The sun was shining. The no-see-ums were flocking. It was an almost perfect day for an outdoor Annual Meeting at Refuge headquarters.
More than 140 members gathered for the event. They signed in and visited the welcome tables to chat about Friends Welcome Desk activities in Cedar Key and around the Refuge. The Junior Ranger program launched and several members picked up workbooks so their young friends could participate in the program. The full report from Friends 2020 study of the historical, cultural, and architectural assessment of the Vista property captured a lot of attention with its almost 500 pages of photos, drawings, and stories.
The new poster that shows all maps and brochures about the Lower Suwannee Refuge was on display. Members were eager for on-the-spot tutorials from the QR-savvy in the crowd. Using a QR code, any map or brochure can be downloaded to your phone while you are on the Refuge, in areas with decent cell tower coverage.
The presentations by Refuge Manager Andrew Gude, outgoing Friends president Debbie Meeks, and incoming Friends president Ginessa Mahar gave broad and deep overviews of Friends actions and impact.
Friends membership chart showed fall off during the pandemic and rising numbers now. The revenues and expenditures reflected similar pandemic trends, plus the increased actions related to Vista, now that the donors have turned it over fully to the Refuge, and to new initiatives such as the Junior Ranger program.
Dr. Ken Sulak's featured presentation was received with great interest and enthusiasm. If you missed it, you missed a detailed and personal look at the stories of Florida's early settlers, their triumphs and hardships.
Lunch was a highlight, as always, with the feast prepared by local stars Ken and Rose McCain.
The River Trail Walk, led by John Thalacker, had more than a dozen participants. The Vista visit had at least that many and especially attracted members who had not previously seen the gifted-property. Hearty folks participated in both walks.
It was a welcome change from the virtual meeting two years ago during the height of the pandemic, and from the stormy weather than kept us hunkered down inside the meeting area last year.