About 50 participants gathered at Shell Mound to celebrate the Winter Solstice. It was Friends 6th annual Winter Solstice celebration, and the first with no rain. On the other hand, we shall have to try again next year for one where we can actually see the sun setting. For this year, we were happy for less blustery wind and warmer temperatures.
Both guided walks were successful. The Dennis Creek walk, led by Friends member Donna Thalacker, crossed through not-quite-upland, not-quite-marsh scrubby woods, a tidal flat with unique plants such as glass wort, a tidal pool ringed with both cordgrass and black needlerush, trees scarred by early commercial turpentining, and a maritime hammock canopied by oaks, redbay, and yaupon holly. A short side trail led to Dennis Creek itself, flowing into the Gulf and visible from the Shell Mound pier.
Along the way, despite the cold weather, they also saw animal life, including a pygmy rattlesnake, tricolor heron, great blue heron, little blue, great white egret, snowy egret, and a palm warbler.
The Shell Mound walk, led by Friends president-elect Dr. Ginessa Mahar, was a trip through the history of the people, geology, and culture of the civic-ceremonial site. It crossed time from the Ice Age to the present, lingering especially over what archaeologists have found about this particular location at the peak of its activity about 1,500 years ago. The dune on which Shell Mound is built provided high land for dwellings. The sea waters, mixed with the fresh water of the Suwannee River, provided food in abundance. The alignment of the dune with the annual cycle of the sun, setting off the open arms of the dune at 240 degrees on Winter Solstice and rising above the closed end of the dune at 60 degrees on Summer Solstice provided a sacred reminder of the cycle of daily, seasonal, and generational transitions.
After the walks, we all gathered for conversation, hot herbal teas, and cookies before we went out to the pier to imagine the sun setting near the former burial ground on the dune arm. A good time was had by all.
Photos by Michael Miller
About 30 Friends members and visitors enjoyed an afternoon of meandering around the Vista property and taking photos.
We met at the River Trail parking area. Friends president Debbie Meeks presented an brief overview of the history of the property and of future plans for it.
Friends member Bob McKinstry, whose father was the Land and Timber Manager for the Cummer Company, answered questions about Vista's history. Bob was there many times as a boy.
Deputy Refuge Manager John Stark welcomed the group to the Refuge and mentioned that there was a tree planting operation ongoing on a nearby section of the Refuge as we met to walk at Vista.
The group spent a couple of hours of gorgeous Friday afternoon sunshine walking and exploring.
Photos will be highlighted soon in the Photo Gallery on the Wildlife page of this website. A sneak peek is below.
History and Characteristics of the Vista Site
It is the intent of the Friends and Refuge to eventually use this property and the historic buildings to develop publicly accessible displays that explore and interpret:
To celebrate our $75,000 grant from the Florida Division of Historical Resources, Friends will hold a Photo Walk at Vista on Friday December 9 from 2:00 to 4:00. The area is closed except during special events such as this one.
We will gather at the River Trail parking area, near Refuge headquarters, off County Road 347 about 1:45. At 2:00, we will walk to the Vista property.
It is a lovely nature walk, even if you don't want to take photos. However, we proclaimed this event as a Photo Walk because, as restoration begins, changes will happen. Some trees need to be removed. Old buildings with no historical value will come down. This is a last chance for photos before any changes commence.
Board members will be at each building to chat about the property and assure that no one enters the buildings, which are not safe for visitors.
There are no restroom facilities in this area. The restoration will need to address that issue.
It will take years and lots more grant funding and philanthropic support to make the area safe and welcoming for visitors. Still, we are enjoying the chance to celebrate each step of the way.
Join us on the Photo Walk. If you get some great pics, we would greatly appreciate your sharing them with Friends and the Refuge.
Friends has a list of items we fund each year and items we plan to fund when we have the income to do so. If you are considering making an end-of-year gift to Friends, you could be a part of one of these Friends projects becoming a reality.
Particularly high on the Wish List right now is funding for the iGuide panels. They are ready to go to the printer but cost more than our print budget can afford. They would be rigid, outdoor panels to be placed at the entrances to roads, and also at libraries and visitor centers around the region, increasing access to information for visitors and saving both money and paper.
Friends' Online Store's year-end sale features the luna, butterfly and women's tree shirts.
It also has some fun gift-idea items to consider. Take, for example, our earrings. They are made in America, actually in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, by a family of nature enthusiasts. There also is a Florida connection . . . earring artist and co-owner Kevin Abbott has a Wildlife Ecology degree from the University of Florida.
The nature-themed earrings are made of re-cycled, locally-sourced cereal boxes. We select sets that are appropriate to our part of Florida, such as roseate spoonbills, dolphins, box turtles, white pelicans, luna moths, swallow-tailed kites, red mangroves, and spicebush swallowtail butterflies. Most sets have different versions of the plant or animal for each ear. They are a charming $15 gift.
In 2022, we added a long-sleeved hooded shirt with trees specific to the Lower Suwannee Refuge and a short-sleeved shirt with an animals-at-sunset design.
If you're looking for an alternative gift, the online store now has an option for you to make a gift to Friends "in appreciation of", or "in the name of" a nature-lover, especially one who cares about the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys Refuges. Donate any amount to Friends and we'll send a card with a refuge photo and a short message of your choice hand-written by one of us inside.
All the purchases help Friends print brochures, maps, and trail guides; host the Annual Meeting (on the last Saturday in February); pay for the website platform and software; and sponsor our other activities. Purchases are an important revenue stream for Friends and your shopping with Friends is greatly appreciated.