This was our second month of volunteering with Wakulla Springs State Park, just south of Tallahassee, Florida. Our first project, which took up most of February, was rebuilding the benches from the jungle boat Limpkin, replacing the wood with wood composite. In February we rebuilt fourteen of the fifteen benches. #15 had to have its legs re-welded so when it returned from the welder mid-March, we re-did this one too. We seemed to have problems with it from the get-go – it would have been discouraging had this been the first bench. Alas, the Limpkin hadn’t made it back from the paint shop before we left so we’ll get to sit on our rebuilt benches next time we are in the area.
Our second major project was building split-rail type fencing. Some of it replaced an older style around the handicap parking area but most of it was a new install, helping to control traffic. Larry got a quick course on using the Ford tractor with the auger and off we went, again just the two of us. The first step was cutting the posts down to size, then drilling the holes in the ground, at times fighting tree roots, old pavement and rocks, then adding the boards to the posts. Brian, the park manager, wanted to have this fencing done before the annual wildlife festival, the third weekend in March this year. We got ‘er done, even working in the rain one day.
Some of the other projects we tackled, or helped with: cleaning up the picnic pavilion areas, including tightening bolts on all the tables; repairing or replacing some of the damaged trash containers; cleaning the back entrance and steps to the Magnolia Pavilion; helping rangers Bob and Allan install signage on the park’s new trail; and helping with parking the day of the festival.
We had an ulterior motive when we volunteered to help Bob and Allan with trail signs. They needed the tractor and auger we were using so we thought if we helped, we’d get the trail work done quicker and get the tractor back. What we hadn’t counted on was how much we’d enjoy seeing parts of the park others don’t typically see, including Palmetto Springs, a natural spring off the beaten path surrounded by palmetto plants.
Parking assistance during the Wildlife Festival was an all-day job and kept us hopping. We helped park over 2,300 festival attendees – the beautiful spring weather brought people out in droves.
Our favorite perk for working at Wakulla Springs was being able to take the jungle boat rides for free, space available, as often as we wanted, with our guests included. During the course of our two month stay there, we got in seventeen boat rides – each one different, thanks to Mother Nature’s never-ending display of wildlife on the river and the captains. Luke and Don are the latest in several generations of Smiths and Gavins that have piloted the jungle boats – their tours were entertaining as well as educational. Bob, known for his excellent photographs, would get just as excited to spot the wildlife as the passengers were, positioning the boat for the best photo opportunity; Jeff gets his passengers pumped up with his Reptile Song – each captain (rangers or specially-trained volunteers) had their own style – they were all enjoyable.
You never know what you’ll find when you take a boat ride. Besides the ever-present alligators, there were Suwanee cooters (turtles), several species of wading birds, diving birds and ducks, snakes, ospreys and eagles, oh my. One particularly gruesome looking critter spotted on land was an alligator snapping turtle with only a face a mother could love. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a clear shot of him because of the shrubs and vegetation surrounding him.
And let’s not forget the manatees, which just started wintering there three years ago. They had a count of thirty-two early January but by the end of March, there were less than a dozen left. The others had migrated elsewhere but they should be back. This was a particularly bad winter for the manatees because of the extreme cold – several hundred died in Florida because they couldn’t get to warmer waters fast enough, or the warmer waters weren’t warmer this year. Their only predator is man with our motorized boats. These beautiful slow-moving mammals are often cut by boat propellers. (Wakulla Springs installed prop guards this year but they still slowed down or stopped when manatees were spotted close to the boat.) One of our captains told us how protective they are with their young, even sitting on a diver who got too close to its young ‘un.
Spring is an ideal time to work and/or visit Wakulla Springs, with the ubiquitous pine pollen the exception. Several of the birds sported beautiful mating plumage or markings. Both male and female anhingas develop a beautiful blue ring around their eyes – Maybelline would be jealous of the color’s intensity! The ospreys were building nests, as was a white egret pair, and three pairs of yellow-crowned night herons. Wood ducks are permanent residents there and we spotted two mothers with their ducklings close behind. Did you know that the wood duck lays one egg a day for twenty days because there is such a high mortality rate among the ducklings? Of the two mothers we saw, one had five little ones and the other two. Check out our slide show on all the feathered critters we saw, just at Wakulla Springs.
Spring was also mating season for the alligators. We were treated to a concert of bellowing one morning when we returned some materials to the warehouse located on the river. The bellowing carries for quite a distance, for which we were thankful as we tiptoed around the area making sure we wouldn’t encounter any huge lizards.
Friends came to visit us while we were there. Ron, whom we’d met at Jekyll Island several years ago, came by one afternoon to enjoy a boat ride. A few days later, we drove down to Carrabelle where he was staying to enjoy another meal at The Fisherman’s Wife – yum.
Jim and Linda also came by, on their way to working with Habitat in Brunswick. We met them at the Big Pine Key Habitat affiliate a few years ago and recently saw them at Christmas when they joined us at Camp Carr on their way down south. We got in a couple of boat rides together while they were there. One morning, the four of us were coming up with ideas of what to do on a cool, rainy day when we got a distress call from Art and Suzan, who were parked nearby at a county park. High winds and heavy rain had suddenly come up and destroyed their awning but they needed some extra hands to help them take it down, so the four of us went down there to help. Afterwards we all went out to lunch at Forgotten Coast Seafood Shack in Crawfordville, another reasonably priced restaurant. The following evening, the six of us enjoyed watching Up in the Air, one of the free first-run movies put on by the Crawfordville Library bi-monthly on Friday evenings.