Hitch 3 - Half Way Home

Conservation projects were a big part of this hitch. Surveys are becoming second-nature as we end the first half of the survey season, so we look to a variety of projects to keep us on our toes. The first week of this hitch, we created fishing line recycling bins at Eufaula Lake and worked on the campsite inventory there. The project in the second week was building trail at Fort Gibson Lake. Between the two projects, many of us learned new skills, and everyone tried using a variety of hand tools. All went well, and we ended both conservation days feeling good about our contribution to the community and our environment.

Not only do we stay busy with work, we make sure to play, too. As survey periods often end early in the day, we are left with ample free time with no TV at home to make the time pass quickly. We have become adept at keeping ourselves entertained. Some of us borrow books and movies from the library or explore future career options by shadowing Army Corps Rangers, while others take fitness classes, assemble puzzles, or visit attractions in nearby towns. If a majority of the group has the whole day off, we usually opt to take a day trip to Tulsa or Oklahoma City. If we get really lucky we can travel even further to visit friends in other states. Because we are fortunate enough to have time to explore, we have become familiar with our new hometown and its surroundings and have learned a lot about what it takes to keep ourselves entertained.

7/8/2012 to 7/10/2012 – Leadership and Surveying:
This week we began having a team member serve as Hitch Leader for the week, with Ryne taking on the role first. Acting as Hitch Leader gives the member an opportunity to experience the challenges and rewards of leading a group of varied individuals. Duties of the hitch leader include planning and buying food for the week, keeping the team on task for their respective projects, making sure that common areas remain clean, and leading safety meetings and nightly debriefs.

7/11/2012 – Fishing Line Recyclers and Campsite Inventory:
Today we worked with a Eufaula Lake Ranger to create fishing line recycling bins. This entailed cutting PVC pipe using a Sawzall and using specific primer and glue to permanently adhere pieces of PVC together to make J-shaped bins. These receptacles will soon be attached to the sides of boat docks around the lake. When fishermen return to the docks, they can drop their used fishing line into the bins, which is a simple and effective way to help keep the lake clean for all visitors. The line will then be collected by the Eufaula Rangers and sent to Berkley to be recycled. Less litter, less waste, and a happier lake!

Because creating the bins did not take long, we used the rest of the day to begin our campsite inventory project at Eufaula Lake. This required us to go to a campground to inventory campsites and their utilities. Using GPS units, we determined the location of each campsite and then gathered information regarding water and electrical service. When the sun hit its zenith, the team called it a day and headed back home.

7/12/2012 to 7/15/2012 – Surveying and the Hitch Switch:
All of us were out surveying in hot and humid weather for most of the week. One day began as clear and sunny, but here in Oklahoma, you can’t take that for granted. A thunderstorm developed in the evening while we were surveying, forcing one survey team to head for the car. The storm didn’t last too long, but while it was raining, the majority of visitors left the park, forcing the team to do more than 60 observation-only surveys in 20 minutes.

When not surveying, everyone chose to participate in a variety of activities. Christa and Alaina chose to go to a powwow one night to enjoy some local culture. Jeff shadowed a Ranger at Tenkiller Ferry Lake, but because the parks are generally slow during weekdays, the day was primarily spent driving through the parks and completing paperwork in the office. At the end of the weekend, Ryne passed the torch of hitch leader over to Abby. For the next week she would be responsible for debriefs, shopping, downloading survey data, and safety meetings.

7/16/2012 – Trail Building:
Previously, Ryne and Josh went to evaluate a potential trail site at Fort Gibson Lake. At one time, decades ago, a trail had existed in the area, but the trail was reclaimed by the forest after years of neglect. Though the area included steep terrain, there were also unique rock formations and shady trees. It was decided that building the trail would take significant work but that the end result would be worth the effort. So, we all set out to Fort Gibson Lake to plan out a trail. After identifying the best path through the area, we marked out the path of the trail, using orange flagging, and then cleared large debris as we walked the path. Because the Army Corps properties do not have many hiking trails, we hope that the new trail will be useful to locals and popular with out-of-town visitors once it is complete. Not only did the team survey our new trail site, we also removed 150 feet of wire fencing, three tires, a bag full of trash, and large aluminum sheets that were once part of a house. We experienced our first taste of under-pressure team work when we were required to haul everything up a steep hillside of the newly begun trail. This task required us to communicate with each other about maneuvering the materials around obstacles such as downed trees and thorny shrubs. It was by far the most physically demanding work we have had so far, but everyone loved it!

7/17/2012 to 7/18/2012 – Surveying and Shadowing Rangers:
Surveying at the lakes continued at a steady pace. As temperature had been upwards of 100 degrees this week, we tried to stay cool while surveying. On his off day, one member, Ryne, shadowed an Army Corps Ranger at Tenkiller Ferry Lake to learn what the daily routine of a ranger is. The shadowing activities included patrolling the parks, installing signs to protect archaeological sites, and, as always, filling out paper work.

7/18/2012 to 7/19/2012 – Kansas:
Three team members, Abby, Alaina, and Jeff, drove to Kansas to visit the Army Corps survey team that is based out of Lawrence, KS. As we had not seen the Kansas team since training in Washington State, everyone had a lot to catch up on and swapped stories of interesting park visitors. Abby, Alaina, and Jeff enjoyed traveling throughout Lawrence and seeing the town that is home to the University of Kansas. While there, they visited the University of Kansas Natural History Museum where they learned about the plants and animals of Kansas, many of which are also found in Oklahoma. Visiting Kansas was a great opportunity to take a break from the surveying routine and re-energize for the second half of the summer.

7/20/2012 to 7/21/2012 – Surveying:
The amount of visitors to the parks seems to be decreasing as the weather continues to heat up and the excitement of Independence Day ends. As the summer wears on, most visitors come to swim during the day instead of camp for extended amounts of time. This has been beneficial to us, as there now seems to be a steady flow of people leaving the parks instead of intense pulses which cause back-ups and frustrate visitors. Rangers, gate attendants, and regular visitors also recognize us now and will stop for a friendly chat before going on their way, adding variety to our work day and giving us a reason to look forward to our surveys in the second half of the season.