Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sweaty Saturday

It was a hot one today, and it being Saturday, the park was busy!  We stayed hopping all day long.  I don't mind busy days like these, they fly by so fast.  We didn't have many problems at all, it was a good day.  It was such a full day though, that reviewing my photos just now was a little surprising.  I had completely forgotten about the early morning activities of the day.
I started out by opening the ranger station and making plans for the day with the park staff.  On the weekends, there is very little room for projects.  We mostly work on crowd and garbage patrol, answering thousands of questions along the way.  Once the day was set in motion, I met with a ranger visiting from another park.  I took her to her campsite and got her set up for a great weekend.  Near her campsite, I found several Bull-Nettle in bloom.  These pretty, white flowers are hard to miss, not just because of their looks.  If you brush up against them, they give you a little sting.  I wore shorts today and was not able to avoid walking too close to one.  It was an irritating sensation, not as bad as a bee sting.  Fortunately, it didn't last more than a few minutes.  I did stop to take some pictures of one, and it wasn't until I reviewed my photos that I spotted the little Crab Spider perched on one of the petals.  I don't think that I would choose that seat.


Back at the park, I helped out where I could in the Ranger Station as the park began to fill up.  I had to run out to take care of some things here and there as well.  I had to reset the internet connection in the campground again and I had to unlock some locks for the group in the youth camp.  On my trips back and forth on the park drive, I saw a Gopher Tortoise marching along the road.  I wanted to stop for a photo-op, but I thought better of it.  Someone might try to avoid my parked truck and run over the Tortoise.  I decided it was best to let it keep moving along to get off of the road.  By noon, the park had reached capacity and we had to begin turning people away.  No one was mean today.  Of course, people were disappointed and frustrated, but I think almost everyone made it in eventually.  We were able to open again by 3:00 and remain open for the rest of the day.  While I was manning my post at the turn-around cones, I noticed a wild grape vine.  These vines are very common, all over Florida.  They are also referred to as Muscadine Grapes or, my favorite, Scuppernong.  The grapes will be ripe in late summer and everyone will be after them.  Bear, Deer, Turkey, Gopher Tortoises, even people love them!  They have a tougher skin and bigger pit than the grapes you buy at the grocery store, but they are worth the trouble.

Once the rush was over, I retreated to the office to work on some e-mails and incident reports.  A turkey was enjoying the lack of traffic near the office and the freshly raked courtyard as well.

It was a busy day, but a good day.  The visitors were happy and well behaved.  Our radios gave us some trouble today, but that issue worked itself out.  Lets hope that tomorrow goes just as smoothly.

Thought of the Day #54
I found out about an incident on the Wekiva River last night from the evening news.  Tragically, a canoe overturned and one person did not survive.  The event had nothing to do with our park and it happened miles away on the river.  One news station reported that it did happen at the park and that was disappointing to me.  We had a few concerned people call the park to see if we were still open because of what they had heard.  Unfortunately, in my time here at Wekiwa, I'm sure I will have to deal with tragedy like this in the park.  We do all that we can to maintain the safety of our visitors, but people make their own choices in life and they aren't always good ones.  Also, with the high volume of people coming through the park, things are just bound to happen.  All that I can do is to learn from each situation.  Please be safe when you recreate.

Friday, April 30, 2010

I Saw The Sign

Today was one of those officey days again.  In the morning, I met with the park staff for the day and got them started on their work projects.  I retreated to the office to work on my own project.  I was compiling a sign order for the park.  I had 4 pages of sign notes from various people as well as my own requests... and I'm still not done!  The park service has its own sign shop so that we can get consistent and uniform signs at a fair cost.  Some of the signs that we are ordering are replacing damaged or missing signs, some are needs that we have identified over time and some are replacing the old-fashioned wooden signs with the standard metal signs.  It took me a long time to get all of the signs on my lists onto the appropriate sign order form.  I had to check each sign to see if it was an existing sign in the catalog and if it wasn't, I had to provide all the details to get what we wanted.  I also had interruptions throughout the day, as is the norm.  I checked in with the park staff as they worked and I helped a ranger complete a travel form on the computer, which nearly defeated us both.  We were triumphant in the end though!  I also had to go out into the field for a little while to check on a few more signs.  I didn't see anything exciting though, I didn't get any photos.  It was a pretty relaxed and uneventful day.  I finished up in the office and prepared my notes for tomorrow at the end of the day.  Just as I was headed to my truck, one of my coworkers from the district office came out of her office looking very defeated.  She had several deadlines to meet and had just gotten an e-mail from Tallahassee that needed immediate attention.  They wanted to check our inventory in a FEMA supply trailer and needed the information right away.  I'm guessing that Tallahassee wants to be prepared to send support to the Gulf Coast areas that will be affected by the oil disaster.  She really couldn't fit one more thing into her agenda and I have definitely been in that situation before.  Without really knowing what I was getting into, I told her that I would take care of it.  She gave me an inventory list and I headed to the trailer to check it out.  As I began pulling things out of the trailer and marking them off of the list, I quickly realized that I would need some help.  There was a lot packed in there and some of it was very heavy.  There were generators, tents, sleeping bags, cooking supplies, and tools for 25 people.  Fortunately, my fiance was home and he was willing to volunteer his strength.  Together we made quick work of the project and I was on my way home in no time.

Thought of the Day #55
I am not looking forward to seeing how the recent disaster in the Gulf is going to effect my state and my fellow parks.  I am glad to be inland, but I'm sure that the effects will be far reaching.  Keep an eye out for volunteering opportunities in all of the Gulf states.  I'm sure that lots of help will be needed as the oil approaches land.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Today was a great day back at work.  I had some time this morning to get caught up on e-mails and current events at the park.  I made a little progress on ongoing projects and again tried to no avail to reach a very illusive person about a well testing requirement.  Mid-morning, my Park Manager and the other Assistant Park Manager and I packed some sandwiches and hit the road.  We spent the whole afternoon touring and getting to know the most distant of our park properties.  It was great to finally see the places that I have been hearing about.
Because of their locations and the absence of recreational facilities, some of the properties are not visited as often as we would like.  We had a chainsaw along for the ride and we needed it to pass one area where a tree had fallen across an interior road.

We started at the furthest area away from the main part of the park and worked our way back.  By the time we were well into the first tract that we were exploring, it was about lunch time.  My Manager had our expedition well planned, because we arrived at this cool little cabin where we could eat our packed lunches.  The property had formerly been a hunt camp and the cabin was built to house the hunters.  It was a well made cabin because it was holding up very well for being hidden away in the middle of the Florida wilderness.  Our Manager has ideas to relocate the cabin so that it can be utilized by park visitors.  It would really be a wonderful place to camp for a weekend.

The properties that we toured were mostly home sites or farm sites that were no longer used and purchased by the state for restoration and preservation.  Its interesting to see how nature takes its course with these disturbed areas.  In some places, only a well trained eye would know that people had ever been there.  In others, the damage and remnants of people were obvious.  At all of the properties, there was no shortage of wildflowers.  There were Spiderworts everywhere, one of my favorites.  We also saw quite a bit of the yellow flower below, Hypericum.  It is a relative of St. Johns Wort.

Another flower that we saw quite a bit, but a new one to me was Sedge.  It is a very grass-like flower, and often called a weed.  I think its unusual because the flower becomes green again at the tips.  Its as if it isn't a flower at all, but a grass that someone spilled some white paint on.

We visited two of our primitive horse camping areas, Fectel and Rock Springs Run.  Both are very remote, but excellent facilities.  The building shown is the horse barn at Fectel, but there is also an identical barn at Rock Springs Run.  These are individual stalls for visitors to bring their own horses to stay overnight and there are plenty of grassy areas around each one for tent camping.  Each camping area also has a restroom available.  Both areas have extensive horse trails throughout. 

On our way out of the Rock Springs property, we spotted several Sandhill Cranes.  I have seen them here more than once and I now look for them every time.  They are such beautiful birds and I am always impressed by their calmness around people.  We gave them their space, but they didn't seem bothered by our presence at all.

Once we were in the Rock Springs Run property, we were back in territory that was familiar to me.  I visit Rock Springs and Katie's Landing sometimes on Mondays.  We decided to stop in at Katie's Landing to see the progress that had been made on the bulkhead construction.  It looked like they were trying to control the water around the existing construction to continue their work.  I'm sure its a difficult task.  The 3+ inches of rain that we had last week brought the water level up again.

On our way back to the main area of the park, we went through a property that I had only driven past before.  We ended up at a stunning oasis, tucked away in the woods, before we popped back out onto paved roads near the main park.  Our last stop was at a small sulfur spring.  It smelled terrible, but it was absolutely beautiful.  The small spring was pumping out its fair share of water and it was mesmerizing to watch the sand churn at the bottom.  It was so nice to watch the blue, blue water.  If it wasn't surrounded by poison ivy, I would have loved to sit and stay all day.  It was a terrific way to end the tour.

Thought of the Day #56
It may seem strange that the park owns so many properties that are seldom used and far away from the main use area of the park.  Park property is not just for recreation though, it serves multiple purposes.  Wekiva River Basin State Park (a title that encompasses all of the land that we manage) is more than 42,000 acres surrounding some of the Wekiva River.  It is a long corridor that provides a pathway for wildlife and it connects to State Forest land to expand the corridor even further.  Many species of animals will roam great distances in search of food, different habitats, or even mates.  This corridor allows them to continue their natural practices with minimal threats from the human world.  As more properties are added to expand this protected area, they are gradually restored to natural conditions and sometimes recreational areas are added so that people can enjoy them as well.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Leaving The Real Florida

We took my sister to Orlando today so that she could start her conference.  We spent some time exploring a little bit of Orlando and doing some touristy things while we waited for her to finish up her first day.  It was fun to see the sights.  Orlando is only about 30 miles from the park, but it feels like another planet.
We spent most of our time looking at man-made structures and places, but there were a few natural items mixed in... well, living things anyway.  Most of the plants that we saw were exotic and even the little Anole lizards were the larger, Cuban Anoles instead of the native, Green Anoles.  The exotic plants aren't a problem because they are contained.  Exotics only become a problem when they are invasive and are allowed to spread and compete with native plants.  They were pretty to look at, that's for sure.

When the first day of the conference was over, we spent a little more time visiting and walked around the area.  We got to see a beautiful sunset and then drove home again in view of a beautiful moon covered in clouds.  I will be back to work again tomorrow and back to the regularly scheduled events.

Thought of the Day  #57
Moving from Branford, FL to Apopka, FL was a bit of a shock.  We went from having one small grocery store 6 miles away and regular shopping 30 miles away to having our choice of several Publix stores and anything else we need within a 5 mile radius.  We have been adjusting to "city-life" and re-learning the value of convenience while still missing the quiet, slower paced life that we left behind.  A short visit to Orlando made us appreciate our park oasis so much more.  Apopka felt like Branford once we got home today.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sister Fun Day

I think that living close to Orlando is going to be a very handy thing.  My sister came for a visit all the way from Indiana.  She is attending a work-related conference in Orlando, but is able to find some time to visit with me before and after the conference.  We picked her up at the airport today and brought her back to the park.  She reads the blog, so she was familiar with many areas of the park but it was nice to be able to put it all together with her in person.
We drove along the whole park drive and through the campground.  We encountered a Gopher Tortoise happily munching on some grass near the entrance to the campground.  We sat and watched it eat for a while.  I wasn't able to catch it wrapping is big tongue around the grass, but I think you can tell how intent it was on eating this grass.

When we went to the youth camp area, we surprised an armadillo.  It started to run when we pulled up, then tried to wait us out.  As we walked closer to it, it finally bolted for cover in the tall grasses.

After seeing the sights visible from the park drive, we went for a little walk.  We walked the wet to dry trail that I blogged about on Sunday.  We walked it in reverse though so that we would end up at the spring.  So, I guess we walked the dry to wet trail.  I saw many of the same things that I saw on Sunday, but I also saw some new things.
There was a lovely Bromeliad clump on a fallen branch.  It was really striking because the filtered sunlight was highlighting the pink bloom.

We watched some very large Whirligig Beetles skate around on the water's surface on one of the streams.  I wasn't sure what they were at first because they were so big, much larger than the ones that I saw at Troy.  The photo of the beetles isn't very crisp, but I loved the color of the reflection on the water.

I was surprised to see a fallen tree.  It was definitely standing on Sunday.  We had just over three inches of rain on Sunday night, I wonder if the storm is what did this tree in.  It could not have fallen in a better place though, it didn't harm the walkway at all.

I was able to catch a photo of these Damselflies this time.  They are very similar to the one I photographed on Sunday, but they have a tiny white patch on the tip of their wings.  I saw this type flying around on Sunday, but they were a little more cooperative this time.

The best find of the walk was spotted by my sister.  She saw these lovely little Jack-in-the-Pulpits in bloom.  They are easily overlooked because the flower is the same color as the leaf and it even looks a little leafy.  They are beautiful little plants.

After our walk, we went for a swim.  I had to work at her for a while to get her into the cold spring water.  I had some help from the biting no-see-ums and some encouraging park visitors.  It was a good day.

Thought of the Day #58
Its easy to think that if you have walked along a particular trail that you have seen it and done it and there is no need to do it again.  Its nice to walk the same trail at different times of the year to see the changes in the foliage.  Its also nice to take a different companion with you each time.  Its amazing how many things are well hidden until the right pair of eyes come along.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Day On From My Days Off

I feel like I am on vacation or something.  I had the weekend off, worked today, and am now taking the next two days off as well.  My sister is coming to visit, so I took a little time off to spend with her.  After work today, we accomplished a little more in the quest to put our house together and had a huge achievement.  We finally arranged the living room furniture in a pleasing way.  We had been so close all along, but one chair just had to be shifted and we knew immediately that we had done it!  It may not sound like much, but it was a major victory in our book.  Home is just not home without a comfy living room.
So, back to work, I went to work today and got some things done there too.  We had our Monday morning meeting and reviewed the upcoming week.  It was a good week to take time off, I think we are in the calm before the storm that is summer.  It won't be long before the summer rush starts, but its nice to have some time to prepare.  After the morning meeting, I set out to check on a few areas in the park and at the distant, northern properties.  When I got to the spring area, no one was there yet.  It is a rare treat to see it so quiet.  It is always a beautiful site, but its stunning when its empty.

I wasn't alone though.  There were several squirrels rushing around to eat their breakfast acorns before they had to start running from visitors.  I also found this group of little bugs.  I have never seen them before, but they were very interesting.  I am guessing that the three little stripey guys are young versions of the adults around them.

I zipped through my morning duties and enjoyed my adventure out of the main park and out to the other properties.  I was back in time for lunch and headed back to the office afterwards.  I took care of some paperwork and made a few calls that I needed to make.  I stopped in at the ranger station to process a transaction through the register and to fill out some receipt forms.  On my way back to the office, I passed by my house.  I found three Turkeys out enjoying my front yard.  One male Turkey was doing his best to show off for the female Turkeys.  He fluffed out his feathers as far as they would go.

The hens were not all that interested and ended up walking right past him to peck at the dirt... poor guy.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in the office.  I got a little progress made on getting ready to start ranger evaluations and talked to my coworker about our next steps.  I waited for a phone call that never came, and I straightened up my office before heading out.
At home, we found an amazing caterpillar on the shed in the back yard.  It looks just like a stick!  It was holding tightly to the door frame with one end and the other end was suspended from a tiny wisp of silk.  I couldn't find a definite ID for the caterpillar, but I think it may be a silkworm caterpillar of some sort.  I will check back tomorrow to see if its still there.

Thought of the Day #59
I spoke to the ranger who took my place at Troy today.  It sounds like Troy Spring is finally clear again.  He described the water clarity to me and I could picture it so vividly.  I remember every inch of that park.  I wonder how long it will all stay with me.  I wonder how long it will take to feel the same way about Wekiwa.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weekend Part II

Today was my second day off of the weekend and it was another delightful day.  The kitchen, dining room, and living room are now 100% box free.  The furniture in the living room is still in disarray because we haven't found an arrangement that works for us yet, but we'll get there.  It is a wonderful feeling to be able to walk through several rooms in a row without seeing a cardboard box.  The house is feeling bigger every day!
After a morning of cleaning, straightening, and unpacking, we were ready to leave the house by the late afternoon.  We took a walk on the Wet to Dry trail at the park today.  It is a short but enjoyable boardwalk trail near the spring.  If you look at the map, it is the tiny, black circle near the spring in the bottom right.  The trail is named appropriately because you can begin near the spring and walk along some low areas that are very wet, hence the boardwalk to keep your feet high and dry.  The trail loops around and very gently gains elevation, leaving the damp areas behind and moving to dryer areas.  The vegetation and animal life changes subtly as you walk.  If you walk slowly and listen carefully, there is a lot to see.  Here are some of the things that we found.

This lovely little Hedge-nettle was quietly nestled between the walkway to the restroom and the parking lot.  I wonder how many people walked past it without even seeing it.  The poor little thing is even referred to as a weed in my flower field guide.

I'm sure that this fellow was missed by many, by design.  This water snake was very well hidden in a little stream.  I'm sure he was waiting for an unsuspecting frog to come along and overlook him as well.  Can you see his head peaking above the water?  It looks just like a leaf.

This Broadhead Skink does an excellent job of camouflaging itself on the reddish-brown forest floor.  Its quick movement makes it easy to spot though.

This stunning Damselfly was hard to "catch" with my camera.  I'm glad I got it though.

A squirrel though that the boardwalk was a nice spot to stop for lunch.  It even found a nice big leaf for shade.

The beautiful white flower below is in the Linnaeus family and it has several cousins that look very similar.  I am leaning toward Ti-ti (aka Leatherwood) for this particular plant, but Lizard's Tail and Virginia Willow have almost identical flowers.  None of them match perfectly with the leaves that I saw, so it may be another cousin altogether.  It was in bloom in the wetter areas of the trail.

I just love the way that these leaves look like their color has just been painted on.  Can't you see the brush strokes?

A young hawk flew in to see us off near the end of the trail.

Thought of the Day #60
I can't believe that I have been blogging daily for almost a year now!  We have only 60 days to go.  I am having fun.  I enjoy sharing what I see and the feedback from all of you has been very valuable.  The blog has also reminded me to keep enjoying the fun parts of my job even when things get stressful.  I try hard to keep things positive so that I am not ranting and complaining and I think its good to force myself to see the upside of every day.  It has also become a very handy work journal.  I have no trouble filling out my timesheet, I can always look back at what I did each day if I don't remember.  I don't think that I can just stop blogging, and I don't think that some of you would let me!  There are only 60 days left of my promised 365 days, but I don't think that this will be the last that you hear from me.