Over the last two weeks, we found ourselves in a strange land known to few, a land known as OKARKAnsas. It’s a place where time runs both slowly and quickly, confounding attempts to identify dates. It’s a place where travel takes what seems like forever to weary visitors, and upon arrival it feels like you have barely moved. It’s a place where one can get lost on flat rolling plains or in mountainous mixed forest. It’s a place where work is mixed with pleasure, where joyous reunions with friends and hard work on projects passes fleetingly, and to where those who venture there wish they could return.
7/7/2013 – Surveying:
The slow holiday weekend continued for us, strangely. We took the lull in stride and moved on.
7/8/2013 – OKlahoma:
Today was the OK component of our OKARKAnsas adventure. All were off from surveying today. After making attempts to find a section of the Trail of Tears that could be hiked (which sadly does not exists), we made a visit to the J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve managed by TNC. After making the drive up a long, winding gravel road, we arrived to the welcome center but had missed the staff by 30 minutes. We made the most of the visit, walking trails through mixed forest and savannah. The remote location and weekday afternoon gave us plenty of alone time in the woods. The solitude was well worth the drive.
7/9/2013 – Surveying:
The entire team was out early for surveying today, which worked out perfectly for our upcoming conservation project, trail work in Kansas. After returning, we packed up and took off for Kansas that afternoon.
7/10/2013 – KAnsas:
Today was the KA component of our OKARKAnsas adventure (yeah, it’s not really the state’s abbreviation. we know). We teamed up with the teams from Kansas and Texas to establish a new ACE campground. The site was a 100 acre wooded section of ACEproperty that had never been used for camping. We spent the day clearing a path for a road through a quarter-mile of trees and brush, and we cleared areas for 6 primitive campsites. The project was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the different requirements that exist for working on various agency lands. When working on ACE managed lands, there are no restrictions on the types of tools that can be used. This is a stark contrast to wilderness areas where equipment must be packed in, usually several miles, and hand tools are the standard. The rigors of trail work were clearly understood, and the ability to use power tools was sincerely appreciated. After working, we spent the rest of the evening relaxing and catching up with each other. Swimming, trading stories from the season to this point, and good home cooked food were great ends to a long day. The Kansas team was a great host, and we had a wonderful time there.
7/11/2013 to 7/14/2013 – Surveying:
These five days had us rushing back from Kansas, surveying across our spectrum of lakes and sites, and preparing to take off to Arkansas. Things went well, and we ended the first half of the survey season successfully.
7/15/2013 to 7/19/2013 – ARkansas:
These few days were the AR component of our OKARKAnsas adventure. To start it off, we reunited with most of the ACE VUS program at the US Forest Service’s Charlton Recreation Area close to Ouachita Lake and in the national forest. Several portions of the site were closed due to a 2011 flood and had yet to reopen, but the limited access and solitude were perfect for us all. Even better, a cold, spring-fed mountain stream in the heart of the Ouachita National Forest was a five minute walk from our campsite. The historic recreation area features a native stone dam that forms a swimming area and rustic bathhouse, both built by the Civilian Conservation Corps federal work program in 1935. It was pleasing to find such a great campsite and one that had stood the test of time.
While there, we had several activities to choose from. A highlight from the trip was the Leave No Trace training that our very own Sara Kuenzi led. Project Leaders Clayton Buffer, Sophie Louis, and Stacy Stone helped lead portions of the training, and 22 of us left with Leave No Trace Trainer certifications, a great knowledge base for anyone interested in the outdoors. After spending the first one and a half days completing the Leave No Trace training, all had opportunity to relax and explore the area. Watching the sunrise, swimming, fishing, hiking, kayaking, bouldering, horseback riding, a bit if stargazing, and the almost mandatory roasting of smores were thoroughly enjoyed. When the time to part ways came, bitter sweet goodbyes were made. Having strengthened bonds between teams and friends, we headed back home to start the second half of the survey season.
7/20/2013 – Half Way There:
Now home, we headed into the second half of the survey season with happy hearts and high hopes, waiting to see what the rest of the season might bring.