Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Nation's Christmas Trees

Happy Holidays from the National Park Service.
The Natural Tree
Over 200 people participated in the annual Trek to the Nation’s Christmas Tree ceremony at the General Grant Tree in Kings Canyon National Park on the afternoon of Sunday, December 8th.
President Calvin Coolidge designated the General Grant as the Nation's Christmas Tree in 1926.
The event, which was sponsored by the Sanger District Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the National Park Service, included performances by the Jubilation Singers and Sanger High School Choir and a non-denominational holiday message.
The White House Tree

The White House Tree is part of a legacy that extends back to 1923, when then-President Calvin Coolidge participated in the first annual National Christmas Tree lighting. 
Through the years, the National Christmas Tree has been situated in different locations in President’s Park and on the White House grounds. But since 1973, the tree has been located in the same site in the northeast quadrant of the Ellipse, carrying on a 90 year tradition of bringing citizens together to share in a message of hope and peace.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Alternative Help

Everglades National Park (ENP) hosts many Alternative Break (AB) student groups that arrive during the winter holidays and between late February and the beginning of April.  These enthusiastic students volunteer in multiple divisions and in all districts.  By accomplishing volunteer projects park wide, ASB students bring new energy and perspective to ENP.
AB groups typically range from 10-15 individuals, but can be as many as thirty.  They stay from two to five days and generally work from 9a-3p, but some are willing to work a full eight hours.  AB groups can work on any park project, but they normally request to be outdoors.
One brave AB group actually came in the summer. Seven Kansas University (KU) students, coming from different academic backgrounds, experienced ENP’s ecosystem and contributed their time and efforts to complete volunteer projects.

During their week-long trip, the KU students embraced the mosquitoes as they camped in the Flamingo Campground. Their volunteer work included removing exotic Brazilian Pepper from the Hole-in-the-Donut Restoration area, trail maintenance, clearing vegetation to help restore the historic Nike Missile Base, moving benches into storage, and trimming overgrown plants from vistas for better bird viewing. The KU students also enjoyed ranger-led programs and a canoe trip in Florida Bay.

This week, three AB groups from Vanderbilt, Central Michigan University, and Georgia Southern University will volunteer to improve ENP for the enjoyment of current and future generations.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

December Artist-in-Residence-in-Everglades

Photo of Mathias by Jan A. Bielinski

December may become chilly, but not for our Austrian AIRIE Fellow Mathias Kessler. For nearly ten years Mathias Kessler has been exploring the concept and history of “nature” within the Western Eurocentric context of capitalism, humanism, and representation. In his works, he not only exposes the many interventions of human culture that have threatened, remade, and shaped what nature is, but plays with our longing for an apparently untouched environment.

In particular, he investigates the complex movement of man and nature across two important notions: natura naturans (self-creating nature) and natura naturata (created nature) as explored by Dieter Buchart.
Kessler uses photography to abstract nature (as a condition of human perception) rather than document it, in order to draw an arc from visible topography to the social, economic and cultural realities that underlie the seemingly blank surface of nature.

In my photographs or computer-generated landscapes,” Kessler explains, “I work within the historical interface between the private living room and the adjoining public room of the natural order; between memory and its image; authenticity and alienation. With nuance and subtlety, I expose the way human intervention reconstructs the natural to the point that it is just another “fiction of the 18th and 19th century” as Robert Smithson put it.

For the AIRE residency he wants to work with the Rangers to create guided tours that will speak of representation. It will bring back a visceral experience in nature and deconstruct the image we have and replace it with the known and unknown that we encounter out there. All the tours will end in the sunset and no cameras will be allowed. Each participant will receive a guide to the sunset as a document to keep.

To read Mathias Kessler’s entire biography,

Thursday, December 5, 2013

From Wolftrap to Everglades

For the past 14 weeks, Clara Pittleman has been the newest intern in the Pine Island District of Everglades National Park (ENP). Clara's parents work at Wolftrap, the National Park Service for the Arts.  Her mother is the superintendent and knows Dan Kimball, the Superintendent of ENP.  Through their friendship, Clara was able to find an internship at the Everglades.
Originally from Maryland, Clara attends SUNY Cortland in New York. She is pursuing a degree in Outdoor Recreation with a concentration in Environmental and Cultural Interpretation.  Both of her parents are NPS employees, and through her mother’s friendship with Dan Kimball, Clara discovered the internship potential at ENP.
Clara giving an interpretive program.
Clara has been working with everyone in the Interpretation division over the past 3 months and has enjoyed her time in the Visitor Center and on the trails educating visitors about what ENP has to offer. Clara appreciates the uniqueness of the Everglades since this part of the country was new to her when she arrived. Clara was glad to learn about each new species she encountered and relay that information to first-time visitors. She was also able to cross-train with other park staff members by helping check hydro sites in the western part of the park, and participating in a beach cleanup on East Cape Sable. Clara’s favorite part of her internship was seeing the changes from summer into winter, especially seeing the birds starting to arrive at the Anhinga Trail. Since she was only here through November, Clara looks forward to coming back in the future to see the Everglades in the winter time.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The new Volunteer Coordinator Assistant

Kirrin Peart will be the VIP Coordinator Assistant this winter season. Born and raised in Chico, CA, Kirrin has always had a connection to the outdoors. From a young age, her parents recognized her passion for nature and encouraged her to pursue it as a career. As a high school student, Kirrin interned with Lassen National Volcanic Park and from there has volunteered and worked at a variety of parks across the country, including a summer spent in Washington D.C. working for the National Council for Preservation Education.  Most recently, Kirrin has worked as an interpretive ranger at Yellowstone. While she has too many memories to count from her years in the parks, Kirrin credits helping to open the first visitor center in Lassen Volcanic National Park, backpacking throughout Olympic and watching wolves and grizzlies in Yellowstone amongst the highlights.

Kirrin is a recent graduate of Western Washington University, with a BA in Archaeology and a minor in Geology. While in school, she served as the Anthropology Club President and presented at conferences on the varying conceptual theories regarding early settlement of the Americas. After spending her first summer working in Yellowstone, she acquired an interest in Bison and began conducting experimental archeology, attempting to make her own tools using Bison bones, quickly discovering that it was much harder than it sounded.

When she isn’t working, Kirrin is an avid wildlife watcher, hiker and kayaker. She is excited to spend her winter in Everglades, exploring new places and viewing a whole new world of wildlife.

Enjoy the holidays, no blog post on 11/28/13. Will resume on 12/5/13

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Toss, Scoop, Freeze

These are the words to abide by when volunteering with Fisheries Biologist Zachary Fratto. After a 45 minute ride to the research plot, Fratto, Kevin Bowles Mohr, and Jacob Osborne tossed, scooped, and froze for the next 4 hours.
Wading in the enormous scenic river of grass, surrounded by periphyton, tree islands, and the sounds of pig and cricket frogs, Jacob, Zach, and Kevin worked diligently on their project in the research plot that has been continuously monitored since the 1970’s.
Zach places the minnow cage based on pre-determined random selections in the research plot. Carrying the contraption above his head, Zach slogs through the sawgrass to the desired location and tosses it into the river of grass.
First, they identify the plants within the cage; the percentage of plant coverage, the average water depth, and the volume of bladderwort and periphyton. Next, they use the sein net to scoop and capture any fish, crayfish, shrimp, or other invertebrates like the Alligator flea or fingernail clams. These are all thrown on ice to freeze them for later research purposes. Lastly, they use two nets to scoop any remaining creatures before moving on to the next placement. In order to move, each net must scoop 5 times without a single living thing being captured.
Zach Fratto has 8 research plots in which he must visit 5 times a year; each plot has 7 sections to be monitored as detailed above. To achieve this standard, Zach relies on volunteer interns throughout the year to assist him. On occasion, he might have an empty seat on the airboat and willing to take another volunteer. This could be you . . .

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Writer Among the Glades

November we give thanks, and thank Bill Maxwell for being our November Artist-in-Residence-in-Everglades Fellow. Bill Maxwell first began teaching English and journalism in 1973 at Kennedy-King College in Chicago and continued to teach at several other colleges and universities for more than 20 years. Currently, he is an adjunct professor at St. Petersburg College and a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.

“Born in Fort Lauderdale, I am a lifelong lover of the Everglades,” says Maxwell.

Throughout his careers as an educator and journalist, Bill Maxwell has written about protecting and enjoying our environmental treasures. Some of his work has influenced readers to write letters to newspapers and to contact their legislators.

“Like John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, and others, I want to make the environment come alive on the page by creating word pictures, drawing readers vicariously into the magnificence our natural wild places. We nonfiction writers -- journalists, essayists, and memoirists -- have helped to establish the aesthetic value and material efficacy of the Glades.”

Access to one of Bill’s columns, please click on the link,

Read Bill’s book, Finding Yourself: A Spiritual Journey through a Florida Garden, (Bok Tower Gardens) or the one pictured here.

To read Bill Maxwell’s entire biography, please visit our website at

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Butterfly Garden and Paint create Cultural Interchange

Thanks to nine volunteers from the Center of Cultural Interchange (CCI) Greenheart Club, who provided enthusiasm and three hours of hard labor last April, Everglades National Park's Florida Bay Interagency Science Center's new butterfly garden is well on its way.

The high school exchange students come from around the world and shared their mission of connecting people and the planet through environmentalism. “They are here with the Flex and Yes programs sponsored by our State Department,” says Mary Ellen Schweiger, Regional Manager for CCI. “Part of the program requires the students to do community service projects in the community.”

“We came to the Everglades to learn about why we have the Everglades and the reason why we are preserving them,” explains Schweiger. “We want to teach the students about helping the world and keeping the world a cleaner place. These are things they don't do in their countries.” The students were from Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Egypt, and Germany.

The CCI students also built on work initiated by CCI volunteers last February. The February group came to the Everglades as part of the Alternative Spring Break program in which they volunteer for a week in the park. One project they worked on was restriping the parking lot at Chekika.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

October Artist, Artwork on Display

Artist Presentation
Thursday, October 24 at 7:30 PM, please join artist Bryan Wilson as he shares his experience working in Southern Florida at Lester's 2519 NW 2nd Ave., Miami, Florida 33127. Wilson's talk will present the unique conditions inherent to the area such as the invasive exotic reptile problem, alternative means of ecological stewardship, and the intersections of culture and the land.

Special guests, The Swamp Apes, a volunteer python hunting organization comprised of military veterans, will join Wilson for the evening.

About the Artist
October rings in the new Fiscal Year and the 51st year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is of particular interest to AIRIE Fellow, Bryan McGovern Wilson. A multi-disciplined visual artist, Wilson holds a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. During his residency, Wilson will further his investigations of the land, and how we mythologize its history.

“It is my hope to find intersecting points between the land, flora, and fauna in a conceptual and visual framework.”

In 2009, Wilson travelled to The Trinity Nuclear Test site dressed as Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer (Pictured above). His goal was to find trinitite, glass formed by the first atomic detonation, a material that distilled that particular moment in time. Wilson looked to understand the complex ecological and cultural legacies that we continue to deal with, and plans to use his time at Everglades to explore the extant Hercules/Nike Missile infrastructure to find connections between the ecology and archeology of the park.

“It is my intent to present the connection between the cultural legacy of the Everglades and its ecology, how they are integrated with one another, as an unbroken lineage. I plan to engage with park archeologists and rangers to find locations/sites of cultural and ecological convergence in the park . . . [and] apply my daily findings to a discipline of drawing and watercolor.”

To read Bryan Wilson’s entire biography, please visit our website at

Artwork on Display
Councilman Stephen R. Shelley’s Artist in the Spotlight Program Features Artist-in-Residence-in-Everglades artwork

HOMESTEAD, FL: The Artist-in-Residence-in-Everglades (AIRIE) program will participate in the Artist in the Spotlight program which will display AIRIE artwork in both the Old Town Hall Museum (41 North Krome Ave., Homestead) and in ArtSouth (240 N Krome Ave.), during the months of September and October. AIRIE artwork was recognized at the Homestead City Council Meeting on September 25, at the William Dickinson Community Center (1601 N. Krome Ave.).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

National Public Lands Day

For the last seven years, Ranger Laurie Humphrey has led volunteers on projects involving exotic plant removal, landscape maintenance, and trail clearing during National Public Lands Day (NPLD). NPLD is the last Saturday in September every year, and this year falls on September 28.

NPLD educates Americans about the environment and natural resources, and the need for shared stewardship of these valued, irreplaceable lands; builds partnerships between the public sector and the local community based upon mutual interests in the enhancement and restoration of America's public lands; and improves public lands for outdoor recreation, with volunteers assisting land managers in hands-on work.

In 2012, volunteers cut back the roadside vegetation, mostly Cocoplum from the Tamiami Trail/US41 turn off to the Shark Valley Entrance Station. Since ground breaking for the new visitor center, parking spaces were minimized and this allowed visitors, who park along US41 a safe pathway to the visitor center and tram rides.

In 2011, volunteers removed exotic Brazilian pepper along the old US41 road. This helped manage the spread of Brazilian pepper and provided clear access to the old road for birders, recreationalists, and overflow parking for visitors.
For 2013, volunteers will be dismantling the butterfly garden around the old Visitor Center and creating new ones near the site of the soon-to-be new Visitor Center. It will require digging, lifting, and certainly getting dirty.

Join us and support NPLD’s 20th anniversary and Everglades National Park.

“1/3 of America’s land is yours. Consider spending 1/365 of your time preserving it.”


Thursday, September 19, 2013

International Coastal Cleanup Days

Arriving at Everglades National Park (ENP) in September 2010 as the new Volunteer Coordinator, I had the great opportunity to volunteer for International Coastal Cleanup Day. The acting Volunteer Coordinator, Cerisa Swanberg, introduced me to coordinating and supervising my first volunteer group activity. We were scheduled to collect trash in the Ten Thousand Islands in the Gulf Coast District in ENP.

We met up with a professor of Oceanography from Miami Dade College, his students, plus two Law Enforcement Rangers; one officer’s parents accompanied us while the other’s fiancĂ© joined in. With two boats, trash bags, and energy, we went to Indian Key. Some of us waded along the shores removing hundreds of feet of rope, while other volunteers walked among the mangrove roots collecting bottles, crab trap floats, and additional debris.

Even though I lost my sunglasses, which should be collected in a future beach cleanup event, this was a fantastic experience and insightful to the wonderful Volunteers-in-Parks program at ENP. Join us next time and experience it for yourself!

There will be two separate events with limited spacing:

1. Friday, September 20: Meet at Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center at 8:00am, and then drive to Flamingo District. Volunteers will be transported to North Nest Key to collect trash on the beaches and in the mangroves around the key. Only five (5) spaces available.

2. Saturday, September 21: Meet at Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center at 8:00am, and then drive to Flamingo District. Volunteers will be transported to Cape Sable to collect trash on the beaches. Only five (5) spaces available.

To reserve a seat, contact Kevin Bowles Mohr at 305-242-7752,

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Band of Brothers Volunteer

The McGinnis brothers moved to Sunny Isles Beach about a year and a half ago. Taking a break from pursuing their academic studies, they decided to fill their summer days with field experiences by volunteering at Everglades National Park (ENP).

Alexander McGinnis-Yates is a senior at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. Attending school near Great Smoky Mountains National Park “gives you an inherent fondness for wildlife and nature,” says Alex. An environmental studies major concentrating in ecology and environmental biology, Alex hopes to work for the NPS. Looking for opportunities to get his foot in the door with the agency, Alex started volunteering.

“Living close to the Everglades is a really cool opportunity for me to escape from the city and into new habitats that I am not used to being in,” says Alex. Escaping south Florida’s summer heat and learning about different National Parks and their environments is a great reason for volunteering, too. Generally, Alex says he’s “happy to help out in any way that I can and gain some work experience in the process.”
Aaron McGinnis recently graduated from high school and is attending Worcester Polytechnic institute in Massachusetts this fall. “I plan on majoring in Chemical Engineering,” shares Aaron, “and [I] am considering obtaining a concentration in Environmental Engineering.”  

Besides building camaraderie with his brother, Aaron explains, “I’ll have the chance to learn more about some of the environmental issues and conflicts facing the world today. I hope to gain valuable experience and knowledge that will help me in my future endeavors as we attempt to create a sustainable world that promotes preservation of the environment as well as the advancement of society.”

Have siblings or friends and want to volunteer together? Contact us today!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sounds Turn Into Music, Volunteer Artist

Collectin urban sounds

September brings the sound of music; the buzz of a mosquito, the croak of a frog, and the masterpieces of Gustavo Matamoros. A Venezuelan composer, Matamoros has established his residence in Miami, since 1979. He has taught critical and creative listening at the Design and Architecture Senior High School and at the Miami International University of Art and Design.

“Sound is audible evidence of a living world in operation and early on I discovered in me an uncontrollable desire to establish a closer relationship with it, so that perhaps through it, I could better understand things.”
Gustavo Matamoros

In the past 20 years, he has largely focused on the making of sound art objects and stand-alone installations. “As a sound artist,” explains Matamoros “I build environmental sound installations which are intended to make audible otherwise inaudible aspects of the ecology and topographic features of a selected site.” His interest in nature comes from his interest in the nature of sound as evidence of a dynamic, ever-changing world.

To read Gustavo Matamoros’ entire biography,

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Americorps Volunteers

Stephanie Carvajal is an AmeriCorps Member serving with Rebuilding Together Miami-Dade (RTMD). Her office hosted an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) team comprised of 9 AmeriCorps members from June 10 to June 28th. “They are a hard working group of young adults,” says Ms. Carvajal.

During their stay in Miami, the NCCC team assisted RTMD on various projects. However, another stipulation of their service required the NCCC team to complete independent service hours outside of their regular service days. Executive Director Donna Fales thought it would be a great experience for the NCCC team to complete some of their service hours working in Everglades National Park. Fales explains, “The team members are not from South Florida and have therefore never been to the Everglades.”

On Sunday, June 30, 2013, the NCCC team, plus one local friend, worked with Ranger Kevin Bowles Mohr. The project was maintaining the popular Pineland trail and the parking area, 7 miles from the Visitor Center. They trimmed overhanging limbs and palm fronds, used shovels to remove clumps of dead leaves and accumulated dirt, and picked up any trash along the trail and around the parking lot. Prior to their Everglades service component, the NCCC team joined the 10:30am Anhinga Amble, a daily Ranger guided interpretive program. This is a typical service learning component associated with volunteer activities in the park. If you have a group and want to volunteer, please contact us today!

Pineland Trail
Trail Description: This trail loops through a forest of pines, palmettos, and wildflowers.

Wheelchair Accessible: Yes, though there are narrow and uneven places where roots have pushed the pavement up.

Bicycles Allowed: No

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Shovel Nose Sharks

“Are there sharks in Shark River Slough?” For once, to a certain degree, Rangers can say, “Yes, the Shovel Nose Shark.” However, this isn’t the classic shark found in Jaws or the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. This is a shark that is more commonly found in the hands of volunteers, also known as a shovel.

President Truman once said, “Here are no lofty peaks seeking the sky,” but he failed to foresee man’s manipulation of the land where now we have lofty peaks like Mt. Schinus as a result of Hole-in-the-Donut restoration, and military soil berms surrounding missile barns.  It’s those mountains, specifically the Nike berms, which are eroding onto the launch pads below. To maintain the integrity of the site, volunteers use shovel nose sharks to dig away the excess dirt and rocks, and replace it back onto the berms.

Truman also said, “Here are no . . . rushing streams.” Again, he perceived the natural world and not the manmade. Everglades National Park has one main black river with several tributaries. Although not free flowing like the River of Grass, the black river of concrete does allow traffic to flow freely.  Over time, the black river is merely an obstacle for the ever growing vegetation to consume.  Plants, and later on dirt, encroaches and accumulates on the banks and shorelines minimizing the navigable path of the black river and its tributaries.  Volunteers have come again with their shovel nose sharks to increase the capacity and usability of the roads, parking lots, and paved trails within the park.

Want to learn more and handle a shovel nose shark?  Contact the Volunteer Coordinator today!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

August Equals Movies

August is the height of the summer season of heat, bugs, and rain. Enjoy the indoors with short films developed by our Artist-in-Residence-in-Everglades Program. 
To watch a video of our March AIRIE Fellows' creating their exhibit, follow the link below.
"Drawn from the Everglades is an undulating, large scale installation of twisted and gnarled paper that engulfs the spaces and surrounds the viewer, an immersive three-dimensional drawing based on their impressions of the Everglades. Wade Kavanaugh's and Stephen Nguyen's practice focuses on the collaborative process itself, resulting in abstractions of the entangled mangrove roots, waving sawgrass, and muscular storm clouds of the Everglades waterscape.
To see two videos from the June 2012 AIRIE Fellow, Deanna Morse, follow the two links.
 "Skin" - Tree texture as a metaphor for the human experience. Tree textures from the Everglades and Michigan, intercut with aging human skin. The cracks, wrinkles, knots and scares are an archive of their history.
"Kindred" - Connecting with nature at the Everglades up close. Sounds and images from the National Park.

Or read a book from our soon-to-be AIRIE Fellow in November, Bill Maxwell, Maximum Insight. A Florida native, Bill is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Special Volunteer Projects

Tire Removal

Every once in a while, there are special projects that are identified by the park and tackled by volunteers. Normally, they take several days to complete with many helping hands.  The project may be simple, but the work is arduous and time consuming.
In 2011, undeterred by heat and dense mosquito populations, four volunteer events transported ten tons of tires out of the Chekika area. All of the tires were transported to Miami-Dade County Solid Waste Management facilities to be recycled.

Parking Lot Stoppers

Another successful, yet exhausting project was the removal of 100 parking lot stoppers at the beach front area by the Flamingo Amphitheater. Due to the help of fifteen local volunteers, the view from the amphitheater and walk-in campsites is not disrupted by cement objects, but instead remembered for its beautiful scenery.

EcoPond Fence demolition

In 2012, the removal of a dilapidated fence around Eco Pond was completed. The fence was a safety hazard to the public, and obstructed wildlife viewing, especially birds. Girl Scouts, Alternative Break volunteers, and Outward Bound students all helped out with this endeavor.
In late 2013, plans are on the way to remove structures and equipment weighing ~14 tons from the Shark Valley backcountry. These outdated research platforms were once part of the Flume project – detecting the levels of phosphorous in the water.  Will you be a volunteer to help out?
Onsite View

Arial View of Flume Station

If you would like to volunteer for a service day, please contact the VIP office at 305-242-7752, or visit the Downloads tab for an application or the Current Opportunities for more information.