I returned to Joe Wheeler State Park on September 6, 2023, to meet with Renee Raney who had recently been appointed as the Alabama State Park System’s first Chief of Education and Interpretation. Appointed from within the System, Renee is a consummate nature devotee, experienced naturalist, and committed champion of the System’s three-part mission of conservation, recreation, and education.
Introducing Alabama State Park System’s Chief of Education and Interpretation
Here is the 58-second video I recorded on September 6, and posted on my YouTube channel to introduce Renee:
I’ve known Renee since retiring to Alabama in 2017. She and I will be co-teaching a winter term OSHER Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) course on Connecting Nature and Wellness at Alabama’s State Parks at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. We took advantage of our wanderings at JWSP to brainstorm ideas for the six-week course. Rather than focus on the course, allow me to present this 44-second video promoting the course, and then move on to the potpourri of Nature delights we encountered in our Park sleuthing:
Potpourri of Park Delights
I enjoy the signs across the state welcoming me to our state parks. Shortly after entering Joe Wheeler, Wheeler Lake reached out to greet me.
I am an avowed soft touch for clouds, water, and forested shoreline. The view from the boat launch did not disappoint. If I had not entered forestry school, I may have pursued meteorology. I admit to a lifelong addiction to and fascination with all things weather. In fact, forestry is inseparable from weather: tree planting and soil moisture; prescribed fire and wind, humidity, and smoke dispersal; road maintenance and storm forecasts. The fair weather clouds in the photos below don’t portend an incoming storm, although a local isolated thunderstorm did drop 1.31 inches at my home (40 miles to the east) that evening. Since then, I have measured just 0.40 inches over the intervening 48 days!
I recorded this 0:32 video from the dock at the First Creek inlet boat launch.
White morning glory hung tightly to the marina railing near the Joe Wheeler State Park Lodge. Finding Nature’s many gifts and delights does not require incursion deep into the park backcountry.
We appreciated the late summer frost flower in full bloom.
Renee and I found both kousa dogwood, an Asian ornamental dogwood resistant to anthracnose fungal infection, and Carolina buckthorn near the Lodge, both bearing ripe fruit..
I’ve photographed this unique loblolly pine tree on prior visits to the park. I wanted Renee to see some of Nature’s hidden magic. The horizontal ridges result from sapsucker bird pecks introducing some type of organism (fungal, bacterial, or viral) that triggers swelling and ridging along the axes. I have never seen such raised ridges on hardwood trees,
We also found several downed logs heavily infected with Trametes fungi. These wood decay agents are strictly dead wood consumers, one of the many organisms that return dead and down woody debris to the forest floor. Renee carries a tiger stuffee to serve as a frame of reference for forest critters, novelties, and all manner of delights.
We photographed the tiger on the sweetgum roots below. A strong wind leaned the tree 20 degrees downwind, lifting the windward roots until the tree found sufficient support on a downwind neighbor. A future blow may uproot the tree…or the sweetgum may resist the pressure for many decades. Nothing in Nature is static.
Much of the woodland extending from the Lodge to the Day Use area and campground shows clear evidence of having been pastured when the COE and TVA acquired the impoundment buffer lands 90 years ago. Evidence of such past land use includes black locust exiting the present forest and large muscadine vines fully enveloping the 90-year-old main canopy. I snapped the image below right during a March 2023 LearningQuest tour I led in the same stand in March 2023.
Black locust is an aggressive pioneer species, rapidly colonizing abandoned pasture across north Alabama. The species commonly declines when the stand reaches age 70-plus years. I included these two images of dead black locust in this same stand from a January 2022 nature photography course I co-led at the park. Here’s the Great Blue Heron photo-essay I published about the declining black locust stand in March 2022: https://stevejonesgbh.com/2022/03/22/black-locust-decline-and-two-champion-trees-at-joe-wheeler-state-park/
The evidence of the former black locust stand occupying this area of Joe Wheeler State Park is slowly disappearing…with mortality and subsequent decay and organic matter recycling. I have championed the idea of systematically establishing permanent photo-points within all 22 Alabama State Parks to document and chronicle changes every 5-10 years. The demise of the black locust forest would be memorialized in the historic photo record.
Chimney Memorial within the Campground
Renee and I examined this old chimney on a hilltop within the campground. Like every tree within a forest stand, the chimney has a story to tell. Its tale will become part of the education and interpretation narrative at Joe Wheeler State Park.
Thoughts and Reflections
I offer these observations:
- I am so pleased that the Alabama State Park System has appointed Renee Raney as Chief of Education and Interpretation!
- Every tree, every stand, and every forest within our State Parks has a compelling story to tell.
- Albert Einstein understood the wisdom of Nature education and interpretation: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!
Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2023 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”
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And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause
If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:
Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.
- People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
- They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.
Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!
Steve’s Three Books
I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.
I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:
- I love hiking and exploring in Nature
- I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
- I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
- I don’t play golf!
- I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
- Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
- And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future
All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.
I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.