Post written by Russ Hall
At dawn on June 21 of this year, Peg and I were at Shell Mound, seeking to recreate the experience of the Summer Solstice that Native Americans had a millennium ago. Daybreak on the fishing dock was lovely as we watched the sunrise in the east. We had the place almost to ourselves—except for swarms of no-see-ums. They kept us from lingering and we were soon on our way back toward Cedar Key. A short distance beyond the bridge over Dennis Creek Peg noticed an animal perhaps 50 yards ahead of us on the side of the road. Shadows were long and the animal was backlit, but its outline was clearly visible. It must be a fox, I thought. When it turned and made for the tree line, however, I noticed that its bounding gait was not at all like a fox. “It’s a bobcat,” I exclaimed. “But it had a long tail,” Peg said.
Hmm, a cat with a long tail. Could it be the elusive jaguarundi?
So, putting an end to the mystery is a challenge for anyone who has a wildlife camera and is looking for a project.
YCCers Shelby Holland and Gabriel Lauer with Refuge Biologist Vic Doig on a shorebird survey.
Each summer, the Lower Suwannee NWR participates in the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) program. It is a federal government, summer youth employment program hiring teens from 15 through 18 years old, who are permanent US residents with a work permit and Social Security number. The work is at participating national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and fish hatcheries. It is intended to develop an ethic of environmental stewardship and civic responsibility. YCC programs are 8 to 10 weeks and members are paid the minimum wage for a 40-hour work week.
This year, the Refuge is hosting two summer YCC Students: Shelby Holland from Chiefland, who was the YCC Youth Leader last year, and Gabriel Lauer from Cedar Key. They are working as a team on various Refuge maintenance projects including, but not limited to mowing, rehabbing the yellow gates, garbage and cleaning details, posting signs, and assisting Crystal River NWR YCCers.
Teens who would be interested in applying for a YCC job for a future summer should text or call Refuge Manager Andrew Gude at 703.622.3896.
Shell Mound, on the Levy County side of the Lower Suwannee NWR, attracts thousands of visitors each year. Some come to fish from the pier. Others put in their kayaks and small boats at the tide-dependent launch area. Some walk the one-mile Dennis Creek Trail through marshes and hammocks.
For many, the highlight of the visit is the walk on the self-guided, less than a half-mile Shell Mound archaeological trail.
Despite its unassuming name, Shell Mound (8LV42), is a large shell-bearing archaeological site that was once the location of special gatherings for Native American groups across the broader region.
The site rose to prominence as a ritual center at about A.D. 400 and continued through A.D. 650. Archaeologists refer to places such as this as “civic-ceremonial centers,” locations of both residence and ritual activity. Like other civic-ceremonial centers in the region, Shell Mound drew its significance from a nearby cemetery, the hallowed ground of ancestors from far and wide.
The site features mounds of marine shell (predominately oyster) measuring 20 feet high surrounding a large central plaza. Excavations by archaeologists from the University of Florida have discovered the remains of large feasts that took place in the summer – likely celebrating the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.
Today, Shell Mound is part of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and thus under the stewardship of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the help of community groups such as the Friends of the Lower Suwannee Wildlife Refuges. Come tour this incredible site and learn more about Shell Mound and its inhabitants by taking the self-guided walking tour.
Click here for the Guide Book giving additional information beyond what is on the brief interpretive panels.
Click the links below to read the Interpretive Panels you will see along the short trail.