by Michael Perrin & Russell Curtis
This week’s blog post is taken from our September/October 2018 issue.
Need a reason to volunteer at Caesar Creek Lake? How about the fact that the Caesar Creek Visitor Center and Learning Center is one of the few class “A” visitor centers that exists in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)! The 6,400 sq. ft. building plays host to the Caesar Creek and Miami River Area staff, and has a wide variety of recreational and interpretive programing that covers many different aspects of Caesar Creek Lake. Children from all over southwest Ohio area visit Caesar Creek and its visitor center to learn more about fossils and their local native species of flora and fauna. All together the visitor center at Caesar Creek Lake welcome 85,000 visitors through its doors every year and often the first faces they see are those of our amazing volunteers.
Outside the visitor center, interpretive volunteers participate in educational programing with the rangers at Caesar Creek. During the spring and early fall numerous school groups from southwest Ohio visit the park on field trips. Volunteers assist with program setup, chaperoning on hikes, pond studies, and visitor center tours. Field trips give volunteers the opportunity to work closely with the youth of the area and ensure a fun day at the park.
During the busy summer months the focus shifts from school programs to our premier summer programs, and volunteers become a valuable asset to the staff at Caesar Creek. Major events like the Junior Rangers Program and Take a Warrior Fishing draw large crowds to the park. The Junior Rangers Program is a four-day event where kids learn different aspects of their natural environment. Interpretive volunteers assist not only with the program itself, but also with the planning of the activities involved. Take a Warrior Fishing teams up veterans and boat captains for a day on the lake fishing. Volunteers assist veterans onto the boat and with registration.
One of our most valuable interpretive volunteers is Ohio native Jane Lewis. Jane is an accomplished, semi-retired, graphic designer who has always had an affinity for nature and the outdoors. Caesar Creek is Jane’s first experience as a Workamper. She chose this area due to its close proximity to her home and family. She enjoys the easy access the campsites provide to Cincinnati, Dayton, and the colorful Yellow Springs. Jane likes, “the sense of being removed, yet close to numerous opportunities in the region.” Jane has always dreamed of traveling and exploring the nation’s parks during her retirement. Her skill set as an artistic professional has allowed her to design new logos that the park will use for patches, stickers, and hiking medallions. She was also instrumental in the 2018 Junior Ranger Program. Jane plans to travel south in the winter and return to Caesar Creek as a volunteer in the summer of 2019.
“Having Jane frees up the rangers to accomplish other tasks like boat patrols, and routine reports,” explains lead ranger Kim Baker, who has over 20 years’ experience with USACE, and knows a good volunteer when she sees one. “The unique skills and abilities Jane brings to this organization makes her an important part of what we do and what we represent at Caesar Creek.”
Volunteers serve as the first link between the park and the visitors, helping to ensure an enjoyable visit. Volunteers provide visitors with maps, information on recreational opportunities, and fossil permits. The Caesar Creek region is located in the Cincinnati arch, a region rich in fossils from the Ordovician period, and fortunately for our visitors, collecting is allowed with a permit obtained at the visitor center. This unique activity not found at many other lakes draws many people to the park, which is exactly what Workamper Jane wants in a position. “Working with the public is one of the most enjoyable aspects of volunteering here,” says Jane.
Caesar Creek also offers opportunities for those interested in natural resources. Volunteers can assist with monitoring blue bird boxes, invasive species removal, trail maintenance, botanical gardening, and prairie/wetland restoration. They serve a vital role in not only resource management but interpretation. Their hard work allows the rangers to conduct programing on native plants, birds, and wetlands for the public.
With these unique volunteering opportunities, the Caesar Creek staff hoped to attract other great volunteers in 2018, which is exactly what they did when Ohio natives AJ and Toby Owens applied. The Owens have volunteered at Caesar Creek Lake since March 2018, and have three years of previous experience as Workampers, serving at W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam in Florida and Strom Thurmond in South Carolina.
Despite an unusually warm spring and even warmer summer, AJ and Toby are always excited to get outside. They have assisted in the removal of invasion plants like garlic mustard and honeysuckle. One of the largest projects they have helped staff in was the renovation of an interpretive native plant garden near the visitor center. “Working on the bluebird boxes and in the garden are our favorite projects,” stated AJ. One of Toby’s favorite aspects of the work was mulching.
AJ and Toby provide valuable support in many of the programs the rangers conduct at the park. Recently they assisted in the Junior Rangers Program, which was attended by over 50 children. “The kids loved AJ and Toby,” said ranger Kim Baker “they were so enthusiastic and dedicated to making sure the program was fun for everyone.” On the final day AJ made an appearance as Bobber the Water Safety Dog, the Corps’ water safety mascot who is always a hit with young children. Posing for photographs as the kids graduated AJ stated, “I had a great time playing Bobber.”
The staff at Caesar Creek has benefited greatly having AJ and Toby. Both assist with campground maintenance, cutting grass and trimming around the area. “AJ and Toby truly go above and beyond and we all really enjoy having them around,” said Park Manager Jim O’Boyle. AJ and Toby plan on returning south this winter to escape the cold. They will be missed by the staff at Caesar Creek.
Volunteering at Caesar Creek offers campers a variety of opportunities. There is something for those who like to work outside or those who like to work with the public to do at Caesar Creek. Quiet and peaceful retreat while offering a variety of activities in the surrounding area, Workamping at Caesar Creek offers memories that cannot be beat. If anyone is interested in volunteering at Caesar Creek Lake please call our Caesar Creek Office at 513-897-1050 and speak with any one of our great rangers.