Friday, July 30, 2010

Croft State Natural Area, South Carolina. Part V Interview with Park Manager John Moon.

Click here for the first post in this series.

moon 09 Up early again, and over to the Park Office for an interview with Park Manager John Moon. Lots going on at the Park this morning. But Mr. Moon has made time to chat with CarolinaConsidered for a while.

moon03 Once settled in at Mr. Moon’s desk, we began as usual with a question about his early life and outdoor experiences.

First, though, a word about that desk. It’s placed right inside the main door into the Park Office. Not toward the back, or closed off. So, when in the office, Mr. Moon sees every person who comes in. I mention this because it illustrates as well as anything Mr. Moon’s orientation to the Park visiting public. Nice to see!

ClickToListen Mr. Moon was born and raised not far from where we now live in South Carolina. He has fond memories of visiting Lake Wateree State Park as a boy. Certainly one of the nicest Parks in the System. And the first at which I camped overnight, many years ago. Once again, we see how important those childhood experiences are in developing a love of the outdoors.

moon 08 We then turned to Mr. Moon’s career in the Park Service. He was fortunate to begin Park service at Poinsett State Park. As an intern in the interpretive program, working under Ms. Terry Hurley, who now heads the Education and Interpretation program for the whole Park Service.

A two-month summer internship there stretched into eight months during which Mr. Moon gained experience working as a maintenance man and assistant ranger.

His experience at Poinsett illustrates both how difficult it is to join the Park Service as a Ranger, and also the opportunities available to the highly motivated individual. After working at Poinsett for eight months in a temporary capacity that allowed him to experience all aspects of Park service, Mr. Moon was in a good position to be hired there in 1999 as a Ranger One, once a position became available. It takes hard work and persistence to get to wear the hat and badge.

ClickToListen From Poinsett, Mr. Moon went to Barnwell State Park and Santee State Park for a few years. And then on to Lake Warren State Park in Hampton County as Park Manager.

ClickToListen After a decade of service in the Sandhills Region, Mr. Moon arrived here at Croft State Natural Area in 2007. Quite a change from South Carolina’s Sandhills area. I asked Mr. Moon how management of a Sandhills Area Park differs from management of an Upstate Park. Click to listen to his reply.

moon 04Mr. Moon then gave us his “boilerplate” description of Croft State Natural Area. Like Park Manager Jason Hege at Paris Mountain, Mr. Moon first mentioned his Park’s proximity to an urban area. An enormous protected green space only five miles from downtown Spartanburg. Before visiting Croft I didn’t realize just how close to Spartanburg it was. An interesting point that offers considerable potential for development.

ClickToListen Mr. Moon then turned to Croft’s historical significance. As a World War Two infantry training camp. Leading locals still today to call the area “Camp Croft,” rather than Croft State Natural Area or Croft State Park. And the many small farms the area supported since Revolutionary War days. Evidence of which remains in the nine known cemeteries within the Park, and the stone foundations of farm houses and buildings here and there. Even before that, American Indians lived in the area, maintaining an important soapstone quarry here.

stalls Croft State Natural Area maintains a strong equestrian program. Horse owners are welcome here. As are their mounts. ClickToListen Both day and overnight visitors. Park Manager Moon here describes those resources, including the show ring and 50-some horse stalls for overnight accommodation. And the horse-related events held here, many sponsored in cooperation with the Spartanburg Horseman’s Association.

moon 01 But you certainly don’t need to bring a horse to have a good time at Croft State Natural Area. The picnic shelters and areas throughout the Park are beautifully designed and see heavy use year-round. ClickToListen Picnic Shelter Number One is home to two beautiful oak trees, as well as all of the facilities necessary for a large group to have a good time in the outdoors setting of the Park.

ClickToListen Mr. Moon then described Croft’s two-loop RV campground and its facilities. He noted the importance of the Reserve America reservations system for the campground, as well as the picnic shelters. He’s right. I use it regularly! He also noted the contributions of the three Camp Hosts. I forgot to mention in earlier posts, by the way, that the Lake Loop of the Campground offers 50-amp electricity.

ClickToListen Conversation then shifted to the appearance of the trees and shrubs all around Croft State Natural Area. Including those beautiful twin oaks as Picnic Shelter One. Park Manager Moon gave much of the credit to Senior Ranger Woody Goodwin. As well as contributions from Regional Maintenance Manager, Brody Davis. “Woody” is a real tree man! This aspect of Croft alone makes a visit worthwhile in my view.

ClickToListen No discussion of outdoor activities opportunities at Croft State Natural Area would be complete without mention of the Palmetto Trail. I asked Mr. Moon to describe that section of the Trail that runs through his Park. Listen to his description and you’ll be inspired to walk at least some of it. Something I look forward to once the weather cools down a bit.

ClickToListen By now I had well over-stayed my visit. Park Manager Moon had work to do, and people lined up outside to talk with him. But in closing I had to hear what he had to say about the Park’s Lake Tom Moore Craig. Mr. Moon is an avid fisherman. Perhaps “avid” is too tame a description. He’s forgotten more about bass fishing in the last week than I’ll ever know. So you can place confidence in his assessment of this beautiful lake. Have a listen.

moon 02 Thanks again for your generous contribution of time and expertise to the CarolinaConsidered Project, Mr. John Moon. It has been a pleasure to hear you describe the Park you think so much of. I’m sure to return in the not too distant future.

ClickToListen Click here to listen to the full interview without interruption.

Click here to return to the CarolinaConsidered Project website.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Croft State Natural Area, South Carolina. Part III Having a Look Around

Click here for the first post in this series.

Croft State Natural Area is a huge place. Over 7,000 acres. The third-largest Park in the System, if memory serves. With mile after mile of hiking and mountain biking trails. Plus 20 miles of horse trails. All through beautiful rolling countryside that reminds me of the woods OverHome. How I remember those woods, anyway. People have lived here for a very long time.

canoes at lakeDuring this visit, the combination of high temperatures and high humidity, plus a few vigorous thunderstorms in the afternoons, kept me pretty much off the trails. Spending more time in the Aliner parked on Site # 31 of the Lakeside loop of the RV campground. Thank heaven for air conditioning! The little 5,000 btu unit keeps the Aliner in the mid-70s even when the outside temperature rises about 100.

Speaking of Croft’s RV campsites, here’s a short video that features three nice pull-through campsites: 28, 30, and 49. All recently renovated.

I did get to drive and walk around a bit, and did get in a couple of early-morning paddles on Lake Craig. More on that in a later post.

tree Last post I mentioned the trees and shrubbery at the Park entrance, and that remarkable oak at Picnic Shelter Number One. Well, this care and attention to trees and shrubbery extends throughout the areas of the Park open to the public. Woody and his crew do a remarkable job here. It’s a delight just to drive or walk around.

palmetto trail map Croft SNA provides an excellent opportunity to get to know the Palmetto Conservation Foundation’s Palmetto Trail. This ambitious project, when completed, will span South Carolina with around 425 miles of hiking and biking trails. Click on the map above for more detail. What a project! The Palmetto Trail would make a good article for CarolinaConsidered.

palmetto trailAbout 300 miles of of this cross-state Trail have been completed and opened to the public, according to the Conservation Foundation’s website.

Croft Palmetto Trail That includes around twelve miles of trail through Croft rated as moderately difficult. I’ve got to come back to walk this trail. What a nice way to enjoy the woods and these gently rolling hills. Here and there along the trail there will be evidence of earlier habitation. Foundations of farmhouses; outlines of now-abandoned fields; and so on. Can’t wait.

I mentioned a post or so ago that Croft State Natural Area is horse-friendly. Now, I’m not a horse person. But this Park seems to me ideal for those who like to travel with their mounts. Here’s a quick video look at some of those facilities.

barnett cemetery There’s plenty to see at Croft State Natural Area right from the window of one’s car, van, or truck. A feature that visitors with limited mobility will appreciate. Take, for example, the Barnett Family Cemetery. It’s just off the road on the right-hand side, about a mile in from the gate.

barnett cemetery Now, this is a genuine family cemetery, so be respectful. Further, it’s a very old cemetery. That includes the graves of Revolutionary War veterans and their wives. Old enough for the engraving on most headstones to be difficult-to-impossible to read. Indeed, as you’ll see in the short video, family descendents have replaced a couple headstones.

Click here for a webpage with more information about this important cemetery.

Croft State Natural Area has plenty more to see. But that’s all we have time for now. Stay tuned. Coming up a report on Lake Tom Moore Craig as the ideal ElderKayaker body of water.

Click here for the next post in this series.

Click here to return to the CarolinaConsidered Project website.

Croft State Natural Area, South Carolina. Part IV An Early-Morning Kayak Paddle on Lake Craig

Click here for the first post in this series.

from ramp Up early this morning, dressed for kayaking, and off to the boat ramp Croft State Natural Area maintains on Lake Tom Moore Craig. The Advanced Elements Expedition Inflatable/Foldable kayak has proven ideal for this sort of kayaking. It fits nicely into the back seat of the car [also known as the “tow vehicle”]. And is easy to assemble and disassemble. Most anyone could manage it.

Here’s some video taken from the kayak with the little Canon camera.

This is the nicest ElderKayaking water I’ve found so far. No whitewater excitement here. But then, I’ve had enough excitement over the years to last me through this life, and well into the next. Interesting now beats exciting all hollow! So predictable flat water is just fine for kayaking at this stage of life.

Of course, it helps if there’s something interesting to see along the way. And Lake Craig offers that in abundance. With its irregular shoreline, deer, birds, fish, and other wildlife. Especially up toward the northwest branch of the lake. In the direction of Kelsey Creek.

As you could see in the video, submerged stumps and logs become more of a challenge the closer one gets to Kelsey Creek. None of them I’ve seen or encountered have been dangerous or sharp, however. And, it’s nice to be able to see the bottom of the lake when the water is only two or three feet deep. Lots of wildlife there too.

The hull of this Expedition inflatable is made of tough stuff that gives when bumped, and doesn’t normally scratch. So no problem. Oyster beds are an exception to that! As I learned while kayaking at Edisto Beach State Park on the coast. None of those here, fortunately.

Well, time to head back. It’s going to be hot as the dickens soon, and I have other things to do.

Lake Craig will offer an even nicer paddling experience during the cooler months when I return to walk the trails and give this remarkable lake more attention.

Coming up is a delightful interview with Park Manager John Moon. So, don’t touch that dial, as they used to say on the radio.

Click here for the next post in this series.

Click here to return to the CarolinaConsidered Project website.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Paris Mountain State Park, South Carolina. Part VIII Interview with Park Manager, Jason Hege

Click here for the first post in this series.

hege 04 Still here at Croft State Natural Area and having a great time. But today, I’m due at Paris Mountain State Park again. This time to interview Park Manager, Jason Hege. He was traveling during my visit there week before last, but kindly agreed to sit down for an interview today if I’d drive over.

Driving along the highways and secondary roads between Croft State Natural Area near Spartanburg and Paris Mountain State Park near Greenville, I’m struck once again with the diversity and variety of South Carolina’s natural and social environments. This Upstate area is quite a different world from the Sandhills of the Midlands, or from the Lowcountry. No wonder State politics still reflects those regional divisions!

I wish I had the background necessary to write insightfully about those differences. An excellent source for that, and more, about South Carolina from early on until now, is Walter Edgar’s 700-page definitive work: South Carolina: A History. Published by USC Press in 1998, it’s widely available. I’ll try to remember to put a link in here for an internet source. [It's here!] Don’t be put off by the size of the book. It’s a joy to read. I carry a copy regularly in the Aliner. For reference, of course, but mainly for relaxation reading.

Paris Mountain really is a showcase park. You only need to drive from the main gate to the Park Office to recognize that. Now, showcase parks are manufactured products, not natural phenomena. They don’t just “happen,” in other words. Individuals, and groups of individuals, are responsible for their creation and maintenance. So I was especially anxious to hear what Mr. Hege had to say about his Park.

The Park Office didn’t open until 11:00 a.m., so I had a few minutes before our 10:00 a.m. appointment to look around again before Mr. Hege came out from the Office. You really do have to see this renovated stacked stone building.

hege 03 When I asked if we could record the interview in Mr. Hege’s Park office, he looked somewhat reluctant, and said he really doesn’t spend much of his time in there. Understandable. He’s not that kind of manager!

When you think about it, that makes sense. Park management is a very hands-on sort of business. So, it’s better for the manager to be out and around the Park than sitting at a desk, I guess. But that also means the Park Manager has to get up early, or stay late, to complete his or her essential administrative chores.

hege 02 We did go in the office. And I took a couple of photos, including the first two you see above. But there really wasn’t room for both of us to sit comfortably. So we repaired to Ranger Cathy’s classroom for the interview.

ClickToListen As usual, we began with details of Mr. Hege’s early personal life. As the son of a long-serving South Carolina Highway Patrolman, Jason lived in several South Carolina towns. Never far from the State’s natural environment.

ClickToListen Mr. Hege then described his experience at Clemson University. Where he majored in wildlife/fisheries biology, with a minor in forestry. Not parks, recreation, and tourism. That background gave Jason both advantages and disadvantages when beginning his career as a Park Ranger. He tells us here that his biology background gave him a “fresh set of eyes” to look at Park management.

hege 07 From there we turned to Mr. Hege’s career in the South Carolina Park Service. ClickToListen I don’t believe that was his original objective. But Jason had the opportunity to meet and talk with Park Manager Joe Anderson at Caesar’s Head. A conversation that Jason believes changed the direction of his career. Once again we hear about a senior Park Service employee identifying talent and recruiting that talent to the Service.

Based on that conversation, Mr. Hege applied for entry-level Ranger One positions at both KIng’s Mountain and at Paris Mountain. Kings Mountain got him due to the seniority and persuasiveness of Kings Mountain Park Manager, Frank Couch. And there Jason spent his first nine years, earning two promotions, and learning the business, so to speak.

hege 08 The sacrifices made by South Carolina’s Park Rangers are not only monetary. They also are expected to be willing to move their homes and families when called. After nine years, two promotions, and the birth of three children at Kings Mountain, Jason and his family moved four times in the next two years. Imagine that! Finally arriving here at Paris Mountain State Park just three years ago today!

ClickToListen I then asked Mr. Hege to describe the advantages of a career as a South Carolina Park Ranger. He had a lot to say. Diversity of responsibilities; the opportunity to work out-of-doors; living in the Park environment; and so on.

Listen carefully to his list of advantages. Not everyone would agree with his evaluation, I suspect. Which must be an important reason the Park Service is so choosy when they recruit rangers. The career doesn’t suit everyone.

hege 05 After the advantages I asked Mr. Hege to describe the disadvantages of the job. There he didn’t do quite as well. Mr. Hege’s a Company Man. We’ll have to go to other sources to learn about the disadvantages, I guess. One thing we can say with certainty is that the Park Service requires a very special sort of person. Not just everyone could do it. And among those who could, an even smaller percentage would enjoy what they do.

ClickToListen Park Managers are asked to briefly describe their Parks over and over, to various audiences. I’ve found the question elicits interesting descriptions of the various Parks. Mr. Hege was no exception. His emphasis throughout the description was on the relationship of the natural resource to people. The people of Greenville and the surrounding area.

Listen carefully to that too. I could understand how a conscientious park ranger might become quite defensive about his or her Park. Emphasizing the negative effects of public visitor-ship on the Park, rather than the positive effects of that visitation on the visitors. Sort of like old-fashioned librarians responsible for rare books collections.

hege 09 None of that here. And what a difference it makes to the Park visitor’s experience. Beginning with check-in. It makes the difference between feeling like you’re being processed into a medium-security correctional institution, or beginning a positive experience.

ClickToListen Time was running short by now. So in closing I asked Mr. Hege about Paris Mountain’s comprehensive interpretive program. He described it as one of the largest in the State, praising the work of Interpretive Ranger Cathy Taylor in the process. Like Ranger Cathy, Jason emphasized the hands-on education the program provides. And the multiplier effect of that program on community awareness of the Park.

hege 01 I also asked about Paris Mountain’s friends group. Jason said the group maintains active contact with over 600 members! Incredible. Every Park is different, of course. Different resources; different problems. But I believe Paris Mountain’s Friends group is worth careful study. Some of their strategies and activities should be more broadly applicable.

By then we were completely out of time. Mr. Hege was gracious and polite. But I knew he had several people outside waiting to consult him.

Thanks again, Jason Hege, for your generous allocation of time and expertise today. I hope to watch the development of your career in the South Carolina Park Service for some time to come.

Click here to listen to the full interview without interruption.

Click here to return to the CarolinaConsidered Project website.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Croft State Natural Area, South Carolina. Part II. Arrival and a Look Around.

Click here for the first post in this series.

croft enter 01 The drive to Croft State Natural Area near Spartanburg from Columbia was all I’d hoped for. Especially Route 56. Which intersects Interstate I-26 just south of the now-closed entrance to 385 toward Greenville.

Like most of South Carolina’s secondary roads, Route 56 offers the alert traveler diverse natural and social scenery. Here and there forests of carefully planted pines extend right to the edge of the road. Their regularity betraying the owners’ commercial aspirations. Then rolling pastures replace pine forests. Often with herds of grazing cattle. Though I didn’t see any cattle today.

Route 56 passes by the entrance to Musgrove State Historic Site, and then past a historical marker for the Battle of Musgrove. I’ll have to come back for a visit. It looks interesting. There’s no RV camping at Musgrove. But it’s close enough to Columbia for a day trip.

This part of South Carolina is more hilly than the Sandhills Area. Which offers the traveler more diverse, and to me more interesting, scenery at nearly every turn. At one point looking west I could see for miles and miles, over the tops of those rolling hills. But that grand view was choked suddenly by an overgrown kudzu thicket near the edge of the road, followed by a small manufactured home park.

croft enter 02 The weather again today was hot! Nearly 100 degrees by the time I arrived at Croft State Natural Area. Thank heaven for the car’s air conditioning. And for that in the Aliner! It’s hard to imagine coping with this heat without it.

croft enter 03 The Park entrance, off Dairy Ridge Road, is well planned, and kept neat as a pin. That’s a good sign, in my experience. Be sure to look closely at the row of crepe myrtles that extends from the road to the gate. Somebody here has a love of shrubs and trees. This sort of scenery doesn’t just happen!

great tree 01 Speaking of trees, be sure to stop to pay your respects to this grand old party on the way in. It’s about three miles from the gate to the Park Office. This tree stands within a large picnic shelter complex on the left about two-thirds of the way there. You can’t miss it.

great tree 02 Here’s the same tree taken from the back. Notice how much care has been taken to preserve its root structure. And imagine the generations of pruning and attention involved! Something we can enjoy today.

This tree probably isn’t the largest or oldest in the Park. But that’s not the point! As with human beings, size and age aren’t the only determinants of beauty. [That inspired by the recent comment of a regular reader who compared our South Carolina trees unfavorably with the redwoods of his native California. Oh my.]

no digging sign There’s lots to see right along this three-mile road. Including the sign above warning visitors about the possibility of coming across unexploded munitions from the Park’s military facilities days. But let’s drive straight to the Park Office to check in.

office 01 Here it is. A relatively small building, with carefully maintained grounds.

office 02 A building that fits nicely into the overall atmosphere of the Park. Check-in was a delight. No “medium-security correctional institution” atmosphere here! Quite the opposite.

Check-in administrative details were handled by a very efficient Volunteer Host at the Park. I even got to meet Park Manager, John Moon, in the process. Mr. Moon agreed to do an interview about this Park on Thursday. Based on our conversation at check-in, the interview should be another crackerjack!

campsite 01 Here’s Campsite # 31, on the Lake side of the two-loop campground. The Aliner required some leveling, but the surface was solid and clean. Easy to maneuver the camper. Even for me.

Speaking of campsites, a number of them here have a grade that may discourage folks with travel trailers. However, several here are flat and ideal. I’ll try to remember to go around and make a list before leaving.

lake 01 That’s all the time we have tonight. But I had to make a quick run down to the boat ramp area of Lake Craig here. This is no pond! It’s a real lake, much larger than I expected. I look forward to some ElderKayaking tomorrow morning before it gets too hot.

More to come on this beautiful Park. So stay tuned!

Click here for the next post in this series.

Click here to return to the CarolinaConsidered Project website.