Archive for June, 2009

Week 4

Compiled Journals for Week 4, June 22 – 26.
(it should be noted that after these journals were evaluated, changes were made to the schedule to make the workday more fun and less tiresome/stressful for the youth volunteers)

Today was not as bad as I expected it to be. It was not very hot. It rained a little bit so it cooled off for a little while also.

Parrish Brasher, WIA Summer Youth

[expletive] this job. I want my paycheck. I have been working here for a month and I still haven’t gotten paid. I am close to quitting. I just thought I was beginning to enjoy myself, and I’m wondering why I still come to work each day. I feel I could be working at a fast food place, making more money and [being] happier. I can’t pay the bills and get my life to a point where I can be independent working here.

Eric Gill, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

I don’t like the job because it is hot and the work we do is hard. We are getting ate up by red bugs. The only thing I like is we get paid for it.

D’Marcus Griffin, WIA Summer Youth

We sunk a boat in the pond for a fish habitat and cleared the back fence for making a new trail and the cut limbs that were 8ft in the main trail. We have started clearing the top part of the front of the park, and we cleared up the brush by the main entrance of the park road and around the parking area.

Kyle Hicks, WIA Summer Youth

This is the 4th week it has been a long week. Because, everyone was here the first day and come the second day Kyle left and then at the end of the day everyone was leaving. So the only people that have really finished this week out was me, Damien and Eric. I really think that this was the hardest week ever. I just wish people could come to work and get this over with. Not sit at home and do nothing and still get paid. That is not right but it is what’s going to happen and I can’t do nothing about it. But just believe in the Lord and everything will work out. God bless you!

Leigh-Anne Hopper, WIA Summer Youth

The work we do is going un-appreciated. We were working really hard for the past month and when we are trying / starting to burn out people talk bad about it. We are TIRED(!) of working out in this heat. We need a break. This is not my career choice and it’s a job where I come and go then I forget about it. We all are on the verge of quitting.

Damien Reynolds, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

Hi, I am Eddie and I just want to let you know that this park is really a headache because it’s hot and hard but maybe if I get use to it I will be alright. And so please stop putting us in the Heat!!

Eddie Miller, WIA Youth Summer

After a 20 hour drive from new york to Louisiana, Shelby and Bill showed me great Southern Hospitality with a home cooked meal and comfortable bed. Once I was introduced to all the Vista and WIA workers, I got the sense that Bryan Park was a project with a heart. The project involves higher ups such as the Mayor to local highschool students, who are all collaborating to build a nature reserve to better the community. I really enjoy and appreciate the strong sense of community here in Downsville, Louisiana and I’m excited to be apart of it!

Ali Schmierer, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

This week, the heat in this part of Louisiana was over 90 degrees all week, with a heat index of 105 degrees some days. While all the youth on this project are volunteers, per se, they still receive a living wage to handle basic finances. However, as of the past week or so, just when the massive heat wave was hitting, many of the paychecks were lost in the mail and/or sent to the wrong place.

So a combination of heat, exhaustion and slow bureaucracy has everyone incredibly stressed out. Volunteering and dedicating a summer to a greater cause – ie, developing a park – isn’t always raindrops and roses. It’s hard work, and it’s physically, emotionally and mentally demanding.


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It doesn’t matter how strong you are. When you are working outside in the middle of the day in the hot, humid 95+ degree Louisiana weather, you are at risk of heatstroke or even worse.

As Edward Lipinski said in his 1998 New York Times article,

Strenuous work outdoors on a hot, humid day can quickly take its toll on the body. In addition to the heat absorbed from the sun, muscles will generate heat as they flex. This added heat will help raise the body’s temperature even higher. Unless the excess heat can be released in some way, the body’s thermoregulation mechanism will shut down and induce heatstroke.

Eric Gill

Eric whacking his way through the forest along the right-of-way.

Kyle Hicks

Kyle sawing limbs in the forest

Volunteers at Bryan Park in Downsville are wary of this risk – when we are out clearing brush, building trails, etc., we stick to some general rules to protect ourselves. We try to keep ourselves comfortably covered with hats, pants and sometimes (when we can bare it) long sleeves. We also stay very hydrated. Everyone usually has a water bottle handy, and the nearby utility van keeps a water cooler on ice nearby.

And of course, regular breaks are important. It helps everyone cool down and regroup. It’s important to take it easy if you find yourself working outside this extremely hot summer, like we at Bryan Park are.

Take care,

Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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Park benches and (soon) bridges are being installed, making it easy for even those who aren’t physically involved with the development of Bryan Park to lend a hand.

Joe Richardson of Ruston is building our benches for the park. You can purchase one to dedicate to a friend or family member.

Joe Richardson of Ruston is building our benches for the park. You can purchase one to dedicate to a friend or family member.

You can purchase a park bench to dedicate the structure to a friend or family member. At the moment we are working out all the intricacies of this, including how much of a pledge or purchase is needed to make a dedication. If you have your heart set on helping us as soon as possible, please post a comment here. I’ll figure out a way to get in contact with you and coordinate any donations/dedications.

These dedications will help us on two fronts – aside from the monetary assistance, it helps us narrow down the number of structures we must name, haha! On a serious note, though, we appreciate any and all assistance.

Many thanks,

Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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Yesterday, the youth volunteers decided it was time to dispose of an old sail boat on the park grounds. It was over 30 years old and destined for the dump, but someone proposed an idea: how about sinking the boat in the lake for a fish habitat! 

So Damien and Kyle got to work. They hacked the boat up a bit on the shore, then they took it to the floating dock and set the dock adrift. Toward the center of the lake, they pushed the boat into the water, dressed down to their under-britches, and hopped onto the sinking boat. They started tearing it up even more to make it sink faster, and eventually it started to carry a substantial amount of water. The boys hopped off and swam away in time to watch the boat sink down to the depths of the pond.

Damien and Kyle hacking up the old sailboat to sink to the bottom of the pond for fish hatchery.

Damien and Kyle hacking up the old sailboat to sink to the bottom of the pond for fish hatchery.

It was definitely fun for the others to watch, and hopefully the fish make a nice habitat out of it.

The concept of sinking wooden boats, platforms, or even concrete blocks is nothing new. Apparently many local parks and restoration projects with limited resources often resort to sinking certain structures for the betterment of the wildlife and fishes. A similar (though more complex and much larger) project went down some time ago at Lake Audrey in New Jersey, if you are interested in reading about that.

Best regards,

Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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Journals below were written at the end of Week 3 on the project, June 15-19.

This week was very challenging to me. Not only mentally, but also physically. It was excruciatingly hot. I painted a barrel that Mrs. Shelby was not satisfied with it.

Parrish Brasher, WIA Summer Youth

It’s odd, the twists and turns that life throws our way. For instance, I never thought that I would be willing to give up my time (considered a “volunteer”) for something larger than myself. I have always been selfish with my time, but the more time I spend in the park the more I seem to be enjoying myself. I have learned skill and trades I never thought I would be capable of. To be an accomplice in the sinking of an old sail boat and to operate a chain saw makes me look forward to the other skills I could learn.

Eric Gill, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

🙂 It has been really hot this week. We have cleaned more of the park and we have painted some recycle stuff for the park. But I do like that I know more and more about the park and people. Like some people say “Oh for real” but I do love everyone they are funny. Just remember that if you believe in the God above everything will be better. So God bless everyone 🙂

Leigh-Anne Hopper, WIA Summer Youth

Damien hacking away at brush for the new equestrian trail in the park.

Damien clearing brush for the new equestrian trail.

The heat and sun are not enjoyable. Too many tasks and jobs are being assigned and not a lot of them are getting done, they seem to just be floating in the air and picked out when we all feel like doing it. I really want to get my next paycheck so I will be able to live for the next few weeks. Chigger/Red bugs are not fun either.

Damien Reynolds, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

Serving as an IT administrator [and project accountant] while being a VISTA volunteer is amazing.

Fabrice Tchouba, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

More entries will be added soon…

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Bryan Park has an overabundance of berries, it would seem. Every time one of the volunteers ventures onto a trail to measure it, clear brush, etc., he/she stumbles across some form of wild berry.

Here, I’m going to attempt to catalog the berries that have been found on the property. Note these are all edible berries, but this anthology is neither comprehensive nor final. I’m merely an amateur berry-identifier and berry-picker, and personally, I like to know what sorts of berries are all right to eat (and perhaps even delicious!) if I ever end up stranded in some Northern Louisiana forest with no munchies.

I would like to thank Ali for her incredibly photography – thanks to her, I’m able to put up some photographs of berries. And soon I’ll be including some recipes and more identification-tips – enjoy!

1. Blackberries
These are pretty common across the US – they grow from thorny, almost creeper-style plants and the blacker they are, the more ripe they are.

2. Huckleberries
They almost look like blueberries, and they are very sweet. Like blackberries, the darker in color they are, the better.

(all recipes are taken from The McDuff Family Cookbook from Shelby McDuff, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer supervisor on the Bryan Park site.

[can replace with huckleberries if need-be]

4 T. cornstarch
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. water
2 T. butter
6 c. blackberries
1 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. soft butter (half stick)
1/2 c. milk

Mix cornstarch and sugar. Add water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add butter and stir until melted. Add berries and pour into large casserole. Prepare crust by sifting ingredients into bowl with butter. Add milk and stir until moistened. Spoon mixture over berries. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until golden brown.

[can replace with huckleberries if need-be]

1/2 c. milk
1 egg, beaten
2 T. melted butter
1 t. baking powder
3/4 t. salt
1 1/4 c. cornmeal
3/4 c. honey
1 quart fresh or frozen blackberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine milk, egg, butter, baking powder and salt. Stir in cornmeal and 1/2 cup of the honey to make a batter. Place berries in the bottom of a buttered baking dish and spoon remaining honey over them. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls over berries and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until berries are hot and bubbling and crust is golden.

[strawberries, blackberries, huckleberries would all work]

1 c. flour
1/4 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. butter, melted
2 egg whites

2 T. lemon juice
2/3 c. sugar
1 package (10 ounces) frozen berries, thawed
1 carton (9 ounces) whipped topping

Combine flour, pecans and melted butter in a 9x 13 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until brown. Mixture should be very crumbly. Press in bottom of pan, reserving 1/4 cut mixture to sprinkle on top. Beat egg white until fluffy; gradually add lemon juice and sugar. Next, add your choice of berry [blackberries, huckleberries, strawberries all work great] and beat until mixture peaks, about 15 minutes. Fold in whipped topping. Pour onto crust; top with remaining crumbs and freeze. Remove from freezer 15 minutes before serving. Yields 12 to 15 squares. Super easy dessert to make ahead of time and freeze.

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600 years old!

That’s how old experts in the area estimate these cypress logs are. Below is a close-up of one of the logs.

Recently, the logs floated to the top of Horseshoe Lake at Newton Gray’s sawmill. Estimates are that the logs were cut after World War II from aged cypress dated some 600 years ago. Amazing!

So the question is – how to display such timeless treasures? One suggestion is to display the logs artfully in the future welcome center of Bryan Park, where they will safe from outside conditions and also readily visible to the public. Everyone agrees that this aged cypress is a Downsville-area treasure that ought to be preserved for posterity.

At the moment, we are very open to suggestions on this topic, so please post a comment if you have any ideas or input. The discovery has, to put it bluntly, sent the hearts of many naturalists and historians in the area all aflutter!

Many thanks,

Jennifer Reed, AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer

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