Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hammond School’s Celebration of the 50 American States

Yesterday we attended a performance of “The Fifty Nifty,” Hammond School’s fourth grade celebration of the American States. It was a great event! Genuine entertainment.

Every Hammond fourth grader was on stage. Each had a speaking part. Costumes ranged from subtle to elaborate. Even the Empire State Building was represented! Lots of fun.

The performers all had a great time. But the serious looks on the faces of those awaiting their turns at the microphone showed how determined these fourth graders were to turn in good performances. “The Nifty Fifty” soared well above dry memorization of state capitals!

04 Hammond TVClick the photo above to see the final rehearsal of this extravaganza, courtesy of Hammond School TV.

As all of you with children and/or grandchildren know, these programs don’t just happen. They require an enormous amount of work from both students and faculty. Thanks to all for a delightful afternoon.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lake Wateree State Park Gets New Playground Equipment

All of us who’ve taken children and/or grandchildren on our RV trips know how few destinations there are that appeal to all ages. Sadly, camping alone doesn’t seem to excite 21st century children the way it did their parents and grandparents. Too much competition from electronic gadgets, I guess.

Parks and other camping destinations have recognized that change, and do what they can to provide opportunities for all ages.

Here’s a fine example of an “electronic alternative” right here at Lake Wateree State Park, South Carolina.

Playground equipment designed for children from 5 to 12 years of age. At least, according to the manufacturer’s sign you see to the left here. That sounds about right to me, having watched grandchildren near both ends of the age spectrum enjoy the various challenges available in these compact, well designed packages. Sure beats a video game or a wide-screened TV!

Exciting, yes. But not dangerous. Lots of attention to safety and to accessibility. Kids fully enjoying these sets may bounce off the ground a time or two. Here, a thick layer of spongy cedar chips has been spread to limit damage. Also note the access ramp in the photo above. Another great feature.

I’m no playground equipment expert. But this installation appears to provide a surprisingly wide variety of physical challenges for the younger crowd. With emphasis on climbing and balance. Click on the photo above to see the 21st century version of the “monkey bars” most of us remember from our primary school days. A fall here onto soft cedar chips, however, won’t automatically require a trip to the school nurse’s office! A welcome difference.

And look at this! A genuine “suspension bridge”! One that gives a sense of secure instability as the child tramps across, the Indiana Jones theme ringing in his or her ears. I tried out the bridge myself. It flexes up and down almost as if it were made of vines and logs. Just add imagination! Something the 5-12-year-old set has in abundance.

Finally, here’s a special feature. Accessible only after climbing up to the upper deck. A telescope! Solidly mounted, but moveable in all directions. Ready to spy out potential hostiles on the horizon, whether ashore or afloat.

So, next time you visit Lake Wateree State Park, take along one or more members of the 5-12 set. You’ll find this delightful playground near the Park Office and lakeside picnic area. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Camping at Lake Wateree State Park, SC


Back once again at Lake Wateree State Park, near Winnsboro, South Carolina. This Park is only about 45 minutes from our home in Columbia. It’s one of the nicest getaways imaginable at which to complete a writing project.

Click on the photo above and you can see that I’ve turned the Aliner around on the campsite to face the lake. What a view! As if the woods in this area weren’t enough. A beautiful lake view out of the front window and from both sides.

Road and CampsitesSpeaking of campsites, this Park has paved campsite surfaces that rival those at Calhoun Falls State Park! Now, that’s high praise indeed. It’s true, though. And they’re kept spic ‘n span clean year round. As are the bath houses here.

Lake Wateree is one of Park System’s later additions, I believe. So, those of you uncomfortable with dirt or gravel sites, even when hard-packed, will be right at home here.

Every one of the sites here is just like those you see in the photo above. No surprises. Some are even long enough to accommodate those huge Class A motorhomes – the ones so big their owners are said to pay taxes in two counties. There are a few pull-through sites as well. Not on the water, though.

I’ve been coming here for a long time. Long before the Aliner. I vividly recall grading final exams here for two classes back in the late 1980s or early 1990s. I was camping then with a large tent. Hot as the dickens. Must have been at the end of the spring term. This Aliner with its air conditioner and propane furnace is much more comfortable.

boatsCrappie fishermen have been out in force on the lake yesterday and today. It’s said the crappie are thick as fleas just off the shore here. Click on the photo above and look closely at the boat in the middle. It obviously was built more with comfort than speed in mind. Those folks know what they’re doing. Wouldn’t be surprised if it included a full-service kitchen!

Well, back to “work.” More to come from Lake Wateree, so stay tuned.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Walking the Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail at Huntington Beach State Park, SC

With so much to see and do at Huntington Beach State Park you may miss one of its most interesting features: the Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail. Click here for a nice description and map [click the link] provided by South Carolina State Trails. It’s only a mile one way, with easy pick-up points at either end if you’re not up to a round trip.

But within that mile you’re going to see all sorts of coastal habitat. If you’ve one or more of the trails at Hunting Island, note the difference a few miles up the coast makes in the maritime forest. As Ranger Mike Walker explained, Hunting Island’s barrier island is sub-tropical. Huntington Beach isn’t.

Mike also mentioned the effect Hurricane Hugo had on this part of the South Carolina coast when it hit in September of 1989. Lots of sand tossed around. Several feet in some areas. 

Enough to bury live oak trees, leaving only their topmost branches sticking out of the ground. These trees are real survivors.

This helps to account for some of the unusual shapes you’ll see along your walk.

Before long you’ll catch sight of the pond for which this trail is named. With paths running down to the shore here and there. Walk down to have a look. But really, this shallow brackish pond is more interesting from afar than up close. At least to me.

That’s probably why the Park Service has constructed raised viewing platforms here and there. Like this one.

You can climb the steps for a better view of the pond, or just walk on.

I saw little wildlife along the trail this time. Maybe because I was making so much noise. It didn’t deter one enormous squirrel, though. Must have been a fox squirrel. Biggest I’ve ever seen. And plenty of evidence of deer. See some of the tracks with a click on the photo above. 

But the main attraction, at least for me, was the remarkably diverse foliage. Different from anything I’ve seen so far in South Carolina. Even different from that found at Hunting Island, another popular State park.

So, when your travels take you to Huntington Beach State Park be sure to save a few hours for a walk along the Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail. It won’t be time wasted.

Huntington Beach State Park, SC Scenes

Here are a few more scenes from this beautiful Park. Just click the Picasa slideshow above.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Interview with Mike Walker, Interpretive Ranger at Huntington Beach State Park, SC

Let’s suppose we were going to design the ideal interpretive ranger for one of South Carolina’s busy coastal State Parks. What would we include?

It would be nice to find someone who knows the area – ideally someone raised on the coastal salt marsh. A strong work ethic would be essential if our interpretive ranger was to survive in the Park Service. So we’d better find someone who’d held rigorous, hands-on part-time jobs throughout their high school and college years. Hopefully, nature-related jobs.

Then, since we can afford to be picky during this hypothetical exercise, let’s say we want someone with an undergraduate degree from Professor John Mark Dean’s intensive marine biology program at USC. Experience working in Professor Dean’s marine science lab would be an added attraction.

Unrealistic, you say? Well, that’s exactly the person I found a couple of weeks ago when I went to interview the Interpretive Ranger at Huntington Beach State Park. Click the button below to listen to Ranger Mike Walker tell of his own story.

[If your browser has difficulty displaying the embedded sound files below, direct links are included to all of them at the bottom of this page.]

We’ll hear more about Mike’s childhood camping experiences later on. But first he describes his Park Service Career.

Two of South Carolina’s coastal parks have similar names: “Hunting Island” and “Huntington Beach.” Well, similar to folks who have yet to visit them. In fact, first-time visitors sometimes make camping reservations at one of the two parks and then go to the other park to check in! Lots of confusion. Since Ranger Mike Walker has served at both Parks I asked him to describe their differences.

I’d recognized the difference in habitat, but didn’t realize that only Hunting Island is sub-tropical, and what that means for the plant life.

Speaking of habitat, when you visit Huntington Beach State Park be sure to save time for their Sandpiper Pond Hiking trail. If time permits, I’ll post a separate article on the trail and pond. But first, here’s Mike’s description:

Ranger Mike Walker and I talked late one afternoon at Huntington Beach’s beautiful nature center.

I asked him to describe the Center and its surroundings.

Alligators, sea turtles, 315 species of birds. Can you imagine! I’d heard of roseate spoonbills. But “Avocets” and “Parasitic Jaegers” were new to me.

They’ve all been seen at Huntington Beach. No wonder I often meet folks with binoculars, cameras, and bird books out on the causeway paths and boardwalks.

Mike’s Nature Center offers programs for visitors of all ages. From March to October each year that includes four “first come, first served” programs. Check the on-line schedule with a click here. And while you’re at it, click here for a PDF copy of the Park’s bird checklist. Most of them are free of charge!

Ranger Walker mentioned Huntington Beach’s involvement in Discover Carolina. This is a terrific state-wide program. And here’s a link to the Huntington Beach section. Those of you with fifth-grade children or grandchildren take special notice! School busses from at least 13 South Carolina counties regularly arrive here full of junior “discoverers.”


I then asked Ranger Mike Walker to describe the difference between natural and cultural resource management. Here’s his reply.

As you stand on the marsh boardwalk imagine wading around in the mud distributing shells for oyster bed restoration. Good heavens. And I thought dusting light house stairs was a tough job!

I sometimes hear from young people interested in becoming park rangers. Most of them have no idea how difficult the work would be, or how competitive the selection process has become.

At least in South Carolina. Here, Mike offers advice to career seekers, based on what he looks for when reviewing employment applications.

The key word seems to be “Volunteer.” Huntington Beach and most other South Carolina State Parks actively recruit and train volunteers. Folks interested might begin their search for volunteer opportunities on the website for the Park nearest to you. Here’s a link to the Huntington Beach Friends.

As usual, time passed by more quickly than I thought. Ranger Walker’s a natural teacher, and I learned a lot about his Park while sitting with him. Then near the end of our conversation he offered some thoughtful comments on the significance of our Parks to the lives of our children. Have a listen

All of us with children and grandchildren know exactly what he means.

Thanks again, Ranger Mike Walker, for your time and patience. A conversation with you will make my future visits to Huntington Beach State Park even more interesting.

Direct Links to Audio Files:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Interview with Hunting Island State Park Manager, Mr. Jeff Atkins

Click here for the Table of Contents for this series

[If your browser has difficulty playing the embedded sound files below, scroll to the bottom of the page for direct links to those files on LibSyn.]

Mr. Jeff Atkins, Hunting Island State Park’s manager, sat down for a recorded interview during my last visit to the Park.

Jeff is a park manager’s park manager. Born and raised in Pumpkintown, South Carolina, he began his career at Table Rock State Park while still in high school. As a Park Service maintenance worker at the age of fifteen!

With a Table Rock State Park “education” under his belt, it was no surprise that Jeff chose to major in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management when he arrived at Clemson. It was a surprise that he was awarded one of the very few Park System scholarships to study there. Undoubtedly based in part on the quality of his work at Table Rock.

Click below to hear Mr. Atkins tell his own story:

Our conversation then moved to Mr. Atkins’ career in the Park Service. Including his climb through the ranks, with service at Huntington Beach, Lake Greenwood, Lake Hartwell, and Edisto Beach before arriving at Hunting Island six years ago.

In the last two posts he served as park manager. Also note Mr. Atkins’ description of the career of a park ranger, and what it takes to join that select group in South Carolina.

Mr. Atkins then went on to describe Hunting Island State Park. With emphasis on its diversity, including a great public beach, salt marshes, and the thick maritime forests characteristic of a barrier island.

I didn’t realize the Park maintained nine miles of hiking trails here. And, of course, the lighthouse: the symbol of Hunting Island State Park for many visitors.

This Park’s Friends group, Friends of Hunting Island, Inc.,  has to be one of the largest and most active in the whole State Park System. Mr. Atkins describes it here, emphasizing the importance of the “Friends” to the operation of the Park. The group has grown from fairly modest beginnings to over 700 families.

This huge park is heavily dependent on the volunteer work of the Friends, as well as that of scout groups, civic organizations, and unaffiliated individuals. Quite a record of achievement.

By now, time was running out. Mr. Atkins had appointments lined up for the rest of the morning. But I had to ask about one final point: Park funding.

For years I’ve been hearing rumors that Hunting Island is one of the few Parks in the State Park system that takes in more in usage fees than it spends in operational costs. That, in fact, it manages each year to run a healthy surplus. I asked Mr. Atkins about that, and about the economic impact of state parks on their surrounding communities. Here’s his response:

Thanks again, Jeff Atkins, for your generous allocation of time for this interview, and for the information you’ve given us about South Carolina’s state parks and the folks responsible for their operation.