Volunteers Help Restore Florida's Bald Point State Park
As the one-year anniversary of the BP Oil Disaster approaches, volunteers pitch in to restore coastal areas
Jenna Peters, Crystal Webb, and Eliot Sherman
On March 5th, volunteers traveled from near and far to Florida’s Bald Point State Park to participate in a National Wildlife Federation and Florida Wildlife Federation sponsored restoration event.
This was the first in a series of volunteer events taking place this spring along the Gulf coast.
Approaching the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill, volunteers united under a common goal to restore Florida’s native habitat to help ensure the long-term health of the ecosystem.
“We’re still seeing tar balls and signs of strain in animals, but I’m more worried about what we don’t see,” said Cassie, a resident of Cape Coral, FL. “I’m here today because rebuilding and restoring habitat is going to be critical in moving towards a healthier Gulf.”
In addition to recruiting volunteers and rolling up their sleeves to work, the Florida Wildlife Federation was on hand to gather signatures to petition for a constitutional amendment to prohibit oil and gas drilling in Florida’s near-shore waters.
Volunteers were charged with the task of restoring the native ground cover of Bald Point State Park, which has been destroyed by years of siviculture, the practice of growing pine trees for paper production. The park is home to more than 40 threatened and endangered species across almost 5,000 acres including the red-cockaded woodpecker, white squirrel and Florida black bear. Natural communities such as pine flatwoods and oak thickets now thrive due to committed efforts to restore the park’s native ecosystems. Both freshwater and saltwater fish inhabit the waters around the park, including largemouth bass, bream, catfish and speckled perch.
Two Days to Get the Job Done
Years of experience with controlled burning, which mimic naturally occurring lightning fires, have concluded that a higher plant and animal diversity is maintained when the land is regularly burned. The most recent prescribed burn took place in January 2011, when carefully selected sections of the Park were purposefully set ablaze.
Wiregrass is a fire adapted and dependent species that responds to the burning by producing seed in large quantities. In the months that follow a prescribed burn, park rangers and volunteers are able to collect these seeds for later use in restorative planting projects. Park Rangers and volunteers are the sole resources for dispersing the seeds and furthering the restoration of the park’s forests.
Two months after the burn, over a period of two days, NWF volunteers dibbled the land (cutting shallow depressions with a specialized garden tool), and successfully planted more than 5,000 wiregrass plugs. Twenty-five bags of wiregrass seed were also dispersed and volunteers trimmed several acres of newly planted plugs surprising even Bald Point Park Ranger, Kevin Patton.
“There are only four of us working to maintain over 4,000 acres,” said Patton. “There’s no way we could have done all that we need to do without the help of volunteers. We are so grateful to NWF and the volunteers that came out this weekend. What they were able to accomplish is just amazing.”
The importance of the work was echoed by our youngest volunteer, 10-year-old Erica of Lakeland, FL: “I think it’s important to plant seeds and rake the ground. We need to protect the forest and keep what we have right now.”
While much work remains to be done to achieve the long-term restoration of the Gulf, National Wildlife Federation’s volunteers are playing a vital role in restoring and preserving our land for wildlife for years to come.
NWF is recruiting volunteers
for restoration and planting events. Find out more about this opportunity to volunteer and also about how you can support the effort.