Saturday, February 24.
As has been our tradition, Friends Annual Meeting will be on the last Saturday in February at Refuge headquarters, which is located off State Road 347 between Chiefland and Cedar Key. The official address is at 16450 NW 31 Pl, Chiefland, FL 32626.
Friends members do not pay a fee to attend the event, including the program, lunch, and afternoon nature walks.
The fee for those who are not Friends members is $20 per person.
Pre-program activities will start at 9:30. They include:
Again This Year
So much is happening with Friends and the Refuges that the Welcome/Outreach trailer and information tables will be set up in the grassy area in front of the log cabin office building. Members and visitors can talk to board members and other volunteers about ongoing and planned projects and programs, discuss ideas for ways in which they'd like to participate, and learn more about:
The formal program in the "shop" building will start at 10:15.
After the Featured Presentation, while lunch is being set up and served, the information and discussion tables will be open again.
Lunch will be about noon. Ken McCain will cater. A vegetarian option will also be available.
Afternoon Walk-to-Vista Exploration Options
At her request, we met at the Refuge on February 8th when she planned to be in the area. We were pleased to have her enthusiastic and undivided attention. Cammack serves on the House Agriculture Committee, and several caucuses, including Law Enforcement, Forests, and the Sportsmen's. With her support, those connections could positively affect the needs of the Refuges.
We discussed the fact that the Refuge staff oversees 53,000 acres on the Lower Suwannee with responsibilities including rebuilding forests, providing hydrologic improvements to clean water flow which impacts clamming, oystering, commercial and residential fishing. She was interested in the indigenous archaeological importance of Shell Mound and other areas within the Refuges. She was pleased and surprised to learn that our Refuges have about 250,000 visitors annually, who boost the economy of the region and enjoy the recreational opportunities the Refuges offer such as hunting, biking, hiking, bird and butterfly watching and nature walks.
The Congresswoman, who insisted we call her Kat, got right to the point, "What can I do? What do you want to happen?"
We wanted two things:
We reported that our Refuges have gone from a staff of 14 to 5, losing both full-time and collateral-duty law enforcement officers. Public safety has become a major concern.
Due to an injury of the one law enforcement officer the Refuges did have, we currently have zero. Without law enforcement to deter crimes including poaching, vandalism, and an increase in other undesirable behaviors, there is a risk of forced closures to the public, including for hunting. Notably, the Lower Suwannee NWR has more hunt days than any other refuge in the lower 48 states.
The Advocacy Committee felt good about the Congresswoman's interest in our Refuges and particularly in our concern about the need for more law enforcement. We invited her and her staff to join us at the Annual Meeting. We will continue our conversations and are confident that she will have our desire for increased law enforcement on our Refuges front of mind as a significant concern for her constituents.
The granting agency, Florida Division of Historical Resources, has been reviewing Friends' plans for the Cook's House restoration and last week, they were approved! Window restoration started right away and a request for proposals for roof work and other repairs has gone out. Hooray!
The window repair is being contributed as a Gift-in-Kind by Debbie Meeks, an expert in historical restoration as well as Friends" immediate past president extraordinaire. A few other Friends members with restoration skills will be working under her supervision to help with the 10 antique windows in the building.
The Request for Proposals for the roof and miscellaneous work is on the homepage, as well as here. If you know any contractors who have the skills and might be interested in working on a meaningful project, please share the RFP with them.