News Categories: Parks & Trails

07 Aug
By: Communications 0

Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Second Sunday Pickers’ Bill Hunn

Few scenarios test the skills of a musician like a public jam session. Unlike reading music, jam sessions require players to improvise while keeping time and tune with others. When players work well together, the experience can be transcendent.

“Playing with other people teaches musicians to keep time,” said Bill Hunn, the volunteer leader of the Second Sunday Pickers. “You either keep up or get left behind.”

Hunn has spent nearly 30 years leading public jam sessions at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center. In that time, he’s met both novice and expert musicians looking to refine their skills.

“Various musicians have participated through the years, including a cellist,” said Hunn. “I’ve always hoped a flute player would join us.”

Hunn understands better than most the joy of a good jam session with close friends and family.

The son of a musician, Hunn grew up in suburban Philadelphia listening to his father play the piano, accordion, and guitar. In the evenings, his family sat around a campfire near the Chesapeake Bay playing music. Hunn’s father attended German and Polish clubs to learn how to play the music of different cultures. He even organized square dances in the room above their garage. As a treat, Hunn’s family visited the community theater to see local musical performances like Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore.

Despite his early exposure to music, Hunn didn’t develop an interest in playing the guitar until he was 20 years old. Once he learned a few songs, his friends invited him to attend the Philadelphia Folk Festival, a three-day outdoor musical festival. They spent the weekend wandering from campsite to campsite, meeting festival-goers, and playing the same three songs until Hunn grew sick of them. That’s when he decided to learn 10 new songs before next year’s festival. He challenged himself with that same goal every year for 23 years, and now he can play hundreds of songs by memory.

Hunn moved to the Houston area with his wife and 2-year-old daughter in February 1990. Soon after, they visited Old Town Spring on a shopping expedition. Bored with shopping, Hunn spotted a group of musicians playing in the courtyard and decided to pick up a guitar and join them.

It turned out the group of musicians was led by Louise Auclair, a music professor at North Harris Community College (now Lone Star College-North Harris) who encouraged her students to join a jam session to hone their skills. Hunn immediately became a regular at their monthly meetings.

When news of the group spread, Jones Park invited the musicians to host their monthly sessions at the Nature Center in fall 1990, marking the beginning of the Second Sunday Pickers jam sessions.

Although the group’s leadership has changed over the years, the Second Sunday Pickers remains one of the park’s longest-running programs. Even when the Nature Center was temporarily closed following the 1994 flood and Hurricane Harvey, Second Sunday Pickers played on, meeting on the porch or on the outdoor stage.

Sessions are open to musicians of all abilities at the Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center. Musicians are welcome to bring their instruments and play along on the second Sunday of every month.

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07 Aug
By: Communications 0

The Pleasant Surprise of a Bowfin

By Jason Naivar, Program Coordinator

As a freshwater naturalist, I always look forward to the annual fish survey at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center. It’s the one time a year when Jones Park visitors can glimpse the diverse life hidden beneath the murky surface of Jones Park’s largest waterway.

As you can imagine, catching fish is no easy task, especially on such a large scale. That’s why our staff joins forces with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Inland Fisheries Department for an annual electrofishing expedition on Spring Creek. This sampling method involves equipping a boat with special poles that send an electric current into the water. When the stunned fish float to the surface, experts place the fish in holding tanks and bring them ashore for visitors to observe. If done correctly, electrofishing does not harm the fish, which can recover from the shock in as little as two minutes.

Most of the time, we catch common sunfish, catfish, and gar, but sometimes these surveys reveal rarely documented species. One of these exciting finds is the elusive bowfin, (Amia Calva) a living fossil and a powerful predator. Often misidentified as the invasive northern snakehead, these prehistoric fish are native to the freshwaters of the eastern United States and the Gulf Coast region. They prefer to live in slow-moving or stagnant bodies of water with dense vegetation.

Much like their cousin, the gar, bowfin can gulp air at the surface, store it in their swim bladders, and use the gas to breathe in low oxygen environments. A specimen found at Jones Park in June appeared to be a juvenile measuring 11 inches long. Judging by his injured tail, he recently had a close encounter with a larger predator. Although not a gamefish, the bowfin is a renowned fighter and will challenge anyone fishing with light tackle.  Bowfins can grow to be 43 inches long and weigh 21.5 pounds, but the Texas record is 36.5 inches and 17.65 pounds.

In the past four years, bowfin have been documented only four times in Harris County, according to iNaturalist, and are rarely caught on video. One reason bowfin are so uncommon in Harris County is because the creeks and bayous often flood, creating currents too strong for them. However, a few protected areas, like the inlet to the Kenswick drainage channel on Spring Creek, can create an ideal environment for bowfin to feed and reproduce. In fact, the bowfin in the picture was collected, documented, and released in that inlet.

Although annual surveys are useful for measuring the health of a body of water, they are also useful educational tools for the public. For the past 13 years, the staff has conducted annual surveys as part of Jones Park’s Fish of Spring Creek program. The event gives visitors a chance to inspect different varieties of fish up close and learn about their characteristics. Stay tuned to participate in next year’s program.

Anyone interested in learning more about the fish of Spring Creek can attend Take Me Fishing in partnership with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and Fishing’s Future programs, on Saturday, Nov. 23, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Anyone 8 or older is invited to attend. Staff and volunteers will spend the day sharing the joys of family fishing with park patrons. Registration is required at www.fishingsfuture.org.

(Jones Park’s fishing programs are supported by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. By training staff, promoting courses online, and donating literature for our fishing and hunting programs, TPWD is an essential part of Jones Park’s outdoor programming.)

 

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07 Aug
By: Communications 0

Farewell to Steve Hostetler

Steve Hostetler, the president of the Jesse Jones Park Volunteers Board, will step down from the board in August after more than a decade of service. Although Hostetler has served six years as president and four years as 1st vice president, he’s best known as the “concessions guy.”

Thank you, Steve, for all your service! You will be missed.

Read More about Steve Below.

Although heading down a dimly lit forested path only days before Halloween may seem terrifying to some, Jones Park volunteer Steve Hostetler looks forward to the activity every year.

“The first volunteer event I attended was Haunted Homestead, and I loved it,” he said. “Right away, I recognized the importance of the event. Children need a safe space to trick-or-treat, and I wanted to be part of that.”

It was 2007, and his future wife, Jones Park Director Darlene Conley Hostetler, had just invited him to visit the park. A few years later, Jones Park staff were thinking of canceling the festival to give staff and volunteers more time to prepare for Pioneer Day in November. With time, money, and volunteers in short supply, Hostetler volunteered his company, SADL Construction, to sponsor the unique trick-or-treating event, now called Tricks & Treats Among the Trees.

“It’s now one of our most popular events,” he said. “By 2016, more than 3,000 people were attending the event. Attendance went down in 2017 right after Harvey to 2,000. But in 2018, we were back up to 3,100.”

The event marked a new chapter in Hostetler’s life and the beginning of more than a decade of service at Jones Park. A year later (2008), Hostetler joined the Jesse Jones Park Volunteers Board, where he served three two-year terms as president, two terms as 1st vice president, and a decade as concessions captain. In that time, he estimates he’s served more than 10,000 hot dogs.

“I primarily call myself the concessions guy because everyone knows me as the guy who sells hot dogs,” he said.

Marrying Conley Hostetler that year also deepened his love of nature and exposed him to new perspectives and viewpoints.

“Darlene introduced me to the park,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of neat people who are all about nature and Jones Park. I look at the park as God’s creation. He gave us the creek and trees, and everyone here works together to maintain these resources.”

Since then, Hostetler, with the assistance of all the board members involved, has helped expand the JJPV budget and led a variety of park construction projects.

“We had between $7,000 and $8,000 available to us when I first started,” he said. “Over the last eight years, we now have nearly $45,000.”

With Hostetler’s help, the board planned and contributed to the construction of the Redbud Hill Storage Facility, which allowed staff to store boats on site and to offer more boat tours. Plans also include building an office area for volunteers.

“My company provided the building design and project management,” he said. “One of the board’s goals was to have a pontoon boat barn at the park, and I’m glad I was involved.”

Hostetler is now ready to take on a new role as he steps down from the Jesse Jones Park Volunteers Board in August. Although he no longer plans to serve on the board, visitors may still see him volunteering at Tricks & Treats Among the Trees, Old-Fashioned Christmas, and Pioneer Day.

“Fifteen years ago, I never imagined myself volunteering at a park, but I’m glad I did,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful experience.”

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07 Aug
By: Communications 0

Poyha (Cherokee Meatloaf)*

Enjoy a taste of traditional recipes like this at Jones Park’s Native American Heritage Day on Sat., Sept. 14, and Pioneer Day on Sat., Nov. 9.

½ cup cornmeal

½ cup water

1 lb. venison, ground

1 tbsp. fat

15 oz. can whole kernel corn

1 small onion, chopped

1 tsp. salt

2 eggs

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place cornmeal in a small bowl. Add water and mix. Allow to stand.
  3. In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the venison in the fat. When meat is thoroughly cooked, add the corn and onion. Cook 10 minutes.
  4. Add the salt, egg, and cornmeal; stir well. Cook another 15 minutes.
  5. Put in greased loaf pan and bake 30 to 45 minutes.

* This recipe is from Country Cookin’, one of the cookbooks created at FamilyCookbookProject.com.

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07 Aug
By: Communications 0

Going Native: Planting Wildflowers at Home

By Matt Abernathy, Assistant Park Director

Mowing, pruning, planting, mulching, and fertilizing – sound familiar? For many homeowners, springtime means birds, butterflies, flowers, new growth – and countless hours and dollars spent preparing yards and flowerbeds. What many people don’t realize is that you can avoid the chores and still have a spectacular garden. Wondering how? Look no further than native plants.

Homeowners who choose native plants for their gardens are often rewarded with long bloom periods and significant cost savings. These plants often come back year after year from the stem or root and don’t require mulching and supplemental watering. Because native plants have adapted to our climate, they can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and rainfall amounts.

These low-maintenance plants not only add color to your landscape, but they also support native wildlife and pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds. Savvy gardeners can experiment with different plant varieties to attract a variety of pollinators. Pollinators are more likely to visit fruit and vegetable gardens boasting native flowers. With the extra pollinator attention, the plants are more likely to produce fruits and vegetables. Lastly, native flowers come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Whether you are looking for ground cover, traditional flowers, or larger shrubs, you can find a native variety to plant. Ready to get started?

Before planting, make sure to identify a location for your flowerbed and study the environment. Knowing the type of soil, moisture levels, and the amount of sun your plants need can affect the success of your project. Make sure you thoroughly prepare your flowerbed by weeding, tilling, and aerating the soil to minimize weed growth. Plant selection is the most fun, yet challenging, part of the process. When selecting plants, you have four options:

Option 1. Research, research, research. Determine what species works for you and then research the best local sources for plants and seeds. This method gives you the best opportunity to customize your garden. The biggest drawback is that you will inevitably choose some plants that are extremely hard to come by in the commercial plant trade.

Option 2. Search local native plant nurseries online and reach out to them for recommendations and a list of available plants. Unfortunately, the salespeople may not be as knowledgeable of native plants as they claim to be, and they will likely steer you to their specific stock. This could lead you to plants you don’t necessarily want or even cause you to buy misidentified plants.

Option 3. Reach out to local experts. A quick internet search can help you find experts

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