Looking back on this season, there are several things we could say as we reminisce about our time here; how exciting it was meeting so many people with similar interests in conservation, seeing parts of the US that we would not have been able to see without support from Americorps and the SCA, or how much each of us has grown personally. Instead of trying to cram what would take hours of conversation to communicate into this or a report, you’ll find a focus on our goals and achievements in our final report (attached). We were here to get stuff done, after all. There will also be a tiny bit about us and a couple of thoughts on this season.
That being the case, there is something we would like to say here. We were, as far as we know, the first Conservation Corps crew to ever be in Oklahoma. If not ever, it had been a really, really long time. There have been individual interns at various agencies, but a crew like us offers something completely different to the community. Because of that, we took our roles seriously, hoping to show through dedication and hard work exactly what an SCA crew could do, and we believe we were successful. From the feedback agency partners and others gave us, we exceeded expectations. For those who follow after us here in Oklahoma, continue what we have begun. Help maintain the reputation of SCA and effect responsible conservation in these communities.
Now that our time here together has come to the end, we will always look back on this experience fondly. Yes, the work was hard, the environment was harsh, and we were far from home, but experiencing everything together as a team, sharing in each other’s lives, dwarfed any hardships we had. We were happy, annoyed, frustrated, excited, satisfied, unsure, confused, lost, mad, concerned, and hopeful, together. This season would not have been what it was without each of us. As we all move on to our next steps, whatever they may be, we leave hopeful of what the future will bring. We also leave knowing that although we can never return to this season, this season and this team will be with each of us, always.
As the last day of surveying brought the surveying season to an end, this amazing SCA crew didn’t slow down. We jumped into a few conservation projects as soon as surveying ended, one of which was completely new. We took advantage of this week, worked hard, and enjoy our last bit of time together as a team. We literally could not fit more into this week (well, almost). In any case, it was a whirlwind of a week.
9/2/2012 – Surveying Finale:
It finally arrived. The last official day of surveying was today. It was a long time coming, but we made it through the season alive. Though, surveying didn’t end quietly. Being the day before Labor Day, we had many visitors pass through. We got a few unsavory people, but it didn’t break our stride as we crossed the finish line.
9/3/2012 to 9/4/2012 – TNC Tallgrass Prairie Preserve:
We had such a great time here at the beginning of the season that it was a no-brainer to return to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve for a bit of conservation work and relaxing. Yes, it is possible to do both at once. Bob Hamilton, the Research Director at the preserve, was kind enough to set us up at the Foreman’s House, a bunkhouse where visitors to the preserve can stay while working, studying, or researching. Kevin, one of the full-time cowboys at the preserve, took us out to remove old barbed-wire fence the first day. With the bison and cattle free to roam across the preserve, fences within the preserve are largely unnecessary. After the acquisition of some new property, an old fence needed removing, and we six young, healthy, strong, conservation-minded individuals were up for the task. We removed two different fences, one along a treed road and the other in the middle of the prairie. Fence removal is never easy, especially when it has been overgrown by vines and trees, but we made quick work of it. We took out one-half mile of posts and fence, leaving no trace. The second day, we gave a new section of steel fence two lovely coats of paint. We learned that using old (clean) socks is the best way to paint the fence. By lunch, we had completed the entire 100 yards of the fence and called it a day, spending the afternoon relaxing and enjoying our surroundings before heading back home. To complete our visit, a large heard of bison decided to hang out on the road, showing us their best side for some photos on the way out.
9/5/2012 – Surveying?:
Well, although we are awesome, we are not perfect. A couple of mistakes were made during the survey season. To clean up the mistakes, two of us surveyed early today, collecting the needed data. In all, we had few mistakes. Three survey periods required resurveying, two were completed today and the other earlier last week. With the surveys completed early in the day, we started cleaning and packing things before we headed to Tulsa for one more night out on the town.
9/6/2012 – A Day Off?:
A conservation project scheduled for today fell through. Instead of completing trail work, we slept in and spent the rest of the day playing and cooking out at one of our survey sites. It was the first time we had all gone together to one of our survey sites and not surveyed. It was about time, too. It was a beautiful day. Even the thunderstorms that rolled through didn’t dampen our spirits.
9/7/2012 – Trail Building:
After a long time away, we finally returned to a project we started early in the season, constructing a trail at the Overlook of the Fort Gibson Lake Dam. Our first visit here was spent flagging the path of half of the trail and removing old fence. The work was difficult since no trail yet existed, the slope was steep, and we were largely on our own to figure things out. However, our return today was quite a contrary experience. Since our first visit, the lead ranger for the lake had seen our work and become excited about it. Also, our point of contact for the lake had organized a small band of rangers and equipment to tackle the heavy lifting and mechanical work. We found six rangers had beaten us to the trail that morning and were already working! We started brushing the trail when we arrived, and, once we were done with that, headed over to the last section that required flagging. By lunch, we had flagged the entire trail, brushed it completely, and cleared all of the groundcover. Now, the significant amount of rock work and bridge installation required can take place. We were surprised and happy to see the rangers out working with us, just as they were happy with and motivated by our earlier work. It felt as if we did little today, but as one ranger put it, “you all are what motivated us to get out here and do this.” We know their schedules usually prevented working together on a project like that, so we were truly thankful for the help and happy to provide a little inspiration.
9/8/2012 – Interpretive Signs:
We couldn’t stop at completely rehabilitating the Overlook Trail of Tenkiller Ferry Lake, we needed to add value. Even on our last Saturday together, when sitting idle was completely acceptable, everyone volunteered to give up free time to finish a project we had proposed a few weeks ago, had been working on since, and were ready to complete. After first seeing the Overlook Trail, Alaina realized it would be the perfect place for interpretive signs. The trail was an easy course, used regularly, and near the ranger offices making sign upkeep easy. Alaina organized everyone and oversaw the design of six signs that teach about 12 species likely to be seen in the area. Today we constructed the posts and placed them on the trail, the guys digging postholes and the girls helping the rangers put the signs together. We even saw hikers enjoying the sings, a family with two young children.
9/9/2012 to 9/10/2012 – Bittersweet:
Our last two days together were really only one, since everyone flying home had to be at the airport early Monday morning. Final preparations were made and cleaning took place. Most furniture was sold. What remained would be moved, the few housing items obtained during the season going to new homes. The houses, now nice and shiny for their next families, lost their feeling of home as each member emptied a room. We took a few moments before heading to bed to talk about the season. There was much each of us had learned about the ACE, about each other, and about ourselves. We each have a favorite place or a favorite experience from the season. There are also things we will miss about our temporary home here in Muskogee, but we all agreed that what will be missed most is what we had come to rely on this season, each other, our little community, our team. Abby’s mom flew in so that she and Abby could take the road trip home together. Christa dove the short distance to her home. Alaina, Jeff, and Ryne flew away early Monday. Josh will leave soon. We had reached the end of our time together, excited for what the future holds but sad to part ways.
It has been an eventful season for everyone here and for some of our families back home. Much can happen when you take three or four months of your life, dedicate it to something far from friends and family, and remain true to your plan. We’ve accomplished many great things this summer, and these two weeks are no exception. As we progressed through the last two weeks of surveying, our minds were thinking more and more of home and what lies in the future. Whatever may come, one thing was certain; we had made friendships here that will last a lifetime.
8/19/2012 to 8/22/2012 – Surveying:
We continued on with surveying, using off time in these few days of surveying to also begin planning out our final week of conservation projects. Squeezing in all of the project work and preparing to close out the program will take some careful coordination if we are to complete everything successfully. Fortunately, light visitor use and our expert skills in surveying are helping us manage our time.
8/23/2012 – Tenkiller Ferry Lake Overlook Trail:
We returned to the Overlook Trail of Tenkiller Ferry Lake where we completed repairs to the pedestrian bridge, removed fallen trees, fell dead trees, brushed the last overgrown section of the trail, and removed several bags of trash. When we were done, the trail looked wonderful. We completely rehabilitated this trail, which is approximately 1.25 miles long and travels across 4 pedestrian bridges through a wooded portion of Tenkiller's Linder Mountain. But we aren’t done quite yet. We’ll be coming back here once more to complete some interpretive signs we are currently designing.
8/24/2012 to 8/26/2012 – Surveying:
Our survey countdown began today. From the 26th, we had exactly one full week of survey days to complete. So far, things have gone well for us. We’ve made few errors surveying, and that success has kept us free to complete conservation projects in the last week. Hopefully we can keep up the excellent survey work, because our final week is shaping up to be fun and hectic.
8/27/2012 – Invasive Specie Removal:
Our final, regularly scheduled conservation project had us heading to the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge to remove Eastern Red Cedars from several acres that had been planted with young hardwood trees. Having acquired tracts of old farmland and planted young hardwoods for carbon sequestration and wildlife habitat, the refuge staff must remove Eastern Red Cedars to prevent them from crowding out the young hardwoods. Eastern Red Cedars were historically found along rocky ridges, where they faced little exposure to fire that burned other areas regularly. However, in the absence of natural, seasonal wildfires, the trees have expanded across much of Oklahoma. Although the tree is native, it has become invasive to various ecosystems such as the fields planted with young trees within the refuge. We spent the entire day using handsaws to remove any tree we could find. Walking the area, we saw several spots where wild boar, another invasive specie, had been rooting and wallowing. With so many tracks and sections of ground torn up, we were surprised not to have seen any boar. At the end of the day, we had cleared all of the trees we could find from 35 acres. Not bad considering dense brush came up to our hips in several places and we were working with hand tools. On average, we removed 70 trees per person.
8/28/2012 – Surveying:
5 days of surveying left.
8/29/2012 – Calm Before the Storm
We were all off from surveying today. Instead of taking a day trip or going out like we normally had, we decided to relax and enjoy the moment, making sure we were ready for the last stretch of surveying and the week of conservation projects, cleaning, paperwork, and packing to come.
8/30/2012 to 9/1/2012 – Surveying:
The last weekend to survey has arrived. With it being the Labor Day weekend, a huge surge of visitors was out at the lakes for the weekend. It was the first nice weekend in a long time here, with clear skies and temps in the 80s, beautiful lake weather. Because of that, we were kept busy with surveys. We hadn’t had such high visitor use since the 4th of July weekend. It’s nice to see people back at the lakes, and having a good bunch of surveys to conduct is a great way to close the survey season here. With only 1 day of surveying left, everyone is excited for next week and then the journey home.
It is a good word to describe this hitch, serendipity. Sometimes, the best things happen when you least expect it. But, when taking the time to relax and actually enjoy the setting you find yourself in and appreciate those who share it with you, some crazy-cool things can happen.
8/5/2012 – Surveying:
Surveying, it’s what we do, and it has become second nature for us. Throw on a pot of coffee in the early am, pack up the gear, and head out. Surveying late? Enjoy the morning, sleeping in, grab lunch and a few snacks, head out, and watch the sun set. The quantity of visitors to the sites has remained low, with the lakes in a tough spot. There are burn bans for most of Oklahoma. The heat, although diminishing, had been crazy hot. The lakes are several feet lower than at the beginning of the season due to region-wide drought, and boat ramps in certain shallow areas are closed. Finally, all lakes have alerts out, warning visitors of blue-green algae and that swimming should be avoided. Alone, none of these are good for water based recreation. Together, they are hurdles diehard fans of lake life have trouble overcoming.
8/6/2012 – Eufaula Lake Memorial Overlook Trail:
Once the workweek started, we headed over to Eufaula Lake’s Overlook Memorial. The recreation area has a nice view of the Eufaula Dam and a hiking trail, the Younger Bend trail, which needed some attention. We spent the day brushing the trail, starting from the trail head. This trail has metal diamonds nailed to trees to mark the trails path, one of the more rustic ACE trails. Brushing this trail was difficult, because the path to the first and second mark was completely overgrown. Passing on a hike would have been impossible. After finding a bench amongst the brush, we knew we were headed in the right direction, and we soon found the first marker. We progressed up to the second mark, about 1/8th of a mile from the trailhead, but we had to call it a day there. Fortunately, the trail opened up and was much clearer after the second marker, although more work is needed to replace fallen markers and remove deadfall that obstructs the trail beyond that point.
8/7/2012 to 8/16/2012 – Surveying:
After the trail work, we entered a long succession of survey days that kept everyone busy, but we tried to squeeze in some adventures here and there. Jeff took a day trip to Tulsa to visit a museum or two and see some Art Deco architecture Tulsa is well known for. Rain finally came to the southern Great Plains this week, helping to briefly cool off the area and quench the ground’s cry for water. Jeff’s dad and younger brother dropped in to visit for a couple of days, meeting the team and bringing a big, goofy smile to Jeff’s face, and Abby visited a friend in Missouri who works at a wildlife refuge there. We were all headed in different directions at different times for surveying, but survey days came and went without difficulty.
8/17/2012 – Interior Least Tern Habitat:
Today was the outcome of a random conversation with a local who regularly visits one of the recreation areas we are surveying. While talking to him, we learned of some nearby habitat used to support an endangered bird. That conversation turned into an idea, the idea turned into a phone call, and the phone call turned into one of the best conservation projects we’ve had so far this summer. Our extended run of surveying was almost a countdown for today, a project we had all been eagerly anticipating, working on Interior Least Tern habitat.
The Interior Least Tern, a subspecie of Least Tern, is an endangered migratory bird that comes from Central and northern South America to use barren or sparsely vegetated sandbars along the Arkansas River, among other river systems, as nesting grounds during the summer months. Listed as an endangered subspecies in 1985, it is estimated there are 7,000 pairs with 1,000 of those pairs breeding. Along the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, the US ACE manages a few small islands, one a natural sandbar that was enhanced to suit the terns nesting preferences and three others artificial sandbars constructed specifically for Interior Least Tern nesting.
We started the day at one of these sandbars with Stacy Dunkin and Tonya Dunn, biologists of the Environmental Analysis and Compliance Branch of the US ACE Tulsa District office, Dustin Taylor and Scott of the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, and, as chance would have it, Matthew Koenig, an SCA intern working on invasive species removal at the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge. Our task for today was to remove vegetation from the sandbar. Interior Least Terns are very picky about their nesting sites, choosing clean, barren sandbars far from terrestrial predators and with a clear view to any predators that might fly over. Such sandbars are few and far between due to modern flood controls. Using a helicopter, a broadcast herbicide was applied earlier in the season to eliminate vegetation on the sandbar, but water level decreases after drought conditions set in exposed much more sandbar. Taking advantage of the newly exposed sand, sesbania, a plant that thrives in hot, dry weather like we are having this summer, took over the exposed area and would cover the entire sandbar if not removed. The plant grows to 8-10 feet tall, and most were mature, about to set seed. We hand pulled the ‘baby trees’, clearing a large section of the sandbar. A brushhog was used where we were not working to clear additional area, but it eventually broke down in the thick brush. Tackling the project as a team, we were able to clear about two acres, almost the entire sandbar. Everyone enjoyed this project, with the combination of an airboat ride, an endangered specie, field work, and good company making it a great day for everyone.
8/18/2012 – Surveying:
Headed back into a weekend of surveying, we were physically exhausted but in high spirits from our conservation work. We took advantage of the much less strenuous survey time to rest and plan our next conservation project. Now, we are coming into the home stretch of surveying. With little time left, we are wondering how we are going to fit in everything we want to do before the season ends. So many plans, so little time!
That’s right, crispy trees… and brown grass and dry dirt. It’s very dry here. So much so that it’s starting to look like autumn.
7/23/2012 – Surveying and Musical Pairs:
This week was a significant week for us. Although surveying continues as normal, this week is the halfway point of the survey season. Six weeks are complete, and six weeks remain. We are in the swing of things now, but we will be done surveying and headed our separate ways before we know it.
We rotated survey pairs today, and the transition to the new pairs went by very smoothly as we learned how to properly set up our new sites. Also, Jeff took over as hitch leader for the week. He had plenty of opportunity in the previous two weeks to learn how to fill the role based on the great examples of leadership he saw from both Ryne and Abby.
7/24/2012 – Campsite Inventory:
Today we continued our surveying of Eufaula Lake campsites. To beat the heat and to do as much as we possibly could, we departed early for the project office to pick up GPS units. Once we had the GPS units, we headed to the Belle Starr recreation area where we split into pairs, surveyed the entire campground, and then headed in different directions to other campgrounds around the lake. Splitting up was a very successful approach to surveying; the inventory is nearly complete. All that remains are campsites that were occupied by guests. Soon, we will return to these sites in order to conclude the project.
7/25/2012 to 7/29/2012 – Surveying:
While we continued to sweat it out in the heat during surveying, we also took advantage of our free time and days off. Alaina, Jeff, and Ryne spent one day checking out Tulsa. They went site seeing throughout the city with two main stops on their tour. The first place was the Tulsa Garden Center, a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of educational opportunities for those in the community. While there, they checked out the Rose Gardens and the Linnaeus Teaching Gardens. Afterwards, they went down the street to visit the Philbrook Museum of Art. They even managed to get their own personal guided tour of the art museum.
When the weekend arrived, we were a member down. Christa was ill and couldn’t join us to survey as normal. To cover the loss, Jeff and Ryne each surveyed an extra period on Saturday, assisting Abby during her surveys. Jeff helped her out during the first survey period, and Ryne helped during the second survey period. Days where members take on extra survey periods while managing to complete their normal tasks can be difficult, but everyone pulled together and made things run smoothly. On Sunday, with Christa still out ill, Alaina joined Abby to assist her with surveying for the day. For all of us, it is wonderful to know that we can depend on and trust each other to reach our goals when unexpected hurdles appear.
7/30/2012 – Day Trip to Oklahoma City:
On another rare day we were all free from surveying, we decided to check out Oklahoma City. Our first stop was the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum where we took a trip back in time to relive the days of the old west and appreciate art having a western theme. Our next stop was a section of OKC named Bricktown where we enjoyed lunch while overlooking the baseball stadium and dessert at a nearby candy shop before exploring the area. After that, we observed the beautiful architecture of the state capital building, the most recent capitol building in the U.S. to add a domed top. Next, we spent a couple of hours in front of the big screen mesmerized by the action packed scenes of the latest Batman movie. Finally we ended our trip at the OKC National Memorial site where the park was aglow during the night with 168 symbolically lit chairs representing the victims who lost their lives in the April 19, 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City.
7/31/2012 – Surveying:
Today was business as usual. High heat makes the days feel excruciating long, so here on the OK team we treat every day like a small victory.
8/1/2012 – Trail Work:
Today we got down and dirty at the Overlook trail of Tenkiller Ferry Lake, powering through the workday. The heat was near record highs (almost 110 F in the shade), but our team persevered as we cleared trees, trimmed branches, and removed overgrown grasses and shrubs that suffocated the nicest trail we’ve seen all summer. In addition to brushing the trail, we began repairing a decaying bridge that had suffered storm damage. The team, with a Ranger assisting us, innovated repair plans for the bridge that made the most of our limited resources while ensuring optimal quality. With almost a mile of trail brushed out and the bridge half complete, we’ll return to here later to complete the bridge and continue lovin’ on this sweet trail.
8/2/2012 to 8/4/2012 – Surveying, Birthdaying, and Smoke:
Visitor levels at our sites have significantly dropped due to extreme heat, ongoing drought, and burn bans. Would you want to go camping without being able to have a fire? You couldn’t make Smores! We all focused on keeping cool and hydrated as the heat wore on. Driving between sites, two of us saw a small line of smoke in the distance that grew surprisingly fast as we drove. Returning later, a huge column of smoke was rising into the sky, a sober reminder of how a careless flame can wreak havoc on the land and to the lives that depend on it.
To end the week, we took some time to celebrate because Ryne turned 22 this Saturday. A close friend of Ryne’s had driven in 11 hours just to come celebrate the day (now that’s dedication), so we all worked together to make our guest at home and give Ryne some time to have a little fun. Jeff traded survey times with Ryne, giving Ryne the afternoon off to enjoy his birthday, guest in tow, at Fort Gibson Lake. Christa used her beading skills to decorate Ryne's favorite hat with the Army Corps logo, and we surprised Ryne with a cake that Abby and Alaina had made after returning from Ryne’s favorite restaurant, Chilli’s. It was a great end to a hot two weeks!
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.
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.
… where the wind comes sweeping down the plains,
where you can’t compete with humidity and heat,
and there’s never ever shade on open plains!
It’s strange. Having lived here my entire life, I’m more than familiar with everything about Oklahoma, but I had never before had the chance to explore this region like I am now. Growing up, you hear all about the varied ecoregions of the state, the unique cultures, the regional foods and festivals, but experiencing it firsthand is unbeatable. Yeah, it’s hot and humid, but getting to serve with the SCA in this position is absolutely worth every moment.
Team Tulsa has adopted Muskogee, OK as our home for the next 3 to 4 months, and with new people come new experiences. Our home has become popular within the neighborhood; children drop by frequently to play croquet, play Frisbee, or just hang out. Our first two weeks in the field gave us a great opportunity to introduce ourselves to the area, meet some outstanding people, and pepper our survey work with memorable times relaxing together.
6/10/2012 – Float trip:
Today was a chance for the two locals, Christa and Joshua, to take the team out and participate in a long standing tradition of the region, floating down the Illinois River on a summer day. A great way to relax before heading into surveys, renting a raft and drifting down a calm, clear river under bright blue skies is always enjoyable. The water was comfortably cool, and gentle breezes fanned us all day. This 12 mile/8 hour trip down a Class I section of the Illinois River just north of Tahlequah, OK was a fun trip for everyone.
6/11/2012 – Meeting with Fort Gibson Lake Rangers:
Our first official day in the field was spent at Fort Gibson Lake meeting with the Rangers there and gaining a better understanding of what a day in the life of an Army Corps Ranger is like. After constructing a few fish shelters for the lake and meeting with the Rangers, we had the rare opportunity to tour the Fort Gibson Dam. Touring this facility is a dream for anyone who loves big gears, big machines, and the mid-century feel that an absence of digital equipment provides. Although retrofit with equipment to improve efficiency and ease management, the original parts to this dam largely remain. That’s quite a statement for old school engineering done with slide-rulers! Our host, Chris, was excellent, and getting to know this bit of American history was awesome.
6/12/2012 to 6/13/2012 – Surveying Begins:
Putting our training to the test, we hit the field for surveying today. We eased into things with a mid-week start, which gave us the chance to modify our setup plans in case unforeseen circumstances arose, but everything went great.
6/14/2012 – Natural Falls State Park:
A nice surprise for everyone was that we all ended up having the same day off once this week. That doesn’t happen regularly, so we took advantage of it and headed for some hiking at Natural Falls State Park. Relatively close, this small state park has a few miles of hiking trails and a nice little waterfall where a native species of fern can be found, very unusual for Oklahoma. It was an easy day for everyone, and the unique setting was a good place to sit back and relax.
6/15/2012 to 6/21/2012 – Surveying:
After our mid-week start, we hit the ground running into our first weekend of full on surveying. It was an interesting time and gave us all the chance to meet a lot of locals. The higher visitor use during the weekends meant we were able to gauge how well our site setups were doing. A few minor changes were made to improve safety to traffic in the area. We also noticed a few administrative changes that needed to be completed. Getting these taken care of was easy because Meredith Bridgers, our primary contact with the US ACE, was in town for the weekend. We spent a lot of time during the weekend discussing how the program was starting out, receiving feedback, and clarifying logistical items. The entire crew enjoyed Meredith’s visit, something well timed that helped everyone out.
6/22/2012 – Meeting with Tenkiller Ferry Lake Rangers:
Having met the Fort Gibson Lake Rangers, it was time to meet a new crew, the Rangers at Tenkiller Ferry Lake. At this point, most of the lakes have a staff of Rangers in place for the increased traffic during the summer months. Introducing ourselves to the Rangers at their weekly safety meeting, we met almost the entire Ranger staff. Lots of questions were asked both about the Rangers and the SCA. The summer Rangers at this lake are closer to the average age of SCA interns, helping everyone feel completely comfortable. With so much in common, we discussed college, grad school, degrees, interests, and future opportunities with the US ACE.
6/23/2012 – Onward… :
The heat of summer is building, the 4th of July holiday is just around the corner, and the colorful characters we have met while surveying have added some interesting spice to our survey days. Our beginning here has been flying by quickly. It’s hard to believe we were in Carnation, WA for training only three weeks ago. Heading back out into the field for surveying, we’ll continue on with our primary mission here, helping the US ACE understand their lakes and those who visit them. It’s a pretty sweet gig.
Ryne went to high school at Indian Trail Academy, where he graduated from the House of Biotechnology in 2008. Currently, he is enrolled at Gateway Technical College in Wisconsin, and he is about to transfer to the University of Wisconsin Parkside to join their Sustainable Resource Management degree program. He hopes that this will lead him into a career as a Park Ranger, which is what he aspires to become. Ryne has come from a background of camping and an outdoor lifestyle. He spent nine years as a Boy Scout, spending a lot of his time on camping trips, and it was during his time as a Scout that Ryne discovered what a Ranger was.
With the SCA, Ryne desires to use the opportunities provided to become even more involved in conservation of the environment. He will be using his time this season gaining experience, making friends, and growing professionally. Ryne’s conviction and passion for the world around him will be the driving force for his success in the future.
When Ryne is not outside, he spends a lot of time on his hobby, building and painting models for a tabletop war game, Warhammer 40K. He also enjoys biking, writing, the occasional video game, and copious amounts of reading. Recently, he has been spending a lot of his time working as a bartender at Chili’s but hopes to get more internship chances in the years ahead.
Jeffrey was born and raised on the North Side of Chicago. During the summers he went on many family trips throughout many areas of the country. During his experiences, Jeffrey spent much quality time camping, hiking, exploring, and much more. Those experiences drew him close to the natural world and made him passionate for it. That led him to Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) where he gained a B.S. in Earth Science and minored in Chemistry. Aside from his interests in the natural world; he also enjoys running, biking, gaming, acting, reading, soccer, Frisbee, and board games.
Last summer, Jeffrey held a position with the National Park Service which required traveling for weeks at a time. The position required extended backcountry work, through rugged terrain with extreme weather conditions, and long hours. Through this experience, Jeffrey was able to test his endurance, his will power, and his ability to work well as part of a team in difficult conditions as well as add to his technical knowledge and skills. Jeffrey looks forward to adding more to his knowledge and skills as he begins this season with the SCA and continues along his career path.
Alaina lives in Concord California, having graduated from high school at the Environmental Studies Academy (ESA) in Martinez, CA. Being a part of that school had a huge impact on her, fueling a desire to take a hands-on role in her community and environment.
In 2011, Alaina worked with Green Peace USA, the world’s largest, independent non-profit organization, fighting for social and environmental justice. Currently, Alaina works as a self-employed brand ambassador representing various companies around the San Francisco bay area.
Summer is Alaina’s favorite time of year because it is the season for carnivals, fairs, and festivals of all kinds. She is especially obsessed with music festivals and loves spending the day in the warm sun dancing (terribly) to good music in the company of friends.
Since graduating from the ESA in 2008, Alaina feels as though she has become distant and less involved with the pursuits she had become so passionate about. Alaina is eager to become involved with the SCA to help re-root her into a lifestyle where she is able to make an impact on her surroundings and interact with others who share similar views. She is excited to open a door to new opportunities to learn about and work with the environment.
Motivated, persistant, and hard-working are a few words that can describe Christa. A Rotary International Exchange Student to Germany and later to France, this Texan/Okie comes to the SCA just before graduating with her Bachelors of Science in Biology from Northeastern State University in Oklahoma. The emphasis of her degree on Wildlife and Fisheries is a perfect match for the area she will be working in this summer, with Christa hoping to add the experience she gains from SCA to those gained from her time at the Three Forks Nature center at Sequoyah State Park in northeastern Oklahoma.
Big parts of Christa’s life are her family and learning about her heritage. Her mother’s family is originally from Ada, Oklahoma. She is the granddaughter of Louis Alan Bronaugh (of the Hodges/Coon families) and Charda Faith Pierce. Christa is the daughter of Christina Faith Bronaugh and Rayford Randolph and has two children, Ava, who is 5 years old, and Jason, who is 5 months.
Christa’s hobbies include powwow, sewing, beadwork, horseback riding, camping, hiking, volleyball, stickball, (almost anything outdoors, really) and getting together for barbeques with friends. Christa expects to gain a better understanding of the fundamental requirements for managing a lake and for connecting with the public in a positive way, so that she may one day apply her understanding as a successful biologist or field agent for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
Abby is a recent graduate of the University of Georgia, having earned a bachelor's degree in Wildlife Management from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. While at school, she was an active participant in several student organizations including the Forestry Honors Society and the student chapter of the Wildlife Society. She also worked as an undergraduate assistant at the Warnell conservation genetics laboratory where she learned all about sea turtles! Within the next couple of years, Abby hopes to attend graduate school and make a career in conservation. She is looking forward to working with the Tulsa team, and she hopes the season will present her with opportunities to learn more about the challenges and rewards of working in the natural resources field.
Contained in these (blog) pages is part of the great information related to the Student Conservation Association and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' partnership to conduct Visitor Use Surveys at 30+ lakes located throughout the country. As one of six teams in the field, we will be conducting thousands of interviews with Corps visitors to gain a better understanding of who uses US ACE managed sites and exactly how they are used. Check back here throughout the season for information about the project Team 3 is working on, bios for Team 3 members, and updates about our experiences from the field.
See you at the lakes!
Project Leader (Team 3 - Tulsa)
Student Conservation Association/
US Army Corps of Engineers Visitor Use Survey Program
Eufaula Lake is the largest lake located entirely in the State of Oklahoma. It is located on the Canadian River, 27 miles upstream from its confluence with the Arkansas River. The shoreline ranges from vast expanses of sandy beaches to rocky bluffs. Most of the 600-mile shoreline of Lake Eufaula lies within the boundaries of the old Creek Nation, with part of the southern portion in the old Choctaw Nation. Many of the reminders of the colorful history of this area remain today, and boaters traveling through the Standing Rock area can admire beauty that was admired by Spanish explorers.
Eufaula Lake has long been recognized for its outstanding fishery. Crappie, sand bass, catfish and black bass in the lake reach record size. Below the dam, striped bass reaching over 40 pounds have been caught in the tailwaters. Robber's Cave State Park and two state parks located on Eufaula Lake offer a variety of recreational experiences, including golf courses, swimming pools, and hiking trails.
The Eufaula Lake project was authorized by the 1946 River and Harbor Act. It was designed by the Tulsa District, Army Corps of Engineers, and built under the Corps supervision at a cost of $121,735,000. Construction was started in December 1956 and was completed for flood control operation in February 1964. President Lyndon B. Johnson dedicated the project on September 25, 1964.
Fort Gibson Lake is located on the Grand (Neosho) River about 5 miles northwest of historic Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, from which it draws its name. It is about 7.7 miles above the confluence of the Grand (Neosho) and Arkansas Rivers. The lake lies in Wagoner, Cherokee, and Mayes Counties and extends upriver to the Markham Ferry Dam (Lake Hudson).
Northeast Oklahoma has long been noted for its outstanding fishing. At Fort Gibson Lake, sportsmen will find black bass, white bass, crappie, and several varieties of catfish and panfish. Three heated fishing docks offer winter fun for crappie fishing. When "game fever" is in the air, hunters will find such species as whitetail deer, bobwhite quail, mourning dove, duck, geese, cottontail rabbit and squirrel.
The Fort Gibson project was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1941 and incorporated in the Arkansas River multiple-purpose plan by the River and Harbor Act of July 1946. Designed and built by the Tulsa District, Army Corps of Engineers, the project was started in 1942, suspended during World War 2, and completed in September 1953, at a cost of $42,535,000.
A native of Tulsa, OK, Joshua comes to the SCA having recently graduated from the University of Oklahoma, where he earned his B.S. in Geographic Information Science and his Minor in Meteorology. As an undergraduate, Joshua was an active leader of his peers, involved in activities at both the university and state level. During his last year of study and briefly after graduating, Joshua also worked as a research assistant within a university laboratory where he modeled the primary productivity of agroecosystems. This work exposed Joshua to the world of intensive academic research, a previously unknown love of his. Now, having several presentations, coauthorship of a book chapter, and a published, peer-reviewed paper under his belt, Joshua is ready to help expose individuals to the conservation opportunities in northeastern Oklahoma before he continues with postgraduate study.
When not learning, writing, and researching, Joshua enjoys kicking a ball at the local soccer pitch, running through mud and dirt where ever he might find it, and helping out his family, friends, and community with any little task he can put his hands to. And much of that is exactly what his goal is this season. Getting his team dirty, working hard, and gaining some hands on field experience in a setting they'll love is what Joshua is looking forward to the most!
Nestled in the Cookson Hills of eastern Oklahoma, foothills of the Ozark Mountains, this body of water, known as "Oklahoma's Clear Water Wonderland," is surrounded with dogwood forests, hilly terrain, and beautiful foliage from spring until fall. It also serves as part of a flyway for migratory animals, such as Canada geese, ducks, monarch butterflies, warblers, and bald eagles.
Tenkiller crossing, where the dam is located, is named for a famous Cherokee family and was a main travel route across the Illinois River in frontier times. The Tenkiller Ferry project was authorized by Congress under the Flood Control Act of 1938. Installation of power features was authorized in the River and Harbor Act of 1946, and these features were designed and built by the Tulsa District, Army Corps of Engineers, at a cost of $23,687,000. The project was started in 1947, placed in flood control operation in July 1953, and power was placed online in December 1953.
The lake is well known for water-based activities, and its reputation is well deserved. The State of Oklahoma and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineeers manage ten marinas and fourteen parks with many different facilities around the lake. There are twenty-four boat launching ramps around the lake, three floating restaurants, and many islands to explore, the most famous being “Goat Island”, which is actually inhabited with goats that can sometimes be spotted grazing at the shoreline. Scuba diving, camping, hiking, fishing, golfing, water sports, scenic nature, fishing, and hunting are all surrounded with beautiful rock bluffs and days that end with spectacular sunsets.
Camping is also popular, with 14 campgrounds operated by the Corps, the State of Oklahoma, and concessionaires. Types of camping range from primitive to full hookup and are fairly evenly spread out from one end of the lake to the other. Hiking one of the three nature trails is another outdoor activity easily accessible from the lake. The trails vary in length from 1 1/4 miles to over 2 miles. Spectacular vistas, rock formations, and many species of wildlife are just a few of the things to take in as you hike along. Almost all project lands are open to public hunting except for parks and around the dam and control structures. Principal species hunted are whitetail deer, turkey, rabbit, and squirrel.
The Webbers Falls area attracts many visitors during the early spring when the many flowering trees and shrubs such as redbud and dogwood are in bloom and again in the fall when the many hardwood trees are changing their colors. An observation platform and visitors facilities have been provided at Webbers Falls Lock and Dam so that visitors may watch the lockage of barges and pleasure craft. On a bluff above the powerhouse is a scenic overlook where visitors may view the lock and dam and a large area of the lake.
Sportspeople find recreation opportunities at Webbers Falls Lake year around. For the fisherman, the predominate species of fish in the lake are catfish, white bass, black bass, crappie, bream, walleye, sauger, buffalo, carp and a rapidly growing population of striped bass. Many have predicted that the striped bass will reach weights in excess of forty pounds in Oklahoma waters.
Opportunities are equally as good for the hunting enthusiast. Principal game species present at the project include whitetail deer, fox squirrel, gray squirrel, cottontail rabbit, swamp rabbit, raccoon, mink, opossum, bobwhite quail, mourning dove, and several species of waterfowl.
There are three recreation areas on the lake that offer many opportunities for water oriented activities. The facilities at these areas include designated campsites, picnic areas, boat launching ramps, drinking water, swimming beaches, and sanitary facilities.
|Welcome to the US Army Corps of Engineers' Visitor Use Survey Program - Team 3|
|The Team 3 Projects: Eufaula Lake|
|The Team 3 Projects: Fort Gibson Lake|
|The Team 3 Projects: Tenkiller Ferry Lake|
|The Team 3 Projects: Webbers Falls Lock and Dam|
|Ryne A. Dever|
|Joshua Kalfas (Project Leader)|
|Final Thoughts & the Final Report|
|Hitch 7 - Out With a Bang!|
|Hitch 6 - The Home Stretch|
|Hitch 5 - Serendipity|
|Hitch 4 - Crispy Trees|
|Hitch 3 - Half Way Home|
|Hitch 2 - Here, Bison bison.|
|Hitch 1 - oooooOklahoma...|