FLORIDA MASTER NATURALIST PROGRAM

Environmental Interpretation

blog content by Nanci Lutz

Welcome to NDDJourney.com!

A brief introduction – I have been on an outdoor journey my entire life – I started camping before I could walk, camped all over the country in a tent with my family. Still entrenched in the outdoors, I was in Girl Scouts, and even later, Boy Scouts! Let me dispel your darkest thoughts – I have been in Girl Scouts now for over 55 years, and Boy Scouts as an adult outdoor skills trainer for about 15 years. Volunteer work aside, I retired from my real jobs – RN/Paramedic and moved from the old growth forests of the northeast to the palm fronds of Florida. I went from a lifetime of northwoods outdoor knowledge to little southern/coastal outdoor knowledge. Enter my desire to do volunteer work at a local Florida State Park – something with kayaking. I took the required ACA Level II Coastal leadership course for kayaks, then BAM! COVID hit. State Parks were not running any of their programs. I was introduced by some friends to the Florida Master Naturalist Program. I took advantage of staying safe during COVID and took the Coastal and Freshwater System classes remotely. I am now in the Environmental Interpretation class – again remotely – and my instructor suggested we could try a blog as a way of journaling. I’m usually up for a challenge, so here we are! A couple decades ago I read a book by Richard Louv called “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder”. It addresses the implications that develop when children’s connections with nature diminish and their connections with all things electrical – computers, video games, TV etc and parental concerns like safety, lyme disease, homework etc keep them inside. It struck a chord with me. I have reread the book numerous times and it remains truer now than before.

I named my blogsite “nddjourney” as I feel I need to be working with others on this journey to get children (and adults) to recognize the value of nature in their lives.

So on to Environmental Interpretation! Our class assignment is to find two parks or preserves and one environmental education center to focus on during class.

MY PRESERVES

1.  Philippe Park,  2525 Philippe Parkway,  Safety Harbor, FL
I chose this park because it is historically significant in a couple ways…my focus will be on the Tocobaga Indian mound that is located in the park and that it is a National Historic Landmark. 

The Indian mound that is found in Philippe Park was built by Native Americans known as the Tocobaga.  The mound itself was made of alternating layers of shell and sand.  Remains of posts indicate that there was at least one structure on top, possibly used for ceremonial purposes or the Chief’s dwelling. Archeologists believe the ramp led to a town plaza at the base of the mound.

Here are my driving directions from home.

2.  Wall Spring Park, 3727 Desoto Blvd, Palm Harbor, FL

  • I like this preserve because its a local spring with historical significance tied to the railroad that is now the Pinellas Trail. 
  • This historic park in Palm Harbor, FL was named for Charles Wall who purchased the land that contained these natural springs  in 1884.  
  • From 1927 t o 1948, the area was known as Health Springs, but was later renamed Wall Springs.
  • It became a popular destination in the 1920s through 1950s for people who traveled from all over to this “Fountain of Youth’ to play, rejuvenate and heal.  
  • Local hotels sprung up that catered to the visitors who brought economic growth to the area.  Bath houses lined the pool area as early as 1926.
  • This type of recreation was popular until the 1960’s.
  • In 1988, Pinellas County began to purchase the land, owning the spring and 210 acres in 2009.  The park has become visitor friendly with over 3 miles of paved trails to walk or bike.  It even boasts a handicap accessible 35 foot observation tower.

Wall Spring has a diverse ecology as it goes from freshwater spring to coastal area. 

Here are my driving directions from home.

MY ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION CENTER

Brooker Creek Preserve and Educational Center, 3940 Keystone Rd, Tarpon Springs, FL.  Besides the environmental center, there are trails, guided walks and over 8000 acres of forested wetlands and pine flatwoods amidst heavy urban development.  I have not spent much time here…time to get involved!

Brooker Creek Preserve is an important conservation area in Pinellas County.   It is made up of forested wetlands and pine flatwoods, bordered by dense urban development.  It protects a significant portion of the Brooker Creek Watershed.

The park contains many hiking and equestrian trails, a large education center providing interpretive programs, guided nature tours, educational instruction and exhibits.

A keystone species in this park is the gopher tortoise. A keystone species is an animal (usually) whose absence would make a huge difference in the habitat for which they are keystone. A gopher tortoise digs a burrow up to 40 feet long under ground. While he inhabits his own home, others may share space. However, in times of severe weather changes or fire, or to escape predators, frogs, snakes and other small animals will seek refuge in the burrows.

Here are my driving directions from home.

I’ve survived my 3rd class. Our instructor Ken makes it seem easy to be a student, even at my advanced age!

Our next assignment is to create 3 themes for presentations I might deliver at the 3 places I’ve chosen and to examine an interpretive sign and reflect on it.

MY INTERPRETIVE SIGN

Since I haven’t visited my sites yet, I have chosen interpretive signs along a bike trail I was following during our summer travels – in Kearney, Nebraska.

–Biking along the Great Platte River Road in Kearney Nebraska —–Signage about the development of the Platte River Valley. We knew this was a historical trail and expected stops along the way. —-The signage was a teaser to explore 50 yards beyond where there was a true sized sod house. —-The sign made me feel like I had to investigate further by walking the short path. –It was easy to read and relevant to the progression of history along the trail. –Language was aimed at appropriate age for those bicycling. —Suggestion to upgrade sign would be focus on theme information and use a QR code for further investigation.

THEMES

Themes are important for interpretation. Themes are not topics. Themes are what make the learning interpretive. A theme is stated as one sentence connecting the subject matter to the visitor in an affective way. My assignment is to write three themes, one for each of my chosen sites. I will use Wall Spring as an example of what went in to developing each of my themes…it took place with each theme development.

WALL SPRING

  1. Identify type and topic of your theme: Conserving green space for recreation.
  2. Who is your audience: anyone over age 10.
  3. What are the site’s resources: Spring, signage, picnic areas, playground, history poster.
  4. List tangibles: spring, bubbling water, green, blue, families, biketrail; intangibles: laughter, beauty, peaceful; universals: laughter, beauty
  5. Develop a theme:
    THEME: As land development increases, more and more of our green spaces which provide recreation and relaxation for families, as well as plant and animal habitats, are taken away in favor of urban sprawl, but communities can work in favor of saving that space for us to enjoy.
  6. Identify 3-7 messages supporting your theme:
    1. A short history lesson, 2. The Springs, a perspective, 3. The land – saved by a community, 4. Plants and animals found here, 5. Recreation – picnic shelters, exploration tower, playground
  7. POW Introduction: Look around you – Imagine all this beauty we see now developed as strip malls and suburban houses, schools, a church, Maybe a little “Pocket park” nearby. No wonderful space to connect with family, friends and nature. Fortunately, back in the 1960s, our community thought Wall Spring was important enough to keep pristine, and over the next 60 years has acquired more land for fun and recreation outdoors while preserving important habitats and of course, the SPRING. Lets find out more about this park.
WallSpring about 1926
The spring…a 3rd magnitude spring
Observation tower…handicap accessible
Bike path in Wall Spring park
Newest addition 2020 at the end of bike path. could use interpretive signage.


PHILIPPE PARK
THEME: Recreational parks can hold the key to history of local heritage, sometimes a remarkable find in an urban green space where picnics and birthday parties take place, children play on playgrounds and people come to enjoy nature.

Temple Mound signage
Tocobaga history
View from the top of Temple Mound
Resident owl on the way back from Temple Mound

BROOKER CREEK ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION CENTER

THEME: Take a walk with us and experience a change in habitats, see new flower blooms in our pine flatlands and forested wetlands, hear the local and migrating birds as they are passing through, and feel how spring has sprung in different habitats.

Blue Lupine
Pine flatlands
Forested wetlands – Brooker Creek/pond cypress
Woodstork hunting for a meal
Epiphytes

A note about themes…I find theme writing very challenging. It must be a practiced skill to be able to link information with intangible ideas and concepts, and universals that all can relate to someway. Affective storytelling is hard for me. I am a very left brained person (if there is such a thing) and since Tilden identified interpretation as an art, I have to dig deep for my right brain to assist. I wonder if theme writing/storytelling comes easier to right brain predominant people…

BROOKER CREEK Ranger led hike

I went on a ranger-led hike at Brooker Creek Environmental Education center. The hike was 3/4 mi long with 7 stops (messages). The ranger leading the hike was an experienced interpreter and did a wonderful job. The audience of 10 was all adults, mostly over 50. The leader got to know his audience during quiet times walking. At some of the stops, the ranger used his tool kit to show related items (and arrowhead, a snakeskin etc) and allowed time to pass around and take photographs of the items. He discussed the 2 different habitats we visited and why they changed. He made sure each person was connected to his discussions and stories. He pointed out interesting things along the way that were not necessarily part of his messages. His wife was his second person and sweeper in the back, and was also very knowledgeable. We ended in the nature center where people were encouraged to look further, and of course the “friends” store. The ranger stayed around for about 1/2 hour to answer questions as people browsed. The theme? It was billed as “Our Wildest Places” which is really a broad topic. Kudos to this dynamic duo for a job well done!

VIDEO REFLECTION

We had another class assignment to view 4 short videos on our own. After class discussion, I realized I had a differing view than most on a couple clips. In the Dalton Disc. Center video, I felt that it was not very interpretive. She seemed to be rattling off mostly facts without making me feel any attachment. There was good transitioning but she didn’t seen to connect well with her audience. She covered way to many points (messages) in a short time frame and spoke too fast. The other video that I seem to disagree with my class on was the Austin Center film clip. I suspect it was a virtual tour during early COVID and it was aimed at a 8-12 year old age group. While her opening wasn’t exactly a POW statement, she did tell the audience what she was doing and why. The music, while not enjoyed by me, was catchy, maybe like music from a video game, that young kids could relate to. She asked reflective questions that the audience could think about or be provoked by. Her voice was good. Did I love it? No, but I wasn’t the target audience. Did it have good information? Yes.

REFLECTIONS ON THIS CLASS

Ken and Amanda Thompson were classy instructors who were able to get the concept of interpretation through to (most) of our class in the ZOOM format. ZOOM teaching and learning has plusses and minuses on both sides. There was opportunity for questions, office hours were held, and emails answered quickly. Class projects would be so much more informative if done in small groups in person, but ample info was gained during our class breakout sessions. I couldn’t tell when Ken was monitoring the breakout rooms…I wish he announced himself so we could ask questions. Class went by fast with the expectation of lots of work done on your own time. I spent more time on this class because this subject was of particular interest to me. Thank you very much for the great teaching and learning session!

Just a quick follow-up, I was contacted last week by the staff at Honeymoon Island State Park who were responding to my volunteer application. I had a “placement” interview and will start an orientation next week. I will also be starting my last core class in 2 weeks, Upland systems. I feel like I will be spending more time in my happy places.

UPLANDS SYSTEMS 4/2022

Field Experience 1 Hammock Park Dunedin, FL

This signage describes why we have chosen this park as our hammock with all three classifications present, xeric, mesic and hydric
This is the trail we followed to get to the Upland habitat in the park. The habitat areas are in blue script. This 90 acre park surrounded by urban/suburban areas really gets a bang for its buck!

We entered at the main parking lot and followed the Claire trail. We started at a low elevation and we steadily gained elevation as we headed toward the Upland area of the park. The ground was wet at the parking lot area – to be noted we had gotten a couple inches of rain just 2 days before. Its a good thing my hiking buddy knew the trails, if it were just me I’d be very lost. As we continued to go up, the terrain under our feet slowly changed and became less packed and soil was looser.

The photos above represent our walk along the Claire Trail. From downed trees of unknown length of time to one that was blown down in the storm 2 days ago, we found enough evidence that we were leaving a hydric area and entering a mesic area. We were amazed by the tree that looked like it was braided with vertical growth coming out of the horizontal trunk.

Trees are playing host to other forms of wildlife – little eggs or fungus of type undetermined, ferns on the trunk of a large live oak, fungus growing on long ago downed wood, Cinnamon vine curling up a tree. Yup, we appear to be going the right direction, uphill. The ground here is still a bit moist, but not as wet as by the parking lot.

Our little moisture meter is registering a bit dryer. The meter is inserted about 10″ into the ground. Castor bean leaf, Sabal/cabbage palm trees and another tree being strangled by a vine. We are not far enough south to find strangler fig, but there sure is a lot of other strangling going on. And we keep subtly climbing.

The ground is now dry and sandy and we see different types of plants growing in the xeric habitat. This habitat area was cordoned off for protection. Pear Cactus, Longleaf pines were thriving here. We spotted numerous gopher tortoises, this one having a great time munching away without a care in the world. This laurelcherry was closeby.

As we made a left turn from the Gopher trail to the Grant trail, we noticed on the right was a ravine of about 30 feet deep. The foliage was much different in the ravine, but alas, that was not my topic. (and its a good thing, I was not prepared to go down there). We saw the the mound created by a gopher tortoise’s burrow. Who knows who is in there as we speak…And here we found many flowering plants in bloom, this is a primrose of some variety.

Here we are much dryer than anyplace else on this walk. We also spotted some short leaf pine – and a pine cone -my first. More flowers as the days of spring continue, and as we go downhill from here, what the tree tops represent – this appears to be pines, a cabbage palm and a live oak in the last photo here. And it looks dark as we begin to enter the hammock again.

As we worked our way further down into the hydric habitat across from where we entered the park, we noted some old live oaks, this one has another type of strangler vine around it. These strangler vines can truly strangle and kill trees. Back near the parking lot we come upon Cedar Creek, a creek that creates a wetlands in another part of this park. That’s a visit for another day. The creek continues to widen and opens up to a navigable area. During the summer, a camp is run here offering canoeing to campers. Lots of large ferns and trees with pneumatifores (not mangroves) are found here.

It was a great day for discovery. The first discovery I made was that I believe the high point in this park was an island. We climbed to the park’s acme, saw the sand, measured it’s dryness in comparison to the surrounding areas and went back down to wetter habitats. Since we did not visit the wetland, I don’t believe this area was an ecotone between 2 habitats. The second discovery I made was that field experiences are so much better during zoom classes when you can go with someone else from the class. There is so much information and identifications I would have missed, even with iNaturalist and Plantnet and Seek, that I did not realize what I was missing when I did other zoom classes’ field experiences by myself. I am still new to the FL life and all the gifts that nature gives us here, so a knowledgeable companion added depth to my experience. Thanks Charlie.

FLORIDA HARDWOOD FORESTS-REFLECTION

Hardwood forests do not benefit from fire management like pine flatwoods do. Hardwood forests need treefall disturbancs to create light gaps that permit new growth to occur. Because an upland hardwood forest is a mature, closed canopy forest, the overstory trees block most of the sunlight from the forest floor. Ground cover is mostly compromised of shade tolerant herbaceous species, sedges and vines. With natural distirbances from hurricanes, blow down creates light gaps. In areas of good management, where non native undergrowth has been periodically removed, succession of hardwood forests can begin in those light gaps. Other shrubs and new undergrowth such as the Bluestem palmetto may take over. These produce large leaves which block the sunlight and shade out competing vegetation and may inhibit the succession of hardwood forests.

Just a reflection about fire with regard to hardwood forests/tropical hammocks…low intensity fire may be beneficial, but with FL being the lightening capital of the US, uncontrolled burns would tend to destroy hardwood forests. perhaps this is one reason there are fewer and fewer hardwood forests in the state. (along with development, hydric changes, and partitioning).

Missed Class…makeup work

I missed a class because I was taking a group kayaking on the Silver River. While I was playing hookey, Karen was cooking up my makeup assignment. She sent me hundreds of pages of documents to ”skim” and find something I’d like to discuss. I recently relicated to Florida after retirement from my lifelong residence in Albany, NY. Besides being the capital of New York State, Albany is known for it’s Pine Bush…one of only 2 inland pine barrens in the country. Ah..a similarity to FL, who after much decision making, decided to rename the FL pine barrens ”Pine Flatlands”. There is another big similarity…the need for fire. my discussion will be about how fire plays a role in Mesic Pine forests, Pine rocklands, FL scrub and dry prairies.

habitat and recreation. Development and partitioning remain its biggest threats. These ancient dunes provide habitat for the endangered Karner Blue butterfly which pollinates only the Blue lupine seen above. Like the FL pine flatlands, this area need frequent fires to succeed.

MESIC PINE FLATWOODS AND FIRE – Back in the day before prescription of fire, fires probably occurred every 3-10 years. Most of the plants and animals were/are adapted to periodic fires. The fires were patchy and occurred at the end of the dry season. Fire stimulates slash pine seedlings to sprout making them pioneers of burned land. Evidence suggests that fire every 1-3 years would serve better to maintain this habitat. With fire less often, more shrubby undergrowth develops which increases the likelihood of catastrophic canopy fires. With fire more often, slash pine seedlings will not regenerate which would leave opportunity for herbaceous understory to take over perhaps leading to a cabbage palm prairie. Fire exclusion would result in species loss. decreased forage for herbivores and their predators and decreased pine regeneration.

PINE ROCKLANDS AND FIRE – Fire here greatly influences the structure and composition of this community, controls invasive growth of hardwood species, allows light to reach the understory and herbaceous plants and allows for pine regeneration. Fire exclusion would allow hardwoods to invade and eventually shade out pine rockland understory species. Hardwood development is kept in check by fire. Pine Rockland fires are surface fires and rarely effect the pine canopy. Herbs and shrubs resprout quickly after fire, which also stimulates flowering. Frequency of burn as well as time of year seems more disputed. In absence of fire pine rockland will succeed to tropical hardwood hammock in 20-30 years.

FLORIDA SCRUB AND FIRE – this expanse of land which is dominated by shrubs – no trees – fires, usually caused by lightning, burned until they ran otut of fuel. Fire in scrub is a major stand-replacing disturbance that removes all above ground vegetation and restarts plant growth with often the same combination of species. The frequency of fire may depend on the hydric condition of the scrub, mesic scrubs every 1-10 years, xeric scrubs every 10-80 years. When sand pines are present, they do not form a continuous canopy but they appear scattered as individual trees. Sand pines are killed by fire occurrence and the stand returns to scrub.

DRY PRAIRIE AND FIRE – The natural fire frequency for the dry prairie is unknown but may be every 1-4 years. An increased fire frequency over time may be a factor in limiting pine recruitment. A 1-2 year natural fire frequency would be sufficient to prevent pines from becoming established. Frequent lightning strikes just before the summer rainy season on the dry prairie with dry short shrubs, herbaceous material and grasses, all very flammable, contribute to the natural fire frequency. The exact fire intensity, fire return interval and seasonality of fire under which the fire maintained natural communities evolved in the dry prairie landscape is subject to debate. Dry prairies might be thought of as the end point on the forested-to-treeless continuum in response to the natural fire regime.

DESIGN A HABITAT

My name is BlackSwallow. I am a black swallowtail butterfly and I am looking for a good home. As a matter of fact, Id like to find a home for my family and generations to come. I am looking around at Dunedin RV Park – my good friend Nanci lives there – to find the exact right place. Look – I think I’ve found it…The back corner of her yard that gets more than 6 hours of sunshine a day. Loving that sunshine. Obviously there needs to be some improvements here – there is nothing that would otherwise attract me to this space. Those stones have to go…well, maybe save a couple for my puddles…I need something to pollinate, after all, that’s my job. And I will need places to lay eggs, and places for future caterpillars to nourish themselves. After all, you gotta take care of family.

The perfect spot for my new habitat.

The soils have to be just right, so after removing all the stuff in this corner, I will make sure there is ample topsoil to grow Flowers for me to pollinate. Zinnias, Verbena, Salvia, cosmos, Mexican sunflower, lantana, Bee balm, Coneflower, Golden Alexander, mock bishopweed…mostly flat topped flowers with a place for me to land, or plants with clusters of flowers. That’s where I do my best work. I do have to make sure there are no paper wasps in the area, and I need to try and limit certain insects, spiders and small birds to keep my family safe. I know we are good at imitating other butterflies, specifically the Pipevine swallowtail, to trick our predators, but acting lessons are so expensive anymore. Let’s see, back to the habitat…After mating, eggs hatch in 3-5 days. My caterpillars are beautiful! They need plenty to eat to continue to grow. Their favorites, which we just have to plant, are Parsley, Carrot tops, fennel and dill. And we must plant lots of those veggies and herbs because caterpillars have voracious appetites. When caterpillars reach their full length, they find a safe place to sleep inside a cocoon. It sleeps about 10 days in the cocoon, then after another 2 weeks at the chrysalis stage, a new member of the family is born, big and beautiful.

Schematic for Black Swallowtail habitat

Of course, to have all the comforts of home, we need some bushes and shrubs around the area for protection from the wind. And some puddles – shallow pots on the ground filled with sand, some shells and stones for perches, and kept wet would be great for recreating. ( Actually, mud puddling is how butterflies extract water, sodium and other nutrients from the ground…they taste through their feet.) Adding a bench so our human friends can watch us work and play would be a final touch.

Field Experience 2 – Brooker Creek Preserve, Tarpon Springs, FL

Brooker Creek Preserve is an 8000 acre preserve – the largest single tract of wilderness remaining in Pinellas County. It is made up of pinelands and freshwater wetlands surrounded by development. It protects the watershed for Brooker Creek, the primary stream that feeds Lake Tarpon.

Three of us from my Uplands class went exploring together to get a a great perspective of pinelands that need fire to survive.

WE started at the circled education center and followed the red marker out the Blackwater cutoff until we hit mud. Then we turned around and went out the blue marker, over the Flatwoods and Wilderness trails.

We began our hike at the Education center, which unfortunately was closed on this day, and hiked through the freshwater wetlands and the Creek habitat. We joined the flatwoods trail where the elevation climbed ever so slightly and the trail surface changed from a packed, rich soil to a sandy substrate. The trees changed from pond cypress to live oak. Birds were singing, we were shaded and cool.

At a trail junction, number 7 on the trail map, we noticed a big change from the live oak forest to pine flatwoods. We had continued our barely noticeable uphill climb. Sandy surface soils are low in nutrients and organic matter. Two to three feet underneath the sand is often a layer of clay the restricts both the downward movement of plant roots and water. During the wet summer months, surface soils become saturated and water accumulates on the surface. Later in the year, plants have a hard time reaching the moist soils beneath the clay. Plants are mostly restricted to the water that can be absorbed in the surface sand. Besides needing to adapt to extremes in soil moisture, low nutrient levels and shallow root systems, flatwood plants are subject to frequent fire. Historically, lightning strikes kindled fires every few years. Frequent fires reduce competition between woody and herbaceous plants and prevents invasion by non native plants which would change the habitat. Prescribed burns are now used to keep competition at bay. Flatwoods are characterized by widely spaces pine trees and a shrub layer dominated by saw palmetto. Both Slash pine and Longleaf pine are common in areas of fire, depending on the soil, moisture and fire frequency.

The area pictured above looks like the last fire may have been 3-4 years ago judging by the size of the saw palmettos. In this area there are no scorch marks in evidence on the pine trees. The pine trees are still young, a newer generation, in some of the photos. There are grasses in the understory but no evidence of non-native trees. If you look in the far background of some of the photos you can see hardwoods – evidently no prescribed fires have been in those areas. Further along the trail there were an abundance of wildflowers, a gift of spring, as well as pine needles, downed trees and grasses. Pine seedlings are scattered throughout this habitat. Spring is in early bloom.

Also seen in the area were different animals that inhabit Pine Flatwoods. See captions. Other inhabitants that we missed are White tailed deer, Bobcat, Eastern Screech Owl, Eastern towhee, Pine Warbler, Eastern diamondback rattler (whew!) , FL box turtle and many other and smaller species.

Buttonbush with Gulf Fritillary (in wetlands area)

We continued walking through this habitat until we came to more hardwoods and less pine – and the path became too muddy for our tender toes to tread on. We turned around and continued back, but on a slightly different route. It was a great outing that we were glad we experienced together.

Fire sustained habitat -NOT at Brooker Creek -(taken at Caladesi Island 4/16/22)

Natural disturbances such as fire, hurricanes, flooding and drought all contribute to the nature of change. Human disturbances such as development and partitioning contribute to habitat change as well. Urbanization effects hydrology. For over 70 years natural fire has been suppressed in this area because it was thought to be destructive. Prescribed fires – fires set purposefully based on a “prescription” of temperature, wind and humidity to promote natural habitat restoration have taken place in recent years.

Uplands Habitats in the Modern Human Landscape – Video

Video Reflections. Regarding habitat loss and fragmentation of Upland habitats in Florida, I am appalled that long ago the state of Florida did nothing to institute more conservation measures to protect these habitats from being destroyed. I am amazed, however, that in recent years conservation and preservation have taken a giant step forward and we are starting to regard how habitat loss has affected everything from plants and animals to recreation. I am appalled that our wetlands have achieved a level of protection by law but not our uplands. I am hopeful that people will continue to fight for equal laws that can begin to protect Florida’s uplands, or what some people call “the old Florida”. I am both appalled AND amazed at the rate in which people are moving into the state. But I am appalled that no one apparently saw this coming and could begin to protect our fragile habitats earlier. I am amazed that ranchers are concerned about preserving these fragile habitats. THEY are the ones with foresight.

I am concerned about continuing loss of our upland habitat. One action I, myself, can take today to help create a better balance between growth and habitat is to decrease the amount of water I am using at home, and tell my neighbors why they should do the same. I can also reduce the amt of chemicals I use. I can take out non-native plants and grow a native vegetation garden to attract native species. I can make sure I always recycle and do not litter – especially plastics. For the longer term, I can educate myself and others about the importance of our upland habitats. I can join groups that advocate for conservation. I can VOTE. I can encourage friends and neighbors to get out into nature, see what is happening and become advocates themselves. We can ask people to stop relocating to Florida. LOL Getting involved in politics or advocacy at the local level adds one more voice. Join a local conservancy or “friends” group. I can start a neighborhood association of like-minded people who have environmental concerns and brainstorm/share ways my community can help by encouraging good stewardship in our own backyards. Citizen Science has been around for awhile. Find local projects that are satisfying and help the environment. Get kids and family involved.

Our own actions speak louder than words. When we make good environmental choices others may follow suit. Teach our families to value outdoors and become stewards of our valued resources. One final life-long action – be a role model and set a good example.

Field Experience #3 Gladys E. Douglas Preserve, Dunedin, FL

Imagine it’s 125,000 years ago in Florida and you are standing on the shores of the sea surrounded by dry, infertile sandy ridges. There would be communities of scrub pine , scrub rosemary (which is not related to the herbal rosemary) and shrubby oaks of many species. The scrub environment is harsh. Fire every 10-40 years would be a natural occurrence to keep these sandy open areas free of non-native growth. It’s hard for animals to make a living in these xeric (very dry) conditions so this area is home to only a small amount of non-vertebrates. The scrub jay, scrub lizard, sand skink, Florida mouse (not related to Mickey), and the short tailed snake. Scrub habitat is also important to the gopher tortoise. Today these species are rare or endemic. Due to development and fragmentation, these scrub habitats are shrinking and so are the number of their inhabitants. Imagine no more “Old Florida” or coastal or inland dunes. It is important to be able to preserve these rare and precious lands before they disappear forever. One thing we can do to keep these areas thriving is support parks and preserves such as the Gladys Douglas Preserve in Pinellas County.

A BRIEF HISTORY

Being a recent transplant to Florida, I had not heard of the Gladys E. Douglas Preserve until my class instructor Karen mentioned it in an email. The detective in me couldn’t wait to find out more. Gladys Douglas’ first husband was Stanley Douglas who died in 1989. She later married Robert Hackworth in 1989. Gladys was widely recognized in Dunedin, FL, where they lived, for her philanthropy. Many buildings, halls and art centers bear her name. Mrs. Douglas died in 2019. More than a decade before she died, Gladys Douglas began the work that would fulfill her dreams. She wanted 44 acres of the woods surrounding her home in Dunedin and the 50-acre adjoining lake to be preserved forever as a nature park amid the urban sprawl of Pinellas County. After her death, her family reignited the discussions with local government. Amid her property is about 16 acres of a rare acidic sandy soil known as sand pine rosemary scrub. 99% of sand pine rosemary scrub in Pinellas county has been lost to development. About 3 acres of an even rarer ecosystem, elevated rosemary bald, sits in the center of the scrub, the last of its kind in the county. The adjoining lake, once part of the Douglas property, was given over to Southern Florida Water Management district in 1986. To realize Mrs. Douglas’ dream, the lake would be part of the new park. Over the next 3 years, supporters of this park project were able to raise over $10 million needed to preserve it. Pinellas County partnered with the City of Dunedin to make this happen. On May 15, 2021 a contract was signed and the City of Dunedin owned the 44-acre Douglas parcel with the intention of connecting the land to the 55 acre lake (Jerry Lake) to make a 100 acre public park. Both the City of Dunedin and Pinellas are collaborating to develop this preserve.

I went to visit this preserve although I knew it was still being developed and closed to the public. The land was posted with big red NO TRESPASSING signs every 100 yards around its perimeter. The detective in me wanted to snoop around a bit, so I took the liberty of walking in past the signs about 100 feet. Areas were overgrown with invasive species but there was some native growth, oaks and saw palmetto, but mostly the habitat was no longer a scrub area. Since there have not been any fires in the area, the scrub has grown into a treetop canopy shading the land and creating a different habitat. In the top right photo just below the tree canopy down a hill in the distance is Jerry Lake. There is no public access to the lake. A second access point was near white, dry sandy soil with prickly pear cactus growing and flowering. From the perimeter I was unable to find any rosemary scrub.

I placed a call to the City of Dunedin and spoke with the city arborist Craig, who is working with the preserve development group, to ask about gaining access to the land. He stated it was closed except to a small group of people due to safety reasons. We discussed some future planning of the preserve and he referred me to a video link…

And some photos the city had taken…the first photo below is rosemary scrub located within the property.

Rosemary scrub

The 2 top photos below show drone pictures of the scrubby terrain with open dry, sandy areas. The 3rd smaller photo shows reindeer moss lichen which grows in xeric habitat that has not been exposed to fire in many years. A rosemary bald – mentioned in one of the videos -is a relatively open landscape characterized by large rosemary shrubs. Not many other species can grow in this habitat, partially due to allelopathy which is when plants release chemicals that inhibit growth of other plants…or plants that don’t play well with others.

Over head (drone) photo of pines – no longer scrub – and dry, sandy areas popping through
another overhead view
Foreground lichen is Reindeer Moss which can be found growing in undisturbed, dry upland habitats. It is most abundant in areas that have not been exposed to fire for many years.
Rosemary scrub

My detective work piqued my interest in doing some work with Craig, the arborist and others in future development of this preserve. I have given them my name and background…perhaps in the future you’ll find me in the Gladys Douglas Preserve giving interpretive nature walks around this special property in my backyard.