St Sebastian River Preserve State Park

EagleCampOct2015St Sebastian River Preserve State Park has been a fairly great experience for us these last two and a half months. The staff has been great to work with, helpful to the volunteers and each other, and always willing to teach us volunteers anything that needs doing within the park system. The Volunteer Coordinator, Heidi, is an extremely nice lady who just wants her volunteers to have a good time while working in the park. She has tried her best to accommodate everyone’s schedule and preferences while coordinating all the projects that the park needs to get done within the month. And as a good volunteer coordinator she makes sure that all of us have been properly trained in all the duties assigned as well as any equipment that needs to be utilized in getting those jobs done. We would not have any problem coming back here again for another assignment. If you are looking for a quiet place to spend a couple of months in south Florida, especially during the late spring to early fall, we hope you will contact the park for a live on-site volunteer position!

We have had to extend our stay here for a couple of weeks, due to a couple of unexpected expenses, and the park’s manager, Dylan, was extremely nice in letting us stay. Granted, they do have a big event in the middle of the month and only have two other volunteers at this point, one of which just arrived this week and the other is on a weeks vacation cruising around Mexico with his spouse of 44 years. So, it really did work out for the best. This means that we will not get our month long vacation as we had hoped to visit more state parks in this area to write reviews, take pictures and just enjoy. But we will get to stay in two new state parks on our way to Anastasia State Park. Their new volunteer coordinator and the Park Manager has agreed to allow us to come in a week early. It really helps us out in that we will be near our family for Thanksgiving and, in return, we agreed to help them out during the busy holiday weekend. It seems that every single Florida State Park, with the exception of a few in the far Northwest Region, is booked through the Thanksgiving holidays! I tell you, you really need to make your reservations online at least a couple months in advance if you want to be able to stay at a state park during a holiday weekend.

Getting back to our experiences here. We have driven over quite a few of the trails within the 22,000 acres using the John Deer Gator that the park provides for us and the Expedition SUV. So long as we are picking up trash, moving dropped limbs off the trails and speaking to the visitors as we come across them it’s all considered part of our volunteer work hours. I like the zero turn mower so I have been mowing the grassy areas around the Visitor’s Center, the Park Office area, the Volunteer Village and the Horsemen’s Camp area here on the north side of the park. Katie was assigned the project of painting an old army trailer that they are now using to pull behind a tractor and take people on tours around the park. She will help me out with the weed wacker from time to time. Mom and I split up working in the Visitor’s Center on the weekends. That is a pretty sweet deal as we sit in the air conditioned office reading a book or me working on my computer most of the time. We greet visitors when they come in, ask them to sign our visitor’s log and point out the various points of interest within the park. We also answer the phone whenever it rings, which really isn’t all that often. While we are there we will dust the display cases and clean the windows and glass doors. About once a week, when the center is closed, we will clean the bathrooms, empty the trash and vacuum the carpets. The hardest part of that job is trying to keep all the spider nests off the screens and windows. We have had to clean the park office building as well for the month of October because the assigned live on-site volunteer had to go up north to be with an ill family member.

We did get a special request from the manager that we drive over to the south side area to clean up Eagle Camp. That is the only primitive camping area located within the southwest quadrant of the park on the Red Trail. Normally, the live on-site volunteer living on that side takes care of their public areas. However, much of the Red Trail area has been underwater for a while now. Finally, the last week of October it dried up enough over there that we could get the 4-wheel drive Expedition into the camp area with the lawn mower on the trailer. That area still needs more mowing before the winter visitors start to come in but that will be someone else’s chore. We heard that the ‘powers that be’ are thinking about closing off that quadrant all together. That is too bad as I still haven’t been all the way around it yet and would have liked to have seen the rest before we leave. Oh well, we will have to see what the future brings.

When it rains there really isn’t much to do unless you are working in the Visitor’s Center. There is a lot of down time if you need to go into town or want to visit some of the area’s other attractions. Which is really pretty nice for a change. All you really need to do is your assigned duties, get your projects done and the rest of the time is yours to do with as you like. Depending on the number of volunteers in the village you will be assigned a week where you open and close the north side’s park gate. In the morning you just open the gate by 8:00 am and unlock the bathroom doors on the porch of the Visitor’s Center. In the evening (30 minutes before sunset) you have to drive the 5 miles down to the spillway with a stop at the retention pond next the expressway and Horseman’s Camp area to chase any remaining visitors out of the park. Along the way we pick up trash along the road while avoiding the deer dodging between the woods and the hills next to the canal. Once you reach the spillway area you check the port-a-potty (replace the toilet paper when low), pick up trash, make sure the gate is locked leading over to the spillway, and replace the trash bag if it is full. Then you have to drive back to the main gate, lock it and the bathrooms and return to the Volunteer Village for the night.

We have assigned days for washing and dumping our black water tanks here in the Volunteer Village. It seems that the water pump for this area is not made for heavy use and the sewer/drain field is in a low lying area. So, we have to stagger our usage or tell each of the other volunteers if we need to wash more or dump again during the week. Case-in-point: One of the park rangers/volunteers got one of big tractors stuck in some muck on one of the trails. They tried for two days to get it out but finally had to request the Forest Service to bring over one of their bigger tractors to pull it out. Of course, they pulled it over to our area to clean it up the next day. It took two volunteers about 5 hours with the pressure washer to get all of the mud off it and untangle the cable they had to use. Sadly, I was in the middle of a shower when the water level dropped to a trickle and had to wait another three hours before the water reservoir tank was filled up enough to try it again. We have the use of a double-sided refrigerator/freezer that needs to be sprayed with a bleach solution to keep the mold down. It really could use a good sanding and painting. (Another project for others). The Volunteer Coordinator is still working on getting us an outdoor shower with a larger hot water tank. It would really be nice to be able to get all the shampoo out of my hair. Someone else will have to work on that project as the Volunteer Coordinator is going on maternity leave until the first week of January so it will probably fall by the way-side.

more next week….

Some Pictures from around SSRPSP in October

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