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Well, despite a warm day, the family decided to embark on our first family hiking trip. We thought we’d go some place that was close and would have trails easy enough for our little girl to traverse. After a short drive up to Morrilton, we entered into Petit Jean State Park. We decided to make our first stop the overlook and grave site of Petit Jean herself. This place has breathtaking views out over the Arkansas River. There is a nice boardwalk and a few places where you can scurry out on the large boulders to take some beautiful photographs. Don’t miss the opportunity to read the legend of Petit Jean and see the grave site where she is believe to be buried. There were no restrooms here, so we didn’t stay long.

Next, we decided to pass up the Automobile History Museum this trip, and he headed to the visitor’s center in order to get information on the various trails. We needed the restroom break. :) I decided to purchase a walking stick. I mean, come on, I have to look like a seasoned hiker, right? The visitor center was nice and had a lot of information to peruse, but the family was eager to hit the trails. Since we only had the afternoon left, we decided to do two of the shorter trails; however, we made our next stop an overlook of Cedar Falls. We really plan to do this trail on our next visit, but given our time, we cheated and went to the overlook to spend a few minutes viewing it. The Falls are actually rain fed, so I’d imagine Spring and Fall to be the best viewing times here in Arkansas, although, due to some recent rain, the Falls did provide a small waterfall. Despite it being an overlook geared for Cedar Falls, the viewing here isn’t that grand. While one can see the bluffs surrounding the hollow, the trees in the summer block a good portion of the view of the Falls.

As I mentioned, we only spent a brief time at the Falls. We headed as quickly as we could to Bear Cave Trail. This trail is rated Easy, and it was designated to take approximately one half hour to complete. While the trail was indeed easy, be careful. Our kids wanted to increase the difficulty by climbing some huge boulders. While they were easy enough for the whole family to climb, getting down can prove to be a little trickier with extremely young ones. Still, the view is amazing from the top, so I do recommend scaling a few. Also, some of the rocks are positioned to facilitate traversing the grade. Be careful here, too, with small ones, as my little girl went splat when she decided to pick up her pace to catch one of her older brothers. As the name implies, there were some wonderful small “caves” for us to sit in for some excellent photo opps. I really liked the fact that the temperature seemed to drop about 10 degrees inside of them. Don’t get me wrong: While the mere thought of a bear being inside one never crossed my mind, I kept a sharp eye out for spiders and scorpions. Never saw either. There were plenty of webs, but I don’t recall seeing a single spider here.

After a brief picnic lunch at the tables down by Lake Bailey, we decided to complete one more trail. We headed over to Rock House Cave Trail. This one, too, was rated Easy and another one half hour course; however, to get here you will spend a little time off pavement driving down a good old fashioned southern gravel/dirt road. When we arrived, the first part of the trail opens wide into a flat rocky area, and to the left there are some really neat “Turtle Rocks” to scamper around on and view; however, the Rock House Cave is the main event of this trail. Take some time here to explore the rock shelter, as you can see some ancient pictographs left by the Native Americans hundreds of years ago. Our kids enjoyed this trail, but I really believe the preferred Bear Creek Trail over it.

In closing, we had eaten up the better part of the afternoon, and clouds along with sunset were telling us it was time to end the lovely day. As we were leaving, we wanted to see an area known as Tanyard Springs, which has cabins for rent. While I hear these cabins are very nice, there are other cabins that might be more affordable in addition to plenty of tent and RV camping areas should you decide to stay more than a day in the state park. There is also a swimming pool for folks camping as well as a playground, volleyball, basketball, and paddle boat rentals to keep the kids active. Oh, I almost, forgot! During various times, the kids and/or family can meet up with park rangers for various scheduled activities. While I would have loved to spend some time learning touching the various fur pelts, the kids begged us to stop and play in the softball game. We would have loved to, but it was 20 minutes into the game, and we really needed to head on back. On our way out, we did see a cottontail rabbit and a few deer. All-in-all, it was a beautiful weekend getaway, very cost effective mini-vacation, and my kids are already begging to return. You can’t really beat that can you.

Here’s the video slideshow of our trip. Enjoy!

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Don Meyer, Winner of Jimmy V Award 2009

A great testimony from a coach that should inspire all of us!

Top Five Types of Twitter Messages to Grow Your Business

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5 Business Models for Social Media Startups

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As the Chief Information Officer for the Bryant Athletic Association, I get the pleasure of sitting in many board meetings that are spent discussing and debating ways to make the program better for the youth in our community. Doing that, more often than not, requires a decision to be made on an appropriate amount of money to be spent. For a youth program, many of which are non-profit organizations, any expense can be detrimental to the program’s success and long-term viability. Participants or more specifically, the parents, like all of us want timely and accurate communications. 

Prompt communication can minimize flash points of discontent. Effective communication can come at a price, though, depending on the size of your organization, or program. As I have been in the program now for 7+ years, we have used the chain of command approach coupled with voice message updates left on a central phone line. The chain of command approach is slow and subject to the grapevine effect while the voice message subject most participants to the lovely busy signal as everyone tries to get the information at once. A couple of years ago, though, we moved into the 21st century by adding email to disseminate information coupled with the launch of a website. Finally, this year, we added social networking to the communication mix as described later on in this message.

First, I migrated our program’s website from a relatively low-cost provider that specialized in youth sports to a custom Microsoft Office Live hosted solution that was free. Office Live provided a simple clean interface that was not only simple to learn and deploy, but it offered a SharePoint backend that enabled forms to be created which allowed participants to submit data that was captured in the team workspace lists. This saved the program slightly over $400 per year. Some of that wasn’t actually realized, as we made the decision as a board to have a more robust email contact vehicle. 

I had recommended iContact to the board due to its cheap cost (approx. $110 per year) given our email base of 500-750 potential subscribers and its recommendation from Microsoft via the Office Live platform. Most email programs limit the number of emails one can send in a day in an attempt to control spam, and I was tired of trying to manage who wanted and who didn’t want email communications. With iContact, the system allows participants to self-manage their subscription. It allowed, also, the capability to send HTML messages that were built from our webpage as a template very simply in order to reinforce our brand. While there is a limit to how many emails that can be sent to the entire list of subscribers, it did meet our need to send a mass email communication out to 500+ participants.

Next, the participants began to enquire about text messaging. Here again, this is another service that can cost significant money to the sender. However, I came across SMS Delivery. SMS Delivery allowed for the bargain basement price of zero dollars a limit of 5 text messages per week to subscribers. And, yes, standard text message rates apply to recipients of the texts. SMS Delivery for the free service had their own little advertisement, which proved to be of no real issue to us. This came in handy for just-in-time inclement weather notifications, and the umpires relied heavily on this form of communication.

Finally, enter the social networks. While our program has a Facebook group, Twitter is one that has the potential, in my opinion, to be a huge zero-cost real-time communication medium for our program. Twitter allows mobile devices to be turned “on” in order to receive the 140-character or less message via a text message to one’s chosen device. With that said, the ability now exists to send unlimited text messages at absolutely no cost to the sender — remember, standard text message rates still apply to the recipient.  Twitter can enable, also, the ability for followers and administrators to send not only inclement weather alerts, but real-time game updates such as scores and results as well. Now, while the recipient may have to pay to receive the tweet via SMS, or text, those with internet access via a computer or smart phone can view the communication stream bypassing their device provider’s SMS fees.

So in closing, Twitter can be a low cost communication option to your participants. It can also open the doors to communicating a variety of real-time, or at least just-in-time bits of important or even trivial information to your followers that will not only enhance communication with your participants, who, by the way, are also in some ways are your consumers, but it will also provide that medium to constantly reinforce your brand. This benefit isn’t limited to non-profit organizations either: Small businesses can have a similar benefit if they can find someone dedicated to pushing appropriate content for them as well. Which, by the way, is an interesting business concept. If you are an owner of a small business or director of an organization, and you have no time to tweet, or more simply market your business through other social networks such as, but not limited to, Facebook, then shoot me an email @ stephen.c.kincaid@gmail.com. I’d be happy to work out an arrangement at an extremely reasonable rate in order to enable a cost-justifiable ROI that will help you solve your problem.

As always, I hope this information can help your small business or organization, and I wish you much success. Take care, and you can follow me @stephenckincaid.

Hoping for Stabilization…Better Plan for Resignations

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