Understanding the value of water
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In this issue
Trails to explore and scenic vistas to enjoy. District lands offer a variety of recreational activities for the public.
Restored wetlands provide many benefits to Florida’s natural environment and economy. The district’s work has restored thousands of acres in north and east-central Florida.
Newest cost-share seeks to aid rural communities and fund innovative projects in their efforts to conserve water.
The district has many ways to keep informed about its work and to provide us with feedback.
Danny Bales often blends in with the background while photographing and observing red-cockaded woodpeckers at Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park.
District lands offer unique opportunities to residents and visitors
Dozens of properties to explore in northeast and east-central Florida
Beneath towering longleaf pines, Danny Bales moves quietly along a trail in Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park in Orange County. He’s been following a red-cockaded woodpecker for several hours in his quest for a photo of the endangered bird. Already, the morning air yields to a melding of summer heat and humidity that feels like the belly of a clothes dryer.
Bales watches the woodpecker flit from tree to tree. He has spent the past decade photographing and documenting the lives of Hal Scott’s rare denizens. Bales aims and shoots. He scribbles information into a notebook and heads back to his car as the sun climbs its arc toward midday. He’s had heat stroke before and has learned when to wrap up a morning shooting session.
“I know all of these birds personally because I practically live with them,” says Bales, whose passion for photographing birds has garnered a sizeable following (10,000 hits monthly on his website). “I’m photographing, tracking and documenting them. Red-cockaded woodpeckers are a big part of my life.”
The attributes that make St. Johns River Water Management District properties such as the Hal Scott land special — rare or endangered plants and animals, distinctive water features and scenic vistas — also attract unique individuals like Bales and niche organizations whose activities aid the district’s mission or add an important, if not quantifiable, value to district lands.
Woodpeckers photographs by Danny Bales
It’s not uncommon to find hikers, bicyclists, anglers and birdwatchers exploring some 700,000 acres of district land distributed across 18 counties. The district’s main goal of buying land has been to protect water, but most of the land is open for the public to enjoy.
And then there’s Bales. He’s not your typical birder. He thinks nothing of crawling through thickets dressed in camouflage to get inside the birds’ habitat. He records their movements, the births of hatchlings or occurrences of the woodpeckers hollowing new cavities in trees.
The district’s Governing Board has recognized Bales’ contributions, and district Land Manager Maria Zondervan credits his keen observations and camera work in playing a significant role in helping the endangered woodpecker population recover.
“Danny alerts us to possible injuries, individual traits, new cavities and nests in trees, and so much more,” Zondervan says. “Staff time for bird observations is very limited, so we rely heavily on Danny to provide crucial information about bird locations, breeding status, home ranges and juvenile survival rates. He has literally put in thousands of hours with these birds, freeing up staff time to focus on habitat improvements for the woodpeckers. When looking for Danny in the spring and summer chances are he’ll be at Hal Scott. Odds of actually seeing him, however, are slim. He makes himself invisible out there in all his camouflage.”
While Bales searches for woodpeckers, a group of enthusiasts known as geocachers frequent district lands for a different kind of hunt altogether.
Geocaching is an emerging outdoor activity often described as a high-tech treasure hunt. Invented in 2000 by an Oregon resident, geocaching requires the use of a global positioning system (GPS) receiver or other navigational technique to hide and find containers or “caches.” A typical cache is a small waterproof container that includes a logbook, and possibly some small trinkets. Traditionally, the geocacher hiding the cache will list the coordinates, along with other details of the location, on an online listing site. Other geocachers obtain the coordinates from that listing site and seek out the cache using their GPS handheld receivers or smartphones. Geocachers record their victories in the logbook and online but must return the cache to the same coordinates so that other geocachers can find it. Geocachers may take objects from the cache in exchange for leaving something of similar or higher value.
Today, more than 4 million people have participated in geocaching worldwide, according to Geocaching.com.
Bob Addison of Melbourne has been geocaching for about three years. One of his favorite places to hide and seek caches is the district’s River Lakes Conservation Area, a 39,000-acre tract of wilderness spanning Brevard and Osceola counties.
Bob Addison finding a geocache
“There are a dozen caches at River Lakes,” Addison says. “They’re all long distances, so most of them don’t get found very often. It helps to know the area. I once hid a cache during dry season and within weeks it was under water. Nobody ever found it.”
A permit is required to establish a geocache site on property owned or managed by the district. A maximum of 12 geocache sites is allowed for each property. Currently there are more than 100 geocaches hidden on district lands.
District Land Manager Nels Parson loves to hear geocachers and like-minded clubs and organizations are experiencing firsthand district lands that provide protection to so many sources of water.
“I compare the district’s Public Use Recreation Program relative to water resources on district conservation areas much like agri-tourism where folks visit farms to see where food actually comes from,” Parson says. “Just like visitors to farms see not just the crops, but how they are grown and managed, so it is with visiting district lands to see that the land is not stagnant. Each conservation area is unique and requires a variety of management aspects depending on the type of habitat found on a given conservation area.”
For many visitors, the draw is simply the sublime beauty of the land and water in all of its configurations.
“I discovered River Lakes because of geocaching,” Addison says. “But sometimes I venture out there just to enjoy the scenery and the solitude. I’ll go out there and just bike ride for a couple of miles. There’s not much fresh territory in Florida to explore any more.”
There was a time in Florida when horses were a common form of land transportation in Florida. These days, the state’s burgeoning population centers have expanded outward, limiting horseback riding to private property and certain public lands. Many district properties, fortunately, provide opportunities for equestrians to experience natural Florida in the manner that the state’s forbearers did for five centuries.
Karen Causseaux lives in the quaint town of Osteen in Volusia County. An avid rider who owns two horses, Causseaux says she’s grateful to live so close to Palm Bluff and Lake Monroe conservation areas, popular horseback riding locales.
“Lake Monroe Conservation Area also offers very good riding areas,” she says. “There are cattle fences that you have to be aware of, but when you get to the flats next to the river it’s just heaven.”
Palm Bluff is five miles from Causseaux’s front door to the parking lot. For her and many other equestrians that translates to more than 3,300 acres of Florida wilderness to explore.
“There are so many types of environments,” Causseaux says. “You have piney woods, palmettos, scrub and oak hammocks all in one riding area. You could spend six hours out there riding at a leisurely pace.”
Causseaux’s observations are music to Parson’s ears.
“We lay out trails with the intent to provide access to as much diversity as is found on a conservation area,” he says. “As land managers, our primary intent for trail users is to help them make the connection between the conservation area they’re visiting and why it was acquired for water resource protection.”