Nearly 40 orange-shirted volunteers, heavily armed with spades, hammers, saws, loppers, weeders, blowers and other tools of their “trade,” swarmed the Ozark Folk Center State Park (OFC) in Mountain View to tackle much needed garden and trail work, as part of the statewide 2014 Arkansas Master Naturalist (AMN) work day, October 18. Another team rebuilt steps on the North Sylamore Trail in the nearby Blanchard Springs National Recreation Area. Every fall on the same day, each of the six AMN chapters designates a major work project in its area of the state, one of several ways the organization furthers its mission to maintain and improve natural resources in the state.
“In five hours the Master Naturalists accomplished important work that would have taken this gardener two or three months to do single-handedly,” said OFC Herbalist Tina Marie Wilcox, “I am grateful beyond words. These dedicated individuals serve Arkansas in their home regions all year round.”
Three years ago, members of the North Central Arkansas Master Naturalist chapter (NCAMN) organized a team to work at OFC two mornings a month. As they help Wilcox maintain the Heritage Herb Garden, they learn about historical and traditional medicinal and culinary uses of plants they often see along the Ozark trails and streams where they pursue other projects.
“The NCAMN/OFC team inspired the entire chapter with their enthusiasm for the remarkable resources of the state park.” said NCAMN president Anne Criss. “We learned a lot about native plants while also supporting the valuable contribution the OFC makes to the community and the state of Arkansas.”
A construction crew comprised of Ron Beasley, Ric Criss, Gerald Garrison, Wendy R. Johnson and Ed Metcalf headed off soon after a light breakfast to the bridge on a trail that connects the state park to Mountain View Municipal Park. Damaged by debris during recent heavy rains, the bridge first had to be partially dismantled and then rebuilt. Park personnel provided a generator, lumber and hardware. Of course the NCAMN crew also brought many of their own tools, including waders to enable them to stand in the stream that the bridge traverses. “The bridge had been exceptionally well-built originally,” said team leader Johnson. “It was harder to take apart than we expected.” Nonetheless in just over five hours they were able to get about 75% of the project completed. OFC employees completed construction a few days later.
Meanwhile elsewhere on the same trail, Rebecca and Ted Carabelas lopped overgrown vegetation, Ron Beasley manned the weedeater, and Gerald Garrison operated the leaf blower, readying the 1.5-mile trail for fall hiking.
Back on the grounds of the OFC Craft Village, where artisans demonstrate traditional Ozark crafts, Lee Argyle, Al Vekovius and Bob Verboon wielded chain saw and loppers, cutting out “weed trees” and other tough vegetation that had crowded out displays of native plants. To prevent re-growth of unwanted and invasive species, Lee also carefully painted stumps with a special herbicide.
Led by Rebecca Coble and Dwan Garrison, another team assailed the weed-choked “Butterfly Hill” that flanks the park’s administration building. These hardy souls transformed the hill from an overgrown tangle to a pleasant hillside, ready for new native plants that will attract butterflies and other beneficial insects. Team members included Anne Criss, Jim Kouns, Robert Medley, Judi Nail, Bob Verboon and Hugo Woods.
Yet another team dug into the traditional “yarb” garden in the park’s Craft Village. “Yarb” is a vernacular term for “herb,” and the garden displays the kinds of plants found in mountain forests, glades and meadows that were used as both medicine and food by Ozark settlers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The team first removed ornamental plants like plumbago and Mediterranean herbs like rue, then added compost that OFC staff make themselves from discarded weeds, leaves and other plant materials, as well as vegetable waste from the park’s restaurant, The Skillet.
Meanwhile Nell Doyle amended the compost with greensand, kelp and soft rock phosphate before hauling it up to the garden bed, where Ellen Chagnon, Pam Cook, Sue Hoeper, Vicki Martin and Gay Vekovius dug it into the newly cleared soil.
They then planted a variety of mountain mints, as well as royal catchfly, false indigo, rabbit tobacco and Culver’s root. Along the hillside just above the renewed herb garden, Doyle and OFC visiting herbalist Susan Belsinger transplanted rose campion, black-eyed susans, purple coneflowers, blackberry lilies and violets that had been dug from the newly replanted bed.
Just down the stone walkway from the Yarb Garden and near the entry of the Craft Village Herb Shoppe, yet another team potted the plumbago, rue and other plants dug from the Yarb Garden and elsewhere. They also sorted and cleaned seeds saved from various plants in OFC gardens. Supervised by OFC staff Yolanda Raker, this team included Terri Argyle, Carol Beasley, Deb Fleming, Ginger Turk and Karen Woods.
A few miles north of the state park, Tom Kennedy and Ann Sarnecki led a small but intrepid trail patrol, including Beth Kennedy, Mike Moore and Dave Page, who rebuilt steps on a lovely hiking trail along North Sylamore Creek. The creek, designated as a national scenic waterway, is not far from Blanchard Springs Caverns. A couple of hikers happened along just as the team finished up and gave the steps an initial “test run.”
“Our chapter provided almost 170 work hours that day, and all the teams said they really enjoyed the day,” concluded AMN State President Terri Argyle. “We worked very hard, but the weather was gorgeous, and many of us hadn’t had the opportunity to visit the state park before. We were happy to help contribute to the remarkable work that park personnel do throughout the year.”