progress.  The bulkhead holds the river bank in place, and while the construction is going on, there is a barrier to keep silt in place.  There was water caught in these areas and I'm sure it was being warmed by the sun more-so than the rest of the river water.  I noticed that there were minnows swimming in these shallow, protected, warm waters.  I also noticed someone else watching the minnows.  This Heron looked like it was hunting for some lunch until it became bothered by our presence and left.

When we returned from our excursion, I finished up what I wanted to do in the office and then headed home to make up some of the late days I worked this weekend.  I walked my dog behind our house when I got home.  I was frustrated to find that the mosquitoes have finally come out to dine on me.  I did stumble across something cool though.  There was a Bromilead in bloom right there in front of me.  I didn't get a great shot of it because the mosquitoes were biting and biting!  I had to share it with you though.  Bromeileads are a family that includes plants like Pineapple and even Spanish Moss (which is neither Spanish nor Moss).  This one in particular is called Bartram's Airplant.  It was named for a naturalist, William Bartram, who documented his journey through Florida in the late 1700's.  This Airplant is on the ground, but they do not need to be growing from the soil.  Airplants or Epiphytes take their nutrients from the air.  This one probably started growing on a branch high in a tree until the branch fell.  Its still happy though.  It has everything it needs.

Thought of the Day #80
You may remember Thought #93, when I mentioned the different types of parks that are out there.  Differences in the parks mean that the jobs of Park Rangers vary between the parks as well.  I wanted to share another blog with you that I stumbled upon through a reader of this page.  A man who spent 32 years serving in the National Parks as a Ranger has written a book and blogs about his job.  Bruce Bytnar tells some great stories that only 32 years of rangering could produce.  I was interested that he has faced some of the same frustrations and rewards that I have with the state park service, but he has also had some experiences that are more unique.  I hope you will enjoy his blog as much as I have.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hoppy Easter

I wasn't sure what to expect for Easter Sunday.  I assumed that we would be busy, because yesterday was busy and today held another beautiful, sunny day.  I thought that things would wind down early though because it was the end of the weekend.  Today was a little more like the days that people have been warning me about.  It was full of surprises.  I did remember to take a photo of the entrance area before it was full of cars, but there wasn't time for any other photos today.  It was a beautiful, foggy morning.  I wish I could have spent more time with my camera.

The day started out pretty mellow.  We got the ranger station open, and the clean-up commenced.  The Oak trees had decided to drop a hidden reserve of dead leaves onto us overnight in addition to the record levels of pollen that are making most of us miserable.  When the clean-up was done, the leaf blowing began.  People started to file into the park slowly but steadily.  Sometime after noon, the lines began to form and stick around.  We did end up reaching capacity and we had to close.  I had a Law Enforcement Officer working with me today.  I noticed that fewer people stopped to ask questions in the turn-around when he was there.  He looked like he meant business.  I am getting good with my arsenal of quick, informative, firm but friendly answers to the most common questions and complaints that people stop to give.  Even when the LE Officer wasn't there, I was able to keep the line moving faster than yesterday.  There were so many different reactions from people to the whole scenario of the park being full.  Some people were understanding and grateful that we would eventually re-open, some were shocked and angered, some quietly went with the flow, and some were just belligerent.

The day flew by and suddenly, we had more cars leaving than entering and we were through what we thought was the difficult part of the day.  The morning shift headed home and I stayed to help out a little longer.  When it was quiet, I headed out to run a park errand and then checked in one more time with the closing crew before heading home.  I expected that they would coast for the rest of the night and get through without problems.  All the drama started after I left.  I was following it all on the radio and offering assistance, but one of our rangers was able to sort everything out.  He dealt with stolen canoes, late canoes, scary people in canoes, and items stolen from canoes as well as 3 police units from 2 departments.  Who knew that canoes could bring out the worst in people on Easter Sunday?

Thought of the Day #81
The crowds at Wekiwa are much larger than the crowds at Troy.  I haven't seen the counts for Wekiwa yet, but I think it would be safe to say that Wekiwa has had higher visitation in one busy day than Troy has in a year.  What a contrast!  It is nice to be able to serve so many more people, but a little frustrating that we have to turn people away sometimes.  We are not able to give the personal, one-on-one attention that we could provide at Troy.  I think that people are still having meaningful experiences though.  Our staff is good at quick and friendly interactions at the ranger station that leave people with a good feeling, ready to explore and enjoy the park.  It is kind of amazing to me that a total of 5 park employees and 1 law enforcement officer kept the park moving and the majority of the visitors happy on such a busy day.