Sunday, January 22, 2012

Good-byes and Good Friends

Over the past 10 days, our group of 12 managed to accomplish truly amazing things. Let’s quickly recap:

  • Invasive sword fern removal
  • Cleaning shrubbery from park cabins
  • Completing (eventually) one of the most complex and frustrating games of “The Human Knot” in the history of the game (only mild cheating necessary).
  • Park Ranger truck washing
  • Traffic directing
  • Successfully scaring a lot of the girls by telling ghost stories around the camp fire
  • Trash pick-up, trash pick-up, trash pick-up… to the point where our eyes were permanently trained to identify any article of material out of place.
  • Beach clean-up
  • Deep-cleaning 5 park cabins
  • Completing a gorgeous 8 mile hike through what looked like prehistoric terrain (a.k.a. the “Real” Florida)
  • Surveying the elderly visitors of the State Park on their opinions of how important preservation of the St. John’s River is to their quality of life. (As we all know, once you get the elderly talking there is no filter on the rants that may proceed. Some of us got a kick out of this!)
  • Helping with Sea World’s Manatee rescue!
  • Scenic boat ride packed with all kids of wild life critters… including itty-bitty baby gators!
  • Food poisoning… Mmm!
  • All you can eat pancake buffet at Ponce de Leon State Park. Our group record, you may ask? 13 pancakes eaten in one sitting. Josh… I am not sure whether or not you should be proud or ashamed. We can agree on the former. J
  • Helping maintain a fire-break by digging/ chopping tree stumps out of a long strip of sand. We have the blisters to prove it!
  • Completing the longest game of Apples to Apples EVER. 8:00pm to 2:00am… Congrats to Christine! (Who says you need a TV to stay entertained?!)
  • Getting our 12 passenger vehicle stuck in a sand bank (ehh hemm... little Emily)! 
  • Ordering gator bites on the way out of our last day at the park. We couldn’t manage to catch one live, but in the end we still won. Muahaha!
  • And of course, the fun hotel games, hot tub, and looong drive back home to College Park.

The whole point of Alternative Break trips is to learn more about social issues (ours being Environmental Conservation and Eco-tourism), step outside of comfort zones, assist local organizations, groups, individuals, parks, etc. whose main goals coincide with the focus of our trip, and to meet amazing people along the way. If you ask me, I’d say all of these things were accomplished.

Now that we are back, it may be difficult to remember everything we learned while in Florida. The pressures from friends, the demand for convenience society places upon us, the old habits we must break… all of these things may hinder the lifestyle changes we talked about during our reflection activities. However, each and every positive adjustment made is a step in the right direction. Lead by example and educate others on the importance of maintaining our beautiful planet. After all, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. We have more power than we think.

I miss all of you terribly! I cannot wait for all the reunions we will have to come.

Until next time! <3 

Later Gators :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I'm on a boat.

8 days, 192 hours, 11,520 minutes. By this time, we all have gotten pretty comfortable with each other. Close enough to laugh, cry, and even pass gas.
Today was a hybrid of a service day and fun day for the group. We had an appointment to ride a boat at ten o’clock so we were able to sleep in. This was a treat for the individuals who like to sleep in. The boat ride was awesome; we got a nice tour of the St. John’s River, which is what Blue Spring is connected to. A variety of birds were spotted and many alligators. We got to see nests full of baby alligators. I was hoping that something dramatic would happen like the mama alligator would come barging through the bush and attack the boat, but it was still fun. The commentator of the boat had a great sense of humor (even if I was the only one laughing) and made the boat ride a great experience. The co-captain also gave me a chuckle by offering me a blanket and accusing me of smelling vodka? Old men are too much.

After the boat ride and a very enjoyable lunch by the park, we swung on the swings with a little boy named carter. Nelson and I had a good time playing around with him but as every day 1:00 pm came around and it was time for some community service. We surveyed many tourists about the springs and as always got a laugh with the elderly crowd. People seemed to be just as concerned about the protection of the Blue Springs fresh water as we were. When speaking to the crowd, someone mentioned that how it was necessary to protect these fresh water springs and also how if we let the government take even a one time proportion amount, it wouldn’t stop them from doing it again. Even though doing surveys didn’t seeming like an optimal way of giving back to the community, it was something that was very necessary for the park. Most people we interviewed were glad to see that The Florida State Park cared to know their feedback. Soon after that, we helped our favorite ranger, Katie with closing up the park. We did our favorite round of picking up trash and cleaning bathrooms. Whoop whoop!!

One thing we’ve learned from reflections is although what you do to help out seems small, that small amount makes a difference. We’ve filled up more than 50 bags of trash found at this park and flagger beach. These are 50 less bags of trash found in the ocean, the woods, springs, any animal habitat. It might seem like simple acts that we are doing, but we are making such difference to the park and the environment as a whole. One quote sums off the main thing we took away from this day, “Do your little bit of good wherever you are, it’s those little bits of good added together that overwhelm the world.”

Hermela and Emily W :-)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Day 7

On Tuesday, the 17th, we started the day by all wearing our bright orange Alternative Break shirts.  We began our service by picking up trash along the upper and lower sections of the spring run and the trails in between.  We had the park as clean as a whistle.  Additionally, we paired up to survey random park visitors.  This allowed us to be readily available to help out on a big day for Blue Springs, as the park debuted their nifty live feed that is available on the World Wide Web at

Later in the day, Sea World Rescue arrived at the scene to tag and release Choptail, a manatee, back to the wild.  The manatee was found in Jacksonville and showed signs of distress, as the water there was much too cold for a manatee this time of the year. Joshua and myself, two burly men, had the opportunity to help the cool cats of Sea World Rescue in lifting the manatee on a sling from the back of a truck to the edge of the spring run.  Upon its return to the water, the manatee was very active and made its way to the St. John’s River in Free Willy action, it was the cat’s pajamas.

Kyle and Josh

Day 7 or 1 week or 4 days left.

Another day at Blue Springs Park
As UMD, we’re leaving our mark
First pick up trash by Thursby Lawn
Bottle caps, straws…

By this day [I] pretty much have a schedule down. Wake up at 6:30 to my alarm. Listen for any noises coming from the kitchen. Nothing. Set alarm for 6:45. Think about what the day might have in store and eventually don’t fall back asleep. Hear a rustle in the kitchen. By that time Josh has woken up so I know I have someone to hang out with while everyone else is asleep. Eat breakfast, laugh, drink orange juice out of soup bowl and prepare for everyone else to wake up. Between 7:30 and 8 more people wake up and receive greetings from us in the kitchen. Bathroom is on high demand.
Round up the troops and head to the shop for an itinerary. Work until 12. Eat lunch. Work until 5. Walk home, stare at each other for 2 hours. Eat some concoction for dinner. Reflect. Go to bed at ten.
But, in all seriousness,
I’ve learned I have a twin named Emily. We discovered we both have very long legs and short torsos and love to laugh. We spent a good chunk of the day interviewing elderly people who pass us by. We asked how they feel about the spring being used as a source for public drinking water. They always seem to have something good to say. One told me to “Stay Tall”. I will try. The amount of “thank you’s” we’ve received is more than I have ever gotten. One couple stressed they enjoyed seeing young college students like us having fun doing community service when we could be wasting our life away drinking.
I’ve cleaned out bathrooms with Little Emily and Hermela. It may seem like the short end of the stick but Little, Hermela and I laughed every minute we were in there. We left the bathroom with such high spirits that elderly people probably thought we were on some type of happy gas. Little knows how to talk to the older men. I’m pretty sure she’s on the lookout for a sugar daddy. Scotty doesn’t know. Hermela is the fourth sister I never had. Always there for a good laugh, braids hair like a beast, and is due for an update on her music selection. We’re both stuck in the in the early 2000’s.

I didn’t expect that community service on this trip was going to be unbearable, but I also didn’t expect this trip to be a blast. I almost feel guilty from the amount of praise people have given us for the simple things we have been doing in the park such as picking up trash. It doesn’t even feel like work. Work isn’t fun. The people on this trip I have only known for 1 week. Some of these girls I feel like I’ve known for years.

Emily Winafeld (to be continued)

Monday, January 16, 2012

5 cabins, 8 miles

Today was filled with fun adventures, challenging tasks and greater learning experiences. Around 9:00 a.m., our wolf pack was prepared to take on one of our most difficult tasks – the dishes. For the majority of the morning, our group was in charge of deep-cleaning five cabins at BlueSprings State Park. Although the weather was genuinely perfect, we stayed in the cabins and enjoyed learning more about how “green” the park is. Ranger Jan discussed how it is important for the park to not use insecticide; insects are integral to maintain pollination throughout the environment. Without them, plants cannot disperse as well. Unfortunately, during this cleaning process, some of us discovered several small dead lizards trapped and roasted within the fireplace. This experience reminds us of how humans heavily influence other organisms when manipulating their environments. That is why it is crucial for people to think twice before making a decision. Whether it is merely picking up tiny scraps of trash or checking the fireplace twice, every decision makes a difference.

After deep-cleaning the cabins, our wolfpack took on an even greater challenge – completing the West Pine Trail. 4 miles in and 4 miles out – we endured an 8-mile hike, enjoyed beautiful sceneries and saw more wildlife. During the beginning of our hike, we witnessed a Redtail Hawk snatch a snake off the ground and fly away. Later on, we noticed feral pig body prints on the sand. Despite the exhaustion and bruised up feet, seeing new vegetation and the change of scenery made it all worth it. When we reached the 4-mile point, we took a photoshoot break at the St. John River. Heading back while the sun was setting, we heard a Great Horned Owl hooting to wake up other night creatures. Near the end of our trail, we surprisingly heard the snarls of feral pigs. Luckily, they sounded far away because they would attack people if given the opportunity.

With lots of love and peer pressure, many of us have decided to finally sleep outside of the trailer and not shower like a real camper. Cleaning cabins, treading new trails and sharing (bathhouse) experiences has brought our group even closer.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Trash Bash on the Beach

Today involved a big change of scenery on our Blue Springs State Park Alternative Break trip, taking us away from the park to another beautiful setting, the beach! Our travels took us just an hour away to North Peninsula State Park.  Our service task today was to scan the Flagler beach and tackle the one thing that is detrimental to our planet: trash. With huge trash bags in hand, we walked up and down the beautiful Florida shoreline and removed everything we could find: bottle caps, bottles, tennis shoes, and an assortment of other random objects.  Although it seems like a simple task, we quickly realized the large amount of trash we collected was benefiting the environment in a large way.  Our service today prevented the garbage from washing into the Atlantic and being ingested by the animals that inhabit it. Every little bit of trash removed helps our planet. We hope that others watching us clean will inspire them to take the extra effort to throw out their waste, to make a change that will benefit the environment around them.

After volunteering at Flagler State Beach, we discussed eco-tourism and eco-conservation. Our reflection activity involved drawing our interpretation of these terms. Emily described eco-tourism as the use of natural resources for commercial and economic purposes that supports conservation of the vital resources. A good example of this is Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. Eco-conservation is the preservation of environments in their unchanged form. Joshua, one of our two camp leaders, believed that the two are not intertwined because it is possible to conserve natural resources without recruiting visitors or making money.

Blue Springs State Park is a great example of how they are related. 1 million visitors come to BSSP every year which provides income to the park in order to preserve the habitat that encompasses alligators, blue herrings, catfish, tilapias, and of course manatees! Picking up shoes, and bottles among other trash another step closer to eco-conservation.

Nelson and "Little" Emily

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Day 2

January 14th 8:00am we are dispatched to the “shop” to get our task assignments for the day. It was rumored that our favorite ranger Katie had a long list for us, but morale was high and we had quickly grown fond of Katie’s antics to keep us on our toes.  It’s Saturday and the park quickly filled with manatee fanatics. We were split up into small groups and spread throughout the park doing jobs to keep the park clean and orderly on the busy day. Trucks were washed, roofs were cleared of leaf debris, trails were trimmed, litter was picked, and trash cans and bathrooms were scrubbed spic and span. Although the tasks may have seemed petty, keeping the park tidy, presentable, and functioning smoothly is a top priority for such a popular park among families, school trips, and tourists visiting everyday. It was rewarding when visitors noticed what we were doing and voiced their appreciation for our hard work. (Finally getting to drive the golf carts may also have contributed to our motivation) Working in pairs or smaller groups allowed us to work efficiently within the park to accomplish what would’ve normally taken the rangers multiple days to complete, as well as getting to know each other better individually apart from our group. 

After working, we again retired to our humble bunkhouse to enjoy the time off our feet and each other’s company. Later on after dinner, Katie showed up again to interrupt our rousing game of charades to take us on her legendary “night hike”. We didn’t quite know what to expect, but knew we certainly couldn’t be disappointed. Teaching us a few of her tricks such as the secrets of Rodobson (not to be confused with Robitussin) in improving your night vision and simulating a bat’s echolocation with a game of Bat and Moth. All festivities were well received and were followed with a restful night’s sleep for the busy day that lay ahead of us.

Emily "Em" Milanak