Lars Andersen, writer and paddling guide, wrote this piece that I think expresses the way many of us feel about our area.
Unlike other coastal regions, where civilization crowds shoulder-to-shoulder along the shore, like lemmings amassing for their the mythical plunge into the sea, nature still rules along Florida's Big Bend area - a.k.a. the central Gulf coast. It’s a low, wet country where the "shore line" defies definition, ever-changing, shrinking and expanding, with the ebb and flow of tides. Driving west toward Cedar Key, you hardly notice the slow drop in elevation - only about a foot per mile as you approach the coast. Leaving the pine flat-woods and sandy, scrub ridges, you notice the roadside ditch has become wetter and is filled with a beautiful assortment of wetland plants. You'll also notice that the pine forest has given way to hardwood swamp, loaded with bays and red maples. Nearing the Gulf, a gust of warm air, heavily perfumed with sea-salt, tells you you're getting close. Another bend in the road and you're treated to one of the rarest of Florida offerings - a wide-open vista. The forest ends unnoticed as your gaze is drawn away to vast expanses of salt marsh, scattered islands and open water stretching to the horizon. The hundreds of little islands that line this watery coast, range in size from barren, half acre sand-spits to bonafide, mile-wide islands. For the curious explorer who's not in a hurry, the complex, species-rich communities that crowd these islands never get boring. And, if you lose track of time and suddenly find that you've run out of daylight (I'm speaking from experience here), that's not so bad either. As dusk settles and the the only sound you hear is the breeze, you look out to see the silhouettes of palms, wind-gnarled oaks, pines and mangroves cast against a smoldering sun. It's the stuff of dreams - a place where all the world is right. In 1867, naturalist John Muir described Cedar Key as being "surrounded by scores of other keys, many of them looking like a clump of palms, arranged like a tasteful bouquet, and placed in the sea to be kept fresh. Others have quite a sprinkling of oaks and junipers, beautifully united with vines. Still others consist of shells, with a few grasses and mangroves circled with a rim of rushes."
At least once a year, the board of directors of Friends meets in the Town of Suwannee instead of at Refuge headquarters near Fowlers Bluff. This year, instead of driving the refuge staff members and the board members from Levy and Alachua Counties came down the river by boat. It was a perfect morning to enjoy the River, and wonderful to save 50 miles of driving. Perhaps the Dixie county board members need to start coming to board meetings on the water.
It was also a great day to all participate in the Suwannee River Cleanup and have an excellent lunch with colleagues from Suwannee,.
Dan Frisk joined in the day and got to visit Dixie County and Suwannee for the first time. He is the newly appointed US Fish and Wildlife Service Manager for the Refuge Complex that includes Lower Suwannee, Cedar Keys, St Marks and St. Vincent Refuges. The Florida Big Bend region is on everyone's agenda because of the value it has in preserving the economy and quality of life we all cherish. We are glad to have people new to the area spend time in our little paradise and be captured by its charms.
Enjoying perfect cleanup weather on October 20, twenty-three volunteers collected 1,704 lbs of trash from the canals and creeks around the town of Suwannee- four times more than last year! The picture below is the Leverette's haul and they only cleaned a small section near their house.
After a chicken & rice lunch served Dixie county style off the back of a pick-up truck, Daniel Barrand, Refuge Forester, gave a excellent presentation on the history of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge that left me feeling proud I helped clean one of the largest pristine coastal wetlands in the country. I am lucky to live here and enjoy its unspoiled beauty.
Thanks to all who came out and got muddy!
Dan Frisk is the recently appointed Leader of the North Florida Refuge Complex that includes us, St. Marks, and St. Vincent. He has met with our refuge staff numerous times already. This month he and his wife Sheila came to the Refuge Open House at Seahorse Key and then spent much of Saturday afternoon at the Friends Booth at the Cedar Key Seafood Festival. He also came to the River Cleanup, lunch, and Friends Board Meeting in Suwannee last week.
We like our leaders engaged.
The Refuge law enforcement officer and fire crew members have been called on to work in communities around Florida and also in the Carolinas to help with Hurricane Hermine and Hurricane Matthew related efforts. Staff member Jason Coates has particularly been assisting staff of Dixie County along with Refuge Friends and volunteers from the Town of Suwannee in removing Hurricane Hermine debris from the refuge marshes.
Refuge Fire Crew chief and Biologist Vic Doig represented the Refuge at the Florida Black Bear Working Group meeting recently. Vic also presented at the University of Florida's Wildlife Colloquium and separately at the University of Florida's Natural Resources Career Symposium.
Larry Woodward, Refuge Deputy Manager, met with the California Swamp Hunt Club in Dixie County. The California Swamp, which is adjacent to the Refuge, was put under a conservation easement recently facilitated by The Conservation fund.