Friday, August 27, 2010

Oconee State Park, South Carolina. Part IV Interview with Park Manager Jo Anna White.

 Click here for the first post in this series.

front sign Another beautiful day here at Oconee State Park in the westernmost county of South Carolina. We’re over here in the mountains. With that clear air, pure water, and genuine mountain vegetation throughout the Park. It’s almost like OverHome!

flower 01 This morning Park Manager Jo Anna White agreed to an interview. So, around 9:30, over I drove to the Park Office. Good thing I left a little early. It’s impossible to walk or drive very far in this Park without seeing something that demands further investigation. Or just plain enjoyment.

mushroom This morning it was a combination of flowers and mushrooms. One beautiful; the other interesting. I can’t recall seeing so many different kinds of mushrooms in one area. White, brown, flat, round, small, and very large. Some showing evidence of animals nibbling away. So, the trip to the office took a good bit longer than expected. Well, I’m not the only one interested in mushrooms. Just came across this website: “Mushroom Mountain.” Click and have a look.

l white 01 Finally, just before 10, the appointed hour, I arrived huffing and puffing, carrying all sorts of recording and photo equipment. Must have been quite a sight! Mrs. White keeps a busy schedule. She was on both the phone and the computer, solving problems for the Park, when I arrived.

picnic shelter 01 I thought we’d do the interview in her office. A quiet environment, with no wind. But she insisted that we sit out at one of the nearby CCC-built picnic shelters. And she was right. It was the ideal environment for an interview about the Park. Just look at that stone and wood work. All created by the CCC crews from materials found nearby. Wormy chestnut and “rebel stone” quarried near Stump House Tunnel, just down the road. All beautifully preserved by generations of Park personnel. What a place to sit and chat about Oconee State Park!

j white 02 As usual we began with some personal details. Mrs. White, it turns out, was born and raised in Grover, North Carolina. Just across the South Carolina line. Like so many of her colleagues, she was an outdoors person from the beginning.ClickToListen As a kid, spending as much time in nature as she could. As you listen, note her reference the importance of nearby Kings Mountain State Park in South Carolina. And the adjoining national battlefield. [Click here for a link to the CarolinaConsidered articles on those Parks.] She did her undergraduate work at Wingate University in Monroe, North Carolina. Also near the South Carolina Border.

j white 03ClickToListenWe then moved on to Mrs White’s career with the South Carolina Park Service. Listen carefully as she describes how she finally landed a ranger position, and what she had to go through to achieve that objective. Hearing there were “ … no full-time positions available … “ didn’t discourage her. She accepted part-time status, learning a variety of jobs. Until a full-time position became available. 

Also note the importance of flexibility, the ability to adapt. Large parks; small parks. Inside jobs; outside jobs. Manicured parks; hurricane-devastated parks. Imagine reporting to work at Huntington Beach State Park just after Hurricane Hugo!  [Click here for a series of CarolinaConsidered programs on that beautiful Park.] Park rangering is no job for one-trick ponies, so to speak.

j white 04 It’s not often we get to interview a park manager who’s spent over a decade at her present park. Mrs. White has, however. First, over a decade as assistant superintendent, or assistant manager. Then, after a stint at Lake Hartwell, back here as manager. So we also get a sense of the difference in perspective between top and mid-level management.

ClickToListen She said that successful managers must concern themselves with past, present, and future. Not just this year and maybe the next. To leave a mark. To make a difference. And her description of Oconee State Park emphasizes the importance of tradition. From the CCC crews who carved the park out of the soil and rock, to the memories of long-time park visitors. Even to sponsorship of regular square dances. A tradition at Oconee since 1944. Listen to Mrs. White describe all of this. Very interesting.

j white 05 Looking back, it seems I’ve described every one of South Carolina’s State Parks as unique. But it’s true! The scenery here at Oconee is like nothing I’ve seen before. So I asked Park Manager White to expand on the physical description of the park. ClickToListen The “critters,” as she calls them, that we can expect to see. And the seasonal changes. The Park is open for camping year-round. With snow sometimes in the winter. But not much. Good thing, given the road up that hill! Come in the spring see the rhododendron, mountain laurel. And even Oconee Bell! A very rare plant. You’re unlikely to see a bear or a snake. But you may! Have a listen to Park Manager White’s description with a click on the button.

faucet I then asked Mrs. White about the water at this Park. I normally filter all water used in the Aliner for tea, drinking, or cooking. Not necessary here! Why?

She wasn’t surprised by the question. She confirmed that it comes from deep wells drilled here during the 1940s. And that it’s highly thought of throughout Oconee County. Be sure to have a taste when you visit. With water this pure, it’s a wonder there isn’t a distillery nearby ….

Oconee State Park is rightfully proud of their 20 cabins. As you can see in these photos, the CCC-built cabins have been well maintained.

cabin 01 Not only maintained, though. Considerable effort over the years has been invested to keep them looking as much as possible as they did when they were built.

The facilities have been updated, of course, with all imaginable modern conveniences. But the look remains – well … beautifully rustic.

cabin 02Each cabin is unique. Both in configuration and in construction. Though all of the walls I saw were chinked logs of wormy chestnut, cut nearby by the CCC crews.ClickToListen  Now, only one of the 20 cabins is painted inside. There’s an interesting story behind that. To hear it you’ll have to ask when you visit ….

trail 01 Of course, every State Park is proud of its trails. This trip again I wasn’t able to spend much time hiking them. But as Mrs. White explains, here at Oconee there’s a trail for nearly every level of physical condition and expertise. In other words, we ElderHikers haven’t been forgotten here at Oconee!

Oconee State Park is one of the few South Carolina State Parks that continues to provide its visitors with swimming opportunities during warmer months. With life guards and even a diving board.

lake 01 In fact, there are two lakes in this Park. Neither of them has been officially named. They’re just known as the swimming or cabin lake and the smaller fishing lake. Hmmm. I wonder if the Park System would be willing to name them in honor of a generous donor? Worth considering!

lake 02 The larger “swimming lake” was dug by the CCC around 1935. With only limited tools. In addition to swimming, it contains some very large catfish. As well as brim and bass. ClickToListen The smaller fishing lake came along later, and is chuck full of brim and bass. In addition, during the cooler winter months, the Park stocks the lakes with trout. An angler’s paradise!

j white 06 Thanks again to Oconee State Park Manager Jo Anna White for her time today. And for all of the information about this beautiful Park. Say hello to her when you next visit.

Click here to return to the CarolinaConsidered Project website.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Oconee State Park, South Carolina. Part III Interview with Leslie White, Director of the Oconee Heritage Center in Walhalla.

Click here for the first post in this series.

rock wall Another beautiful day here at Oconee State Park. Cool mountain air, with cotton ball clouds scattered across a Carolina blue sky. Up early this morning, fortunately. After a couple of hours writing, off to Walhalla, Oconee County’s county seat, to visit the Oconee Heritage Center.

ohc sign 01 Highways 107 and 28 snake down the mountain, past the Stump House Tunnel, with sudden long-distance views out across the mountains. On the way to reliable cell phone service, WiFi, and lunch in Walhalla.

The Oconee Heritage Center isn’t easy to find without a map. Well, even with a map! At least, it wasn’t for me. Follow the directions carefully, though, and you’ll arrive at this building. You’ll see the sign above the entrance. But that’s only once you’ve found the building.

ohc building outsideThe structure was built originally as a tobacco warehouse, I heard. Since then it has gone through several lives. Including even a period as an automobile dealership. It has a full basement, now used to store that part of the museum’s enormous collection that isn’t on display. Who would guess a building like this would house such an interesting collection of Oconee County artifacts!

l white 01 Center Director and Curator Leslie White kindly agreed to chat for a while about her organization. As you’ll learn during the interview, she’s busier than a one-armed paperhanger here. With what for me would be overwhelming responsibilities.

ClickToListen We began, as usual, with her personal background. Born and raised not only in South Carolina, but right here in Oconee County’s county seat, Walhalla, she’s ideally suited for the job.

l white 02

ClickToListen Well, that personal background and her undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism and public history have prepared her to tackle the job. Listen here as Ms. White describes the diversity of her responsibilities. Everything from washing bottles to non-profit fundraising. Not everyone would succeed here.

l white 03 Ms. White was far more eager to discuss the Center and its program than she was to talk about herself. So at this point we shifted in that direction. It all began in 1999. Hardly a spur-of-the-moment project. It was then public-minded Oconee citizens decided to create an institution that would focus on the culture and history of Oconee County.

ClickToListen But that’s more easily said than done. The road to – well, many places – is paved with good intentions. After refining their general concept, they needed a building. A large building! With lots of open space. A dilapidated 1892 tobacco warehouse, then owned by the County, had possibilities. It had been through several identity changes since the 1890s, even serving as an automobile dealership at one point.

ohc building 02 But the Center’s founders looked beyond the neglect and decay to see what we have today. Both the inside and outside were completely renovated, and brought up to the standards required of a public building.

l white 04 In addition to the museum collection [more on that later] the Oconee Heritage Center sponsors an impressive number of activities for the surrounding community. Everything from American Girls Club meetings, to old time music, to movie nights. Programs that appeal broadly to Oconee County residents young and old. Check the Center’s website for programs and times at

ClickToListen These programs are open to the public free of charge. But non-profit organizations can’t survive on community good will alone. Somebody has to pass the collection plate, so to speak. Raise funds. That responsibility falls on Ms. White and her board of directors. The annual fundraiser gala helps. As do individual donations and constant grant-writing. 

ClickToListen I then asked about the Heritage Center’s visitors. Ms. White said people come from all over. Even from other countries. But the majority of the visitors come from the Carolinas, South and North, Georgia, even Tennessee. And, of course, from Oconee County itself. The Center sponsors a number of programs for school children. South Carolina’s schools emphasize South Carolina history in the third and eighth grades. So that’s a natural fit. In addition, the Center has become a prized destination for the field trips of all grades. 

collection mezzanine The Oconee Heritage Center houses an enormous and diverse collection of Oconee-related material. Everything from period clothing to farm tools and horse collars. As you see above in just one small section of the mezzanine that encircles the whole main floor. If you are a serious museum visitor be prepared to spend several hours in this building. Thank heaven it’s well air conditioned!

dental chairs Ms. White told me that less than ten percent of the Center’s holdings can be displayed at any time. Can you imagine cataloging this collection? Even with computers!

ClickToListen The Center relies for its collection entirely on community donations. The things Oconee County residents bring in. No purchases. That’s unnecessary, given the strong community interest and involvement in the Center’s program. Listen here to Ms. White describe the collection and how it’s managed. 

canoes Here Ms. White describes two of the museum’s most impressive exhibits: wooden dugout canoes dating from the mid-18th century. The first was found submerged in the Chattooga River in 2002. By a kayaker, no less. Quite by accident.

Then in 2008, boys swimming in the Keowee River came upon a second carved wooden log that reminded them of the earlier Chattooga River find. Fortunately, the boys and their parents kept their find under water and notified authorities. Both canoes have been carefully preserved in tanks of water that you see here, and then, I believe, polyethylene glycol, by the Center staff and volunteers. Quite something to see.

l white 05 I then asked Ms. White about the Center’s plans for the future. She has a most ambitious agenda. Made me tired just listening! Everything from a general store museum in nearby Westminster that will house the collection from England’s General Store, to restoration of the 1870 Center Methodist Church in Oakway that will be used to interpret Oconee’s religious history.

ClickToListen Oh, and a newspaper museum housed in the nearby Keowee Courier Building. The weekly Keowee Courier has published continuously since 1849. Not a bad run! Listen to Ms. White’s description of these projects with a click on the button above. 

manly portable jailOh, when you visit the Oconee Heritage Center in Walhalla, be sure to take time before going in to look over the “Manly Portable Convict Cage” displayed outside. This portable jail was used to house up to eighteen prisoners during their days of work in the more remote areas of the County.

steam engine The portable jail shares space in the Center’s Heritage Park with an enormous steam engine, both accessible down a long walkway paved with memorial bricks honoring the Center’s donors. Another excellent fundraising activity.

memorial bricks This is an impressive agenda by any standard. Ambitious, but not unrealistic. An example for other non-profit enterprises to study and emulate.

ClickToListen In closing, I asked Ms. White about the relative lack of historical material on Oconee County. And on the other Upstate counties, for that matter. Her response was interesting. It’s encouraging to learn that the Oconee Heritage Center is determined to fill that gap. 

Thanks again to Ms. Leslie White, Director and Curator of the Oconee Heritage Center in Walhalla, South Carolina. What an impressive institution! I look forward to a return visit some time later in the year.

Click here for the next post in this series.

Click here to return to the CarolinaConsidered Project website

Monday, August 23, 2010

Oconee State Park, South Carolina. Part II The Park Entrance, Office, and Swimming Area

Click here for the first post in this series.

aliner alone Wow! It’s certainly easy to sleep in this mountain air. Last night outside temperature dropped to around 67 degrees, with very little wind and no hint of rain. So I opened the Aliner’s windows on both sides. As a result, I didn’t stir until around 7:30 a.m. Well after sunrise. With a late start, but feeling refreshed.

lake with ducks A family of ducks lives at the lake near this campsite. They regularly come up in formation to forage through the camping area. Can’t imagine they find very much to eat. But they’re not easily discouraged.

ducks in water Here they are out on the lake this morning, splashing into the water just as I walked down to the shore for a photo.

Oh, one other thing about the camping facilities here. The water right from the tap is excellent. I always filter drinking and cooking water while RV camping. All State Park RV campsite water systems are carefully monitored for sanitation, of course. But that doesn’t mean the water tastes very good. Usually filtration is required to improve the taste, for making good tea, or even for cooking.

water faucet The water here, though, right from the tap tastes like it came straight from a mountain spring! No heavy chlorine treatment smell.

Park personnel drove by as I was taking this photo. They confirmed the good reputation of the water here at Oconee State Park. It’s well water. The Park has three separate wells, they said, and the water comes up from deep in the ground. In fact, Park visitors often show up with empty jugs that they fill at one of the spigots. Don’t blame ‘em!

Out and around to see more of the Park this morning. It’s a beautiful day for it. Sunny, with white puffy clouds against a blue sky. And temperature still in the mid-to-high 70s. Can’t beat this mountain air, even though here it’s only 1,800 feet or so.

entrance 01 First, a drive out for a closer look at the Park entrance. It’s a classic example of CCC work.

entrance 02 Just look at that stone fence. It was built to last. From stone found in the area. Quite different from that we saw at Paris Mountain. Or even at Table Rock, just down the road a ways.

Here’s a short video of the Park entrance:

directions sign What’s next? Lots to choose from here. Let’s begin with a closer look at the Park Office. Before we leave this sign, though, did you notice the “Carpet Golf” notation? That must be the upscale term for Put Put golf. Oconee is the last Park in the South Carolina system to maintain a put put golf course. I’ll try to get a photo when we check on things for younger campers to do.

office front Here’s the Park Office viewed from the front, through surrounding trees, as it should be to get the feel of the place. Buildings in this Park don’t “stand out.” They aren’t dramatic architectural statements astride the landscape.

office tree 01 Rather, the CCC made every effort to have the just the opposite effect. They built structures throughout the Park that blend into the environment. The natural environment is the star here, not the manmade later additions.

office tree 02 Many of these trees are old. Like the one you see above. But Park personnel over the years have taken good care of them. Thinning and pruning where necessary to maintain their attractive shapes and to prolong their lives. I’m reminded of trees on the Horseshoe of the USC campus.

office rear Here’s a view of the area in the rear of the Park Office. Really, the front of the building, that faces the swimming lake. Can you see that statue to the left of the flag pole?

statue 01 Here’s a closer view. The statue was dedicated in 2001 to commemorate the work of the CCC crews who built this park, and their three million colleagues around the country. It’s an impressive piece of work.

statue 02 The axe this fellow carries makes an eloquent statement. As we look at these CCC-built structures we should remember that they were created with only rudimentary tools. Very limited mechanization. The sculptor captures that point nicely with this axe, I think.

retail 01 Before you leave the Park Office be sure to look carefully through the retail area. It may save you a longer trip out of the park to the store. They have everything here from soup to nuts. Literally!

retail 02 Not only the usual t-shirts, caps and commemorative cups. But also camping essentials, and a wide range of grocery items. It looks as though someone has given thought to what Park visitors are likely to need. And the prices are reasonable. So, have a look as you check in. Here’s a short video taken in the retail area. With a surprise display at the end.

stone steps While you’re here, take a moment to walk down these stone steps toward the lake. It’s worth your time even if you have no interest in swimming or boating during this visit.

historical marker Just down from the steps is a surprise. A recently erected historical marker commemorating the 1777 relocation of the Cherokee Boundary. A fundamentally important event in the settlement of Northern Europeans in this area. Click on the photo above to read the inscription. You’ll have to visit Oconee State Park, though, to see the rest of the message on the back!

bath house front Next down to have a look at Oconee State Park’s bath house. This too is a CCC-built facility that has been well maintained. It no longer provides his and her changing facilities and a nice tea room. But it shows evidence of lots of upkeep.

bath house stone wall Here’s a closer look at one of the bath house’s stone walls. Very different from the stone work we saw at Paris Mountain, or even at nearby Table Rock. The CCC crews used building materials they found nearby. The stones in this wall tell that story. Click on the photo for a larger view.

bath house spillway Here’s an unusual feature of Oconee State Park’s CCC-built bath house. Incorporation of the lake’s spillway into the bath house itself. With water deep enough to bring boats up under the overhanging roof. And look at that old cherry tree at the right of the photo above. A relic from the era when the Home Place stood on this spot.

swim area Here’s a view of the swimming area from the porch of the bath house. The brownish cast you see in the water is not the water itself but the brown bottom showing up through the clear water. Also notice the life guard chairs and the high diving board. One of the very few left in the Park system. No wonder this area attracts so many visitors to the Park.

Here’s a short video of the area around the bath house.

Well, much more to see here, but this is all we have time for now. Stay tuned, though. Next post we’ll visit the Oconee Heritage Center in Walhalla. Center Director Leslie White will tell us about the Center’s diverse programs and the museum’s collection.

Click here for the next post in this series.

Click here to return to the CarolinaConsidered Project website.