Saturday, April 17, 2010

Smooth Saturday

Today went by very quickly.  I stayed pretty busy, but it was the good kind of busy where I was never stressed.  I am getting better and better at moving in several directions at once and I heard more than once, "wow, you are everywhere."  I met with the people working today at the Ranger Station this morning.  I opened up the Ranger Station and ran all of the register reports.  Then the chaos began.  The ranger for the distant properties called to check in with me.  While I was talking to him, I was looking for one of our biologists phone numbers to help facilitate a volunteer project at another property.  When I was done in the Ranger Station, I headed out to get some change that would be needed during the day.  As I was pulling back into the park, I got a call from the Ranger Academy because the computer and the projector started to malfunction.  I headed up that way and got to listen to a great presentation about prescribed fire while I waited to get to the computer.  Fortunately, the next activity for the Academy was outdoors so I was able get in to fix the computer issue and help set up the equipment for the next presenter.  I also dropped off some paper towels while I was there and found out that the kitchen was having some trouble with the freezer.  My next stop was to the kitchen.  I picked up some boxes to take to the recycling dumpster and checked on the freezer.  It began to cool down while I was there and I checked on it again later in the afternoon.  It was doing its job, but it could have been doing it a little better.  We will have to look into getting it serviced.  Another issue was brought to my attention while I was there.  The dumpster by the dining hall had not been emptied when it should have been and it was VERY full.  I resolved to deal with the garbage later in the day and I headed over to check on the Ranger Station and the rest of the park.  Things were pretty quiet.  There was a steady flow of traffic coming into the park, but the cars weren't lined up to the road as I have seen in previous weekends.
Somewhere after 1:00, we finally got close to filling up.   At one point, there were four of us in the Ranger Station and we were all busy.  Two people were helping campers and other walk-ins to the ranger station.  One person was at the window taking entrance fees, and I was answering the phone.  We were managing to help everyone quickly and courteously though and the line kept moving into the park quickly.  When the parking lot was almost full, we got into our ready positions.  Someone was counting parking spaces and I readied the cones and signs to close the park and start turning people around.  When we did start turning cars around, it was only a few at a time.  There was no steady line like I saw last time.  The slow trickle of traffic was nice because I was able to give people a better explanation than I can when there are 30 cars behind the car I am talking to.  People were disappointed, but not nearly as upset as they were the last weekend that I worked.  Most of the people did end up coming into the park a little later as people began to leave.
Once the rush was over and we knew that we wouldn't have to close again, I went to check on Ranger Academy one more time.  I brought them some extension cords for an evening activity and carried a table to the pool area for them.  The freezer was still plugging along as it had been and I picked up some more boxes for the recycling dumpster.  I also called one of the rangers to come and meet me by the dining hall.  Together, we loaded some of the garbage bags from the overfull dumpster into the back of an EZ-GO.  We took them to a less full dumpster so that the kitchen would have some room this evening for garbage.  We can't leave any food garbage anywhere but in the bear proof dumpsters.
Once I had made my last rounds around the park and things were really quieting down, I headed home for the evening.  It was another quiet, uninterrupted evening... I could get used to this.  I realized when I got home that I had not taken any photos today.  I just didn't have any time.  I won't leave you without something to look at though.  How about a tour of another area of the park?

Thought of the Day #68
On Monday, I visited Katie's Landing, which is one of our distant, northern properties.  It is another launching point for boats on the Wekiva River and a nice picnic area.  The property has served this function for many years, but it was just acquired and redeveloped by the park recently.  There is still some construction that is being finished up, especially at the water's edge.  There is a bulkhead that is in the midst of construction to keep the river back in place.  A surface to launch boats will also be added.  Every time I visit Katie's Landing, it makes me want to go kayaking.  I will get around to it soon.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fox Squirrel Day!!

Today was a nice day.  It started out beautiful and very foggy.  We had our morning meeting at the shop and then I headed out to check on the Ranger Academy.  They were ready to start class and I got the very short list of problems.  They needed more fire wood and a light bulb.  I also looked over the youth camp area to see if there was anything that needed attention.  I straightened up around the outside of the dining hall a little and then headed down to the office.  While I was out and about in the park, I took a few photos of the fog and wished that I had time for more.  The spiderwebs were heavy with dew and EVERYWHERE!

I stopped by the ranger station on my way back to the office and learned that their copy of the operations manual was very out of date.  While I was at the office, I printed the chapters that had been updated since the existing copy had been made.  I also checked my e-mail and responded to the e-mails that needed attention.  My new fire boots that were ordered last week came in.  I decided to wear them right away to try to break them in before I have to spend 8 hours stomping around in the woods on a burn.  I'm glad that I did.  Just the walking that I did today very nearly caused blisters.  The boots are tall, leather lace-up boots.  The soles are Vibram, so they are more resistant to hot embers on the ground.  They have to be tall to make sure that no burning embers land in your socks, and the all leather sides offer more protection than most shoes.  The tall, stiff leather is hard to break in.  I can't believe that I didn't take a photo of them!  Here is a link to what I found when I Googled, looking for my boots.  I stomped around the office like I was wearing ski boots, most of the morning.
I was expecting a septic company and the county health inspector to arrive at 11:00 to pump the grease trap at the dining hall.  At 10:00, I got a call on the radio that the septic company had arrived.  I met them at the ranger station and led them to the area that needed attention and then had the chance to talk to them.  They had finished their last job early and tried to reach the health inspector to notify him that they would be early.  They weren't able to get a hold of him though, so I hung out with the septic guys for an hour.  The health inspector wanted to be present when the trap was pumped so that he could inspect it.  I answered a lot of the questions about the park that the septic guys had and we sat and watched some Fox Squirrels for a while.  It was really kind of cool.  After watching them for about 20 minutes, we decided that there were a total of four of them.  They were playful with each other and about the same size and coloration, so I am guessing that they were siblings.  They really camouflage with the trees and the Spanish Moss very well.  Do you see all three of the squirrels in the photo below?

When the health inspector finally arrived, we all watched the grease get sucked into the truck.  It was pretty gross and pretty smelly.  Now I know what the entire grease trap looks like and exactly how it operates.  I now officially know far more than I ever wanted to about grease traps.

That was pretty gross wasn't it?  Here is one more Fox Squirrel photo so that the grease trap is not the last photo that lingers with you when you are done reading the blog.

The rest of my day was much less exciting, thankfully.  I visited the campground once to check on the WiFi set up.  A visitor had reported that it wasn't working.  I turned the system on and off and removed one of the air cards and replaced it and had it up again in no time.  I also replaced some of our signage to encourage people to participate in our survey about the WiFi connection.  I also got caught up with my coworker on needs for the weekend and current events in the park.  It was unusual, but I went home on time and didn't get any calls after I was home.  It was great!

Thought of the Day #69
Sherman's Fox Squirrels are a Species of Special Concern in Florida.  Their numbers are declining because of habitat loss or degradation.  They are much picker about the places that they live than the average Grey Squirrel.  The Fox Squirrel prefers to nest very high up in pine trees.  When an area that is predominately pine is not permitted to burn on a regular cycle, hardwoods move in and become the dominate species.  When this happens, the Fox Squirrels are forced out to other areas.  In addition, Longleaf Pine, specifically is a favorite food of the Fox Squirrel.  Many natural stands of Longleaf Pines have been harvested in the past and replaced with faster growing, less desireable pines.  The fact that there are so many Fox Squirrels in the park is a great compliment to the land management in this park.  The regular cycles of prescribed fire are keeping these unique creatures happy at Wekiwa.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Turkey Lurkey

My day had a much different pace from yesterday.  My coworker was back from his days off and I was free, for the most part, to get some office work done.  I checked in with the Ranger Academy this morning.  They were just starting class when I arrived after our morning meeting.  Everything was going well at the time.  Once I had been at the office for a while, I got a call from the Ranger Academy area.  The dishwasher was not running correctly in the kitchen.  Even in the kitchen, park equipment is park equipment.  The dishwasher had to be talked to nicely and rattled the right way.  Later in the afternoon, it was the steam table that was being difficult.  Each occurrence is a little intimidating because each time is the first time that I have experienced these issues and it takes time to figure out how to fix or who to ask to fix each thing.  Every experience is a learning experience though, and I will be prepared to rattle the dishwasher the next time it starts misbehaving.
When I was able to work in the office, I made progress on several ongoing projects.  I scheduled a company to come and pump a grease trap on the septic system near the kitchen.  I also had to schedule a county health inspector to be there at the same time to inspect the trap.  The big event is scheduled for tomorrow.  I also continued on a project to track resource management project needs for the park.  I located the program on the computer and called to get my log-in information.  Then, I scheduled some time with someone to get me started with the program because I have never used it before.
With my coworker back for just a couple of days before his weekend off, I decided to make the most of having him around.  I headed home on time, and was relieved to do so, for the first time in a while.  When I got home, something caught my eye in the back yard.  I snuck out the back door in time to catch three of the five or six turkeys that were meandering through my back yard.

It was a busy and productive day, all around the park.  It was really nice to go home on time with the park running smoothly.

Thought of the Day #70
The Florida Wild Turkey, also called an Osceola Wild Turkey for a Seminole Indian Chief, will start becoming more scarce in the next month or two.  The toms have been out and about, chasing the hens and soon the hens will start nesting.  The Turkey hen will lay ten or more eggs in a nest on the ground in a well hidden spot.  She will pick a spot where she won't be discovered, but it will also be close enough to water and foraging areas that she won't have to be far from her nest for too long.  We won't see the turkeys much at all while they sit on their nests for nearly a month.  When the eggs hatch, the chicks stay in the nest for only a couple of days.  Then the hens will group together again and there will be huge groups of mothers and chicks roaming about together.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The First Day of Academy

Today was a steadily busy day, but it wasn't stressful at all.  There was a lot happening, but it was happening pretty smoothly.  This morning, we all met and planned the day before we went our separate ways.  I spent a little time in the office, and some time driving through the park and checking in with the staff.  One ranger was working on the morning cleanup and blowing off the walkways around the spring.  Another ranger blew off all of the roadways and parking lots.  The park looked fantastic for about an hour, until the trees dropped another steady layer of leaves on the ground.  I talked to one of our biologists about some resource management projects to add to our database.  I checked in with the Ranger Academy trainers to make sure that everything was going well for them.  In the afternoon, I got to meet the Ranger Academy class and watch our Park Manager give a presentation to welcome the group to Wekiwa.  I took care of a few things at the youth camp and headed home.  I had to return later in the evening to check on a gas leak in the kitchen.  We were able to relight the pilots on the stove and all was well.  I stuck around the Ranger Academy campfire for a little while since I was there.  It was great to be among so many like-minded people doing something that we love.  There were several people with instruments and musical talent who were gracious enough to entertain us.  It was a nice way to spend the evening.
While I was on the go today, back and forth on the park drive, I saw quite a few animals.  The park was quiet enough that there were Deer, Turkey, and Fox Squirrels grazing right next to the park drive.  I love this park.

I was also near a burn zone that was burned shortly before I started at Wekiwa.  I have blogged photos of this area before, but it has really greened up dramatically since mid March.

Thought of the Day #71
The point was made at the campfire tonight, that sitting around a fire is deeply rooted in our human history.  Its interesting to think that we are doing the same activity that people have done for thousands of years.  Its an amazing force that can bring so many people together.  I think everyone has memories of sitting around a fire with plenty of good conversation.  Our discussion Monday about technology in the campground shows how much some things have changed, but its nice when some things stay the same.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Day Full of Hats

I wore many hats today, and explored every inch of the Assistant Manager Position.  I think that my week will continue this way.  We are once again, down several people and operating on the bare minimum with staff.  We also have Ranger Academy beginning tomorrow.  It is going to be a busy week.
My coworker is off today and tomorrow, so I am both the field supervisor and the administrative supervisor.  A tree fell in the picnic area yesterday evening and a ranger was able to get it chopped and ready to be picked up.  A group of us tackled the tree debris with the dump truck and the tractor first thing this morning and made quick work of the tree mess.

With everyone off in their separate directions, I headed to the office to finish up the paperwork from the north properties that I started yesterday.  I took care of all of my office work and headed home for a quick bite to eat.  When I returned, I met with the closing staff who were just arriving, and discussed the game plan for the rest of the day.  We had to put the finishing touches on the youth camp area in preparation for Ranger Academy.  The newest Park Rangers from all over the state will be staying at Wekiwa for the next week while they get to know each other and the Florida Park Service.  I helped to blow off walkways while another ranger mowed and weed trimmed.  I washed the dining hall windows and lined up the rocking chairs on the dining hall porch.  I even spent some time troubleshooting the audio-visual equipment.  It was a long and busy day, but it was full of fond memories of my Ranger Academy.  As I walked the pathways around the cabins and fire circles to make sure that they were clear of debris, I remembered lots of late nights with my fellow rangers around the campfire.  For a full picture of the youth camp area, follow this link to an informational document about the youth camp.  The second page has a map of the area and shows the arrangement of the cabins.

I spent a little bit of time in the Rec Hall, which functions as the classroom during the Academy.  It was fun to see all of the books and notepads and pens lined up for the new Rangers.  Their cups say Water Is Life, Drink It Up!  When we had the AV equipment up and running with the bugs worked out, we tidied up the room a little more and headed out.

Tomorrow, our guests will arrive and Ranger Academy will begin.  We will also be carrying on business in the park as usual.  I have quite a few commitments throughout the day tomorrow.  I hope it all runs smoothly.

Thought of the Day #72
What do you have to teach a person to make them a good Park Ranger?  Priorities have shifted back and forth throughout the years and its fun to listen to the stories of Ranger Academies of years past.  There is always a large classroom element to the Academy because there is a lot of information to take in regarding the rules and regulations, the function and workings of park service, the history of the state and our organization and every graduate of our Ranger Academy must be able to recite our mission statement.  There are also classes or physical team challenges to touch on the topics of prescribed fire, vehicle maintenance, park maintenance, visitor services, etc.  It is a great experience, and I think that the friendships and acquaintances that I made throughout Academy were the best part of it all.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Marvelous Monday

Today started out in the usual Monday way.  It began with the morning meeting at the shop.  Once everyone knew what they were doing for the day, we moved on to the administrative Monday morning meeting.  When that was through, I moved on to e-mails and paperwork.  I went to the district office for a little tutorial on another step in the hiring process and before I knew it, it was lunch time.  Mondays really fly by quickly.
I did find time to swing through the picnic area after I went to the campground to put out fresh WiFi survey fliers.  The picnic area is today's stop on the tour of Wekiwa Springs.  This particular area is on the right side of the map near the last zone of the parking lot.  There are two large pavilions and a playground which are pictured below.  The pavilions can be rented and reserved for family get-togethers, parties or group functions.

In addition to the pavilions and the playground equipment, there is also a restroom in this area and several picnic tables with grills.  The picnic area is nicely contoured and landscaped to give definition to each picnic table area.  The whole picnic area is out of sight of the busy spring area but it is within easy walking distance.

Across the parking lot from the picnic area is more recreation space.  There is a sand volleyball court and horseshoe pits.  The park has horseshoes that can be borrowed from the ranger station.  There is also an additional grill and some picnic tables for this area.

When I headed back into the office after lunch, I spotted a caterpillar on the fence railing near the parking lot.  It is a Tussock Moth caterpillar.  There are several different Tussock Moths and their caterpillars are similar in the arrangement of their hair, but not in the colors or patterns.  If you do a Google Image Search for "Tussock Moth Caterpillar," you will see a colorful selection of the amazing creatures.

In the afternoon, I headed to the more distant park properties to do our weekly Assistant Manager check of the areas.  I started at Katie's Landing.  It was peaceful and beautiful, as always.  When I checked the iron ranger, I found my friend the frog.  There were two frogs there the last time I checked it.  When my coworker checked it last week, I asked him if he saw the frogs.  He told me that he saw one of them.  Later, when he was going through the envelopes collected, I heard laughter from his office. He announced that he had found the other frog.  Today, the now lonely, remaining frog was still there.  When I started to put the lid back on the box, the frog leapt out and clung to my shirt.  It was as if it wanted me to take it to join its friend.  I thought the frog was better off where it had been living and I carefully put it back in its hiding place.

When I made it back to the office, I started the paperwork for the two properties that I visited.   I also got a few phone calls and had to go out to the campground to reboot the router.  The Wifi had stopped working, but it was a quick and easy fix.  It was a busy day but it went by quickly.

Thought of the Day #73
I am interested by the idea of a WiFi internet connection in the campground permanently.  In some ways, I am surprised that this has not been the norm in Florida State Parks for years.  Hotels and public spaces and even whole cities are offering WiFi hotspots, so why wouldn't a campground?  On the other hand, I understand the sense of alarm when some people do not think of getting back to nature with their laptop in hand.  What do you think?  Does technology have a place in the campground or do we need to get back to the days of tents and the light of a campfire?  I don't think that there is a right answer, but I'm interested to hear the different opinions and viewpoints.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Weekend Wrap-Up

I woke up this morning with a mission in mind.  I was intent on doing some yard work and exterior maintenance on the house.  The Oak Trees have been going through another big leaf drop and it looks like fall all over again.  I started out by hauling some garbage to the dumpster and also a big load of empty boxes to the recycling dumpster.  I fueled up the leaf blower while I was near the shop and I picked up a ladder.  I dropped off my first load of supplies and then went back to the shop to get the mower.
I got on the roof first.  I cleaned out the vent for the dryer which was getting full of lint and not allowing my dryer to dry as well.  I also blew all of the leaves off of the roof and out of the gutters.  When I was done on the roof, I mowed.  The yard doesn't look that much better.  I think I will need to mow the leaves again one or two more times before the grass is able to really thrive.  Once I was done blowing dust around with the mower, I blew off the porches, walkways, and the driveway.  I was glad to get so much done and I am really looking forward to the next time I mow because it will really improve that much more.
I was having too much fun mowing and leaf blowing today.  I forgot to take any pictures.  I looked back into some of my old photos though to find some images that you might enjoy.  The first one is a view that I'm sure you will remember if you read the blog when I was at Troy.  This is a foggy morning view from the river dock.
IMG (48)

I thought I would include the usual amount of plant life and animal life as well.
 Misc 281
The last photo is a Sherman's Fox Squirrel.  It was one that I saw often between Troy and Adams Tract.  They are more common here at Wekiwa and I hope that I will be able to "catch" another one for you at some point.  They are interesting to me because they are much bigger than the ordinary Grey Squirrels that we haven an abundance of.  The also vary greatly in their color patterns.
Thought of the Day #74
It was nice to do some park rangery things today like using the mower and the leaf blower.  Those are activities that I really enjoyed at Troy and I don't get to do enough of here at Wekiwa.  The mower was the same brand that I used at Troy, but it was a different model.  It was a little smaller which was nice because I could easily reach the top of the deck with my feet.  I had to stretch my feet out and use my tip toes so that my legs didn't dangle from the high seat on the Troy mower.  Eventually, a volunteer made a step for the mower at Troy so that we could all sit comfortably.  The smaller mower was not as powerful though, I would not have had so many leaves still in my yard if I had been using the Troy mower.  There are other mowers to choose from here at Wekiwa though.  Maybe next time I will try a different one in my yard.  It will take me a while, but I hope to get to know all of the equipment at Wekiwa, one driver seat at a time.