Hitch 2 - Here, Bison bison.

For some of you following us, you might be asking yourself, “What do they actually do for the survey?” Well, that’s an easy question to answer. A day of surveying goes something like this:

A pair of us will start the survey day by making sure we have the gear we need for the sites to be surveyed. This usually consists of road signs, traffic cones, a computer or two, safety gear, sun protection, and food and water for our time in the field. After prepping, we head out to the survey sites. Muskogee, OK, our home for now, is centrally located between all of our survey sites, so the drive to a site takes between 30 minutes to just over one hour. Once there, we set up the equipment and, as visitors who use the recreation areas exit, stop visitors to ask if they would be willing to participate in the survey. The survey seldom lasts longer than two minutes. Once the survey is complete, the visitor is of on his/her merry way.

Each survey pair will go out and survey at two recreation areas in one day. Six of us doing this throughout the summer will give the Army Corps a good idea of what visitors like to do when they are at the lakes. Conducting the surveys now is significant; the ACE has not conducted a survey like this for nearly 20 years. That being the case, we are gathering some much needed data.

6/24/2012 – Surveying:
Today we continued with our standard surveying procedures. By now, we’ve gotten into a rhythm where everything runs smoothly.

6/25/2012 – Meeting with Tenkiller Ferry Lake Rangers:
At a safety meeting, we met the Tenkiller Ferry Lake Rangers, where we discussed the hazard heat and humidity pose. We also spent a while discussing everyone’s duties, their backgrounds, and how they ended up at Tenkiller Ferry Lake. The staff here is much closer to the average age of Conservation Corps members. With so much in common, we’ll likely spend a lot of our free time getting to know everyone here and the area around the lake better.

6/26/2012 to 6/27/2012 – Surveying:
We headed back out for a couple of days of surveying after our day spent meeting Tenkiller Ferry Lake Rangers. In case you didn’t notice, our survey days are mixed in with days off and days designed for completing conservation projects.

6/28/2012 – Tallgrass Prairie Preserve:
Mr. Alex Olsen, the Program Manager for the ACE VUS program, arrived today for a short visit. He was here for a of couple days to check in with us all, making sure we were all alive and well, and to spend some quality time with his program mimi-me’s.

And to celebrate the arrival of Alex (at least that is what we told him), today, we all took a day trip to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve managed by The Nature Conservancy. The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the largest continuous tract of protected tallgrass prairie in the world. We could go into great detail about how awesome this place is, but why do that when you can try visiting for yourself? Check out http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/o…

We were lucky enough to have Tori Hovic, a graduate student completing his PhD at Oklahoma State University, show us around. Tori’s work involves understanding how grassland/rangeland management practices involving fire affect the Greater Prairie Chicken. We looked at the differences between fields burned under different schedules, checked out some tracking equipment, and talked about how grazing differs between native and introduced livestock. As amazing as the trip was, we missed out on seeing one of the local stars, the heard of approximately 2500 bison that roam the preserve. Unfortunately, the really big heard of big bison can be tough to find in the even bigger preserve.

6/29/2012 – Campsite Inventory:
After having a wonderful time tearing through some tallgrass and rehydrating ourselves, we headed to Eufaula Lake to begin one of our more lengthy conservation projects. Currently, executives who lead the Army Corps have identified and are focusing on conservation practices that will reduce the use of water and electricity at Corps managed recreation areas. To help achieve conservation goals, we will be completing a survey of several hundred campsites located around Eufaula Lake. Our job is to inventory each campsite with a photograph and GPS coordinates. That information will be added to already existing info, such as electrical service type, handicap accessibility, and campsite size. Rangers will use this information to more accurately manage their resources and help visitors better identify areas that are appropriate for their specific camping needs.

6/30/2012 to 7/2/2012 – Surveying:
Monday was the first day for new partner pairings. Having spent the last three weeks in the field with the same partner, we rotated pairs to give each member the opportunity to work at as many of the sites as possible and with as many different people as possible. Variety is the spice of life! We headed into the Fourth of July holiday prepared for a significant increase in visitor traffic. With the 4th falling in the middle of the week, no one was sure what to expect in terms of visitors. This weekend kept us busy, but the overwhelming number of visitors that could have existed appeared to be postponed until the upcoming weekend.

7/3/2012 – Day Trip to Tulsa:
With one last break before the 4th, we took a brief trip to Tulsa, OK, the region’s largest city. We spent the afternoon checking out local bookstores, window shopping at local merchants, and walking a couple of the more popular streets. It was a good day.

7/4/2012 – Surveying and the 4th:
Surprisingly, surveying was not too difficult today. Most visitors who were here for the 4th were planning to stay for a while. With only one pair in the field conducting surveys, those of us free decided to meet them at a nearby state park to cook and watch some fireworks once surveying was complete. It was a relaxing time, with lots of people around and lots of boats on the lake. Probably the most memorable thing from our 4th of July celebration was the large fire that a misfired firework started three minutes into the show.

7/5/2012 to 7/7/2012 – Surveying:
With the 4th of July holiday behind us, we are looking forward to the increase in visitor traffic heading home. It will give everyone a chance to test how skilled they now are at surveying. Saturday was by far the busiest day we have had while surveying to date, but the surveys that evening flew by quickly because of the great mood all of the visitors were in. How will tomorrow challenge us? We’ll have to wait and see.