Saturday, February 27, 2010

Huntington Beach State Park, SC. Part VI. The Education Center

Click here for the first post in this series.

Yesterday I spent much of the morning and early afternoon in the Mobile Studio writing and preparing programs. With frequent breaks to walk around the immediate area to enjoy the natural and social scenery.

BoardWalk 1 The weather was cool and quite windy. But the sun was out most of the time. So really, ideal conditions to enjoy the vegetation and birds along the board walk. And to chat with other RVers here in the Park. Many of the latter were from Canada. Ontario, mainly. But also Rob from Nova Scotia. All experienced RVers. Who have been coming to the South Carolina coast for some time.

Each RVer had an interesting story. One or two worthy of book-length treatment. I learned a lot from them, and enjoyed the conversation and social scenery.

EdCenter 1 Then in the afternoon, over to the Park’s Education Center. This Center is housed in a relatively small building. But, as you can see in the photo above, it’s chuck-full of interesting exhibits. For children, and for adults! Not an easy task, even with many times more square footage than this Center occupies. Let alone in a space this small. Yet they manage! Impressive.

touch tank Here, for example, is a “touch tank.” Click the photo and read the instructions on the front. I asked if children enjoyed touching the ray and crab. The attendant told me that as many adults try as children! I mean!

turtlepelican The exhibit area includes realistic models of wildlife found in the area. Including this enormous turtle and pelican.

birdID And birds, birds, birds. As Park Manager Magers mentioned during her interview, many of the Park’s visitors come just to see the birds. Serious bird watchers. So, the Education Center pays special attention to them. With lots of bird identification displays, and even a section explaining how to get started as a serious bird watcher.

classroom Nearly half of the Education Center’s space is taken up by this classroom. This room, according to the attendant on duty, gets a Lot of use. The Education Center sponsors programs for adults and for children year-roundx. All well attended. Schools from as far away as Columbia send students to participate. A definite high-usage area of the Park.

boat As you leave the Education Center be sure to spend some time looking at this display. A boat that looks as if it may well have floated here and there in the nearby marshes. Those are pages from Anna Huntington’s journal in the blue binder. The whole display is nicely done.

Well, that’s South Carolina’s Huntington Beach State Park. Thanks to Park Manager Brenda Magers and the whole staff. A wonderful group. Including the Camp Host couples. You all were most helpful, and generous with your time. 

It’s always good to get back home after a trip. But I could easily stay here for another five days, enjoying the special environment, and learning more about this part of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Be sure to add this Park to the itinerary of your next trip to the area.

Oh, and click on over to check on progress at the new Carolina Considered website.

The search box in the upper right-hand corner of the home page includes all of the Mobile Studio Travels blog posts as well.

Until next time ….

Friday, February 26, 2010

Huntington Beach State Park, SC. Part V. Atalaya

Click here for the first post in this series.

Atalaya 1 All visits to Huntington Beach State Park should include a tour of Atalaya. The oceanside summer home built for Archer Huntington and his wife, sculptor Anna Huntington.

The house occupies an enormous square of land. 200 feet on a side. Though the actual living space within is quite modest. Only a few small rooms were intended for the Huntingtons themselves, as far as I could tell. All on the eastern and southern sides of the square. With the remainder assigned to living quarters for accompanying servants and utility rooms.

Atalaya 2 That’s because the whole structure, with the exception of a 40-foot tower in the center that served as a water reservoir, is only one story high. With no basement, of course, this close to the ocean.

Atalaya 3 Further limiting living space, the enclosed area of this one-story brick structure encircles two large courtyards. Offering the inward-facing rooms a more pleasant view, to be sure. But seriously limiting overall useable square footage of the entire house.

Atalaya 4 The internal walls of the house, as you can see above, are of white-washed brick. Much of it quite beautiful brick that whitewash does nothing to enhance. To be fair, the house has endured years of rough treatment since its completion in 1933. Loaned to the Army Air Corps during World War Two. And then occupied only for the 1946 and 1947 seasons by the Huntingtons.

Atalaya 5 One room in the house that looked functional was Anna Huntington’s indoor studio. You see a view of it above. One can easily imagine her working here on her remarkable statues in inclement weather.

Atalaya 6 One other interesting discovery. Archer and Anna Huntington were early RV-ers. Here’s a photo of a photo of the “customized recreation vehicle” they used to travel to and from Atalaya each season. Wonder whatever happened to it.

Atalaya 7 So, there you have it. A brief, uninformed look at Atalaya. One of the most popular sights here at Huntington Beach State Park. Certainly worth the $1.00 admission fee required to look around. So be sure to take a tour when you visit Huntington Island State Park.

I’m sure I’ve failed to do Atalaya justice. Bill and JoAnn from Elmira, New York, the patient host attendant couple, did their best to educate me in the time they had. They were a delight to meet and talk with!

But still, to my untutored eye Atalaya seemed more whimsical than impressive. An impulsive project born of a vague idea. That would have benefited from the advice of a sympathetic architect. But then, it may well have suited the purposes of its owners to a T.

Click here for the next post in this series.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hunting Beach State Park, SC. Part IV. Interview with Park Manager, Brenda Magers.

Click here for the first post in this series.

Huntington Beach State Park is a busy place! Not for those of us visiting. But for the staff. From the top down. Everyone seems to be doing at least two jobs at the same time. In preparation for the tide of visitors expected to descend upon the Park in a couple of weeks.

Nonetheless, all staff members I’ve encountered here have been most visitor-oriented. Never too busy to answer questions, or just to chat.

Magers 5 Including even the Park Manager! I telephoned ahead, of course, to make arrangements to interview Park Manager Brenda Magers today at 10:30 a.m. She kept the appointment, and we met over the conference table in the Headquarters Building.

Normally I run only out-takes from recorded interviews of this sort. But this one is interesting from beginning to end. If you’d like to listen to the interview in its entirety, go to the bottom of this post and click on the “Full Interview” link.

Magers 1 We began with a general introduction, and Ms. Magers’ arrival at this Park. About four years ago.

I then asked what, after four years, Ms. Magers likes most about this particular Park. She mentioned the beach, of course. And also the extensive salt marshes and brackish lagoon that attracts so much of the wildlife. Especially birds.

Ms. Magers’ then described her career in the South Carolina Park Service. I was surprised to learn that she’s in her twelfth year of Service. Beginning as an entry-level Ranger in Greenville. With time spent managing Rose Hill, an important Upstate historical site. Have a listen as she describes it. Lots of different challenges. Including EMS training and rescue!

Magers 3 Listening to Ms. Magers describe her Park Service career, I had to ask how it was to work in a field where colleagues are overwhelmingly male. Again, her response was most informative. Be sure to listen to this part.

And this brought up the issue of recruitment. Just how does anyone – male or female – interested in this branch of public service prepare themselves to be considered in the Park Service’s highly competitive recruitment process? Here’s her response:

Time was running short, were I not to over-stay my welcome. So I asked one of those general sorts of questions that allow interviewees to say most anything they want. This time, though, I was surprised. Truth be told, most Park Rangers are not natural executives, or administrators. But Ms. Magers’ response demonstrated that she is! There’s a big difference between a real administrator and a regular Park Ranger who’s been promoted and then has to cope with the budget. Have a listen:

Magers 2 That should have been the final question. But the response to the last one was so interesting I couldn’t resist just one more general question. So I asked what is unique about Huntington Beach State Park in the State Park system. Well, Ms. Magers undoubtedly has been asked this question dozens of times before. But she still was able to make her response fresh and interesting.

With people lining up in the outer office, undoubtedly to speak with the boss, I reluctantly closed our interview with a question about visitors to the Park. Who visits Huntington Beach State Park? And Why?

Magers 4 Thanks again, Ms. Magers, for your time and attention. I know you were busy as the dickens today.

As mentioned above, those of you who would like to listen to the interview without interruption, from beginning to end, click below. It runs for about 15 minutes. A pretty big file. So I’ve arranged it to open in a new window in your default MP3 player. Don’t forget to click back here when you’re done for more posts on Huntington Beach State Park.

ClickToListen Click here to listen uninterrupted to the whole interview.

Click here for the next post in this series.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Huntington Beach State Park. Part III

Click here for the first post in this series.

Right after arrival, it’s a good idea to tour an unfamiliar RV campground to locate facilities and any potential difficulties, Then make an overall tour of the whole Park. Spending only enough time at each feature to take a couple of photos.

I usually follow the hand-out maps that come with campsite tags at check-in. And ask the attendant for additional suggestions. South Carolina’s State parks, especially those as large as Huntington Beach, all are well known for one or two special attractions. But they always have much more to offer. Features the casual visitor may overlook.

Board Walk trail head I set aside time this morning for the tour. Though in the event it went on through the afternoon. There’s a lot to experience here. Beginning with one of several board walks out to the beach. This one begins just behind my campsite. It’s handicapped-accessible all the way to the end.

Board Walk Veg The view of the beach at the end is only part of what this boardwalk has to offer. The vegetation along way on each side is interesting. Quite different than that along the boardwalk at Henderson State Park on the Gulf Coast. Quite different, even, than that along the paths of Hunting Island. Just a few miles, by water, down the coast.

Slow down as you walk the path and look carefully at the different plants on both sides. This is an ideal time of the year for enjoying this part of the Park, since the mosquitoes and other carnivorous beasties have yet to arrive.

Beach North Now, the beauty of the plants along the path shouldn’t distract you from the ultimate destination. The beach here is beautiful. Day in; day out. A little chilly for sunbathing this time of year for all but the most hardy of our Northern neighbors. But ideal for a brisk walk in either direction.

Bird sign Birdlife in this part of the Park too is amazing. They’re not all on the salt marsh. I awoke this morning to the sound of the surf, muffled by passage through the dense vegetation between the Mobile Studio and the beach, and the songs of several different species of birds. None of them familiar. Species quite different from those seen from the causeway. I mean! What a treat. i tried to record the sound, but don’t have the proper equipment.

Well over 250 species of birds visit this Park. Which explains all the folks walking about with binoculars, cameras, and Life Lists. A birder’s paradise. Even non-birders like me can enjoy all the different birds and sounds.

Beach House Next stop was the huge parking lot between the Ranger Station and the beach. Nowhere near full today. But its size gives some indication of the popularity of this Park for daytime visits to the beach. Folks said it’s important to come early to get a parking spot once the weather warms up.

Quinones Memorial Bench The structure pictured above was built in the same style as the Ranger Station. Lower level ready for water inundation; facilities on the top floor. In this case, restrooms and changing rooms. With both ramps and stairs leading up. Here’s a bench dedicated to Patricia (Ms. Baby) Quinones. I’ll have to find out more about her. There must be a story in that name.

Tree Near Beach Last post I mentioned the care taken to maintain old trees here at Huntington Beach State Park. It’s a never-ending task. And one that requires a high level of skill to do properly.

Well, here’s an example. The photo above, as usual, doesn’t do justice to this tree. Wind-blasted from the ocean side. But still surviving. Flourishing, in fact! Managing in the face of adversity to offer folks returning from the beach along this path yet another beautiful sight. A lesson in perseverance.

Atalaya 1 Look south from the main parking lot to see the two-hundred-foot long northern wall of Atalaya. A one-story two-hundred-foot square residence built during the 1930s in the Spanish Mediterranean style by Archer and Anna Huntington. More on Atalaya in another post. It certainly is one of the most unusual houses I’ve ever seen.

Interpretive Center Front Next stop was the long board walk that begins near the Park’s Education Center, extending west out over the marsh. More on the Education Center in another post. Here too it’s near-impossible to just pop in, take a couple of snapshots, and go on to the next site.

Board Walk 2 The boardwalk here is a nature lover’s dream. I forgot to ask just how long it is. But it’s a good hike clear to the end. At least two-thirds of the way across this remarkable marsh.

Animal Tracks Birds abound, of course. But also look closely for signs of other animals here. These tracks were made, I think, by a foraging raccoon. Though it might well be another animal altogether.

Driving slowly across the causeway earlier in the day, I noticed an animal scurry across the road in front of the car. It was way to large for a squirrel. Long, with short legs. I thought it might have been a weasel of some kind. Grown huge here with the easy living. I stopped and saw it briefly again peering over its shoulder at me from the rocks before it scurried on its way. Too quick for a photo, unfortunately.

Mink I asked several passers-by about the animal. None of them knew what it was. The riddle was solved by Interpretive Ranger Mike at the Education Center. He pointed me to the sign above. I’d seen one of the mink recently reintroduced to the area by South Carolina’s DNR. So maybe those tracks were made by a mink and not a raccoon!

Board Walk 1 Designers of this board walk have built a few of these covered rest/observation structures along the way. Very convenient for those of us with limited mobility. They must get crowded when it rains! Can you imagine maintaining and repairing a facility like this board walk? In this environment! Must cost a fortune in materials alone. Let alone the time spent. And there are several such boardwalks throughout the Park.

Oysters Look here at the oysters crowding around the base of this structure. There are oysters all through this marsh. And the surrounding salt water. Enough to discourage me from launching the inflatable kayak near here. Oyster beds with their razor-like protrusions don’t mix well with the hulls of inflatable kayaks!

Three Birds Here’s a final photo from this quick tour of the Park. Taken from the very end of the boardwalk. Three birds, undisturbed by their human observers. There were four or five of us watching from the end of the boardwalk. And one dog! The bird on the left, according to one of the birders, was drying its wings in the breeze. What a sight!

That’s all for now. There’s much more to see here. We haven’t even stepped inside the Education Center, or visited Atalaya. Next post, though, I’m hoping to record an interview with Park Manager, Brenda Magers. So stay tuned.

Click here for the next post in this series.

Huntington Beach State Park, SC. Part II

Click here for the first post in this series.

Off to Huntington Beach State Park yesterday at around noon. It rained in the Midlands much of the morning. Fortunately, that tapered off before I had to pull the Mobile Studio out of the garage to hook up for the trip.

Map This time nearly all of the way I did manage to avoid those homogeneous super highways that crisscross the State. Routes like 378, 52, and 512 were far more interesting. They too are well maintained and well marked. Here and there expanded to four lanes of traffic. But they pass through gorgeous natural scenery. And those small towns that exemplify, at least for me, South Carolina’s remarkable social scenery.

I’ve never driven much of this route. So it was an adventure. The rain had pretty much stopped, and I could look around, trusting to the GPS to maintain the route. I passed through several counties along the way. Richland, Sumter, Williamsburg, Colleton, and Georgetown. Watch for the County boundary signs the next time you drive in this area.

Also, plenty of small towns. Urging me to stop and look around. Main streets, both bedraggled and renovated; residential areas, both run-down and fancy. Here and there on the road those long stretches of whitewashed fence, surrounding lush pastures and horses that look born to run. Quite a sight.

Lots of historical markers along the way too. But no time to stop for a look this trip. Maybe next time. When I’m not pulling the Mobile Studio behind the car.

Entrance at Rt 17 Then, north from Georgetown on Route 17 a ways, and there it was. The turn-in for Huntington Beach State Park. No whitewashed fences. Didn’t need ‘em! The trees and shrubbery said it all. It looked like a fancy place.

Fee Collection And it was! Even the fee collection station was in a beautiful jewel-box-like stone building. Surrounded by dramatic old oaks.

Front Sign and Tree Like this one. Be sure to click the photo above and have a look at this tree just past the fee station on the right side of the road. Now, this tree isn’t unusual. Someone over the years has taken good care of the stately old trees throughout this Park. Mother Nature on her own doesn’t do this good a job.

Causeway After a wave-through at the fee collection station, I drove across the causeway toward the Ranger Station to check in to the campground. More on this causeway later on. It alone is worth the whole trip. Aquatic birds on each side the whole distance.

Ranger Station Check-In Even the Ranger Station here is impressive. Built up above ground level, to avoid damage from the occasional drenching when storms drive waves up over the dunes. Check-in procedures went smoothly. Friendly, helpful personnel. You can tell a lot about the atmosphere of a Park by the way check-ins are handled.

When you visit Huntington Beach, be sure to take the time to look around the campground store. This one is Huge! I’ve yet to see one to match it, either in size or in the diversity of goods for sale. And it’s not even their busy season now.

Aliner on Site Over to site # 11, and a quick set-up. The site was described as hard-packed sand. But it really is hard-packed. So it was easy to maneuver the Mobile Studio around 180 degrees to face the surrounding dune shrubbery.

The campsites here, especially in this area, are private, with plenty of distance between them. And in this case a thick wall of shrubbery and trees between this site and its neighbor, # 13.

After setting up I drove, as usual, around the whole campground road, locating bath houses, refuse dumps, and the like. I didn’t see a single bad campsite in the whole area.

Closed Bath House The bath house just across the way from this site turned out to be closed! Undergoing a top-to-bottom renovation. Inconvenient for this trip. But a very good sign for the Park. Many of our State Parks have bath houses that could use the same treatment. No worry, though, the bath house at the next loop was open and very nicely furnished.

That’s all for now. Be sure to stay tuned. Lots more to come on Huntington Beach State Park.

Click here for the next post in this series.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

First Kayak Paddle of the Year

Last week it was a surprise snowstorm here in the South Carolina Midlands. Today, it was sunny with temperatures in the high 60s. Now, who could resist going out for their first paddle of the year in weather like this?

Sesqui 1 So, around 11:30 a.m., I abandoned work on the CarolinaConsidered website, and headed for the small lake in Sesquicentennial State Park, just across Route 1. A “no fishing in the lake” sign at the entrance suggested there might be a problem. So before inflating the kayak I went down to have a look at the lake.

Sesqui 2 Good thing too! It was drained for long-needed maintenance. A good thing in the longer-term. But not good for kayaking today.

So, off to Lake Monticello. About 40 minutes away, but well worth the drive.

Monticello Lake 1 I’ve paddled Lake Monticello numerous times in the past. And today found it much as always. Just about the ideal size for a quiet afternoon paddle.

Some readers have asked about the Advanced Elements inflatable kayak that I carry in the back seat of the Mobile Studio’s “tow vehicle.”

Kayak in Car Well, here’s a photo of the kayak and its accompanying gear in the back seat of the car. If you click on the photo, the gray oblong is the folded body of the kayak. The paddle is on the floor to the right. The accessories all are in the black bag atop the kayak body. And the little trailer wheels are just tossed in over the whole thing.

Kayak 1 Here’s the kayak out on a tarp beside the car, ready for inflation. That gray air mattress looking thing beside it is the kayak floor.

Kayak 2 Once the main tubes have some air in them, the whole thing begins to look like a kayak.

kayak 3 With the floor installed above the bow-to-stern aluminum “backbone” and inflated it’s certainly a kayak. And not at all bad looking. No inflatable pool toy this! I wrote some time back about the backbone. Click here to read the post.

Kayak 4 All that remains is to install the seat and strap on the pneumatic tires for an easy trip down to the water. More robust paddlers carry their boats to the water over their shoulders. Well …. Those days are over for me. These wheels are a great addition to the kit. And, they fold up and travel comfortably on the back of the boat while paddling.

Digital image  All of this takes between 10 and 15 minutes. However, passers-by nearly always stop to chat and ask questions. So, this time it was more like a half-hour before the boat was finally in the water.

Digital image  There was just enough breeze to cool the bright sunlight, and to give the surface of the lake a little character. It’s impossible to see in this photo, but on the way to the island ahead I heard, then saw, two loons. Couldn’t get close enough to photograph them. They’re wary birds. Good to see them again on the lake this year.

Digital image  This island hosts quite a number of bald eagles. Their nests are just in from the shore where this great blue heron stood sentinel. No sign of the eagles this trip. Must be vacationing somewhere over on the shore.

This wasn’t a long paddle. Only a few miles. But it was the first one of the year. So that alone made it worth writing about. Tomorrow, off to Huntington Beach State Park on the Atlantic shore of South Carolina, in Georgetown County. So stay tuned.