by anna rabhan
With school wrapping up and the warm weather here to stay, many of us are planning our summer vacations. Just a year ago, we might have considered the Caribbean or even Europe. However, the economic downturn and the availability of more information about our planet have caused many Americans to think hard about their impact on the Earth and reconsider such far-away destinations. Here are just a few ideas to get you started planning an environmentally themed local vacation, or staycation.
tree hill nature center (www.treehill.org) in Arlington features 50 acres of trails, a Florida Natural History Museum, butterfly and hummingbird gardens, and native animal displays. It is the only place within the city where you can see hardwood hammock, swamp area and running streams all in the same vicinity. Executive Director Lucy Cortese says, “Tree Hill is really the best place for a staycation because we’re right in the heart of Jacksonville – we’re equally accessible to all parts of town. It’s really a vacation in your backyard.” Their school program educates teachers about environmental issues we face in Northeast Florida, including habitat loss, aquifer pollution and coastal overdevelopment. Saturday programs are used to educate youngsters and their families. Each Saturday has a different theme and take-home project.
the cummer museum and gardens (www.cummer.org) in Riverside features more than 5,500 objects in its collection and over 2.5 acres of gardens with sweeping views of the St. Johns River and an unbelievable 200-year-old live oak. Associate Director of Marketing Amy Chamberlin says, “I think when you combine both the museum and the garden, you can spend 2-3 hours here… If you’re interested in enjoying nature, this is the ideal place to come. We are nationally and regionally known for our gardens.” Pick up “A Gardener’s Guide to Florida’s Native Plants” from the gift shop or visit floridayards.org/index.php and consider creating your own landscape of entirely native plants. These plants usually get all the water and nutrients they need from Mother Nature.
the st. augustine alligator farm (www.alligatorfarm.com) is the only zoo in the world that has every kind of crocodile and alligator that exists – 23 species. It also features a bird rookery. The Alligator Farm is deeply involved in the breeding of endangered Chinese Alligators, and Director John Brueggen says, “We have a Florida Forest Friends show that… talks a lot about how to make sure that the local forests here in Florida are maintained and that we’re not trashing them.” Get involved through the website of H.A.W.K.E., the Humane Association of Wildlife Care and Education (www.hawkewildlife.org). Founder Melanie Cain-Stage describes H.A.W.K.E. as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of injured native wildlife.
kayak amelia (www.kayakamelia.com) in Talbot Islands State Parks offers stunning views of the salt marsh and the chance to view migrating birds, manatees, rays, dolphins, turtles, bobcats and more. Owner Jody Hetchka says, “We have so many awesome places to paddle and within a couple minutes you won’t hear any road noise; you’ll be all alone.” They offer a variety of eco-tours during which guests are educated about what they see as well as about local environmental issues. “We tell [guests] … it’s really important not to disturb the birds,” says Hetchka. “I know everyone wants to get close for that picture, but you have to respect them. This is their house; we’re just visiting.”
After your adventure, check out what the St. John’s Riverkeeper is doing to conserve water on their website stjohnsriverkeeper.org. There, you’ll find out what you can do to protect Northeast Florida’s waterways. Riverkeeper Jimmy Orth says, “When we learn about the natural world around us and develop a personal connection and bond to it, we develop a sense of place and are more invested in where we live. We also may save a few bucks and help support our local outfitters, restaurants, motels and other businesses in the process!” Volunteer with the Riverkeeper as part of your staycation. “We have numerous opportunities to help,” says Orth. “The best way to get involved is to go to our website or to contact our Outreach Coordinator, Kelly Savage, at [email protected]”
Another option for enriching your staycation is to learn about conserving water resources by attending the Duval County Extension Office’s make-and-take rain barrel workshop on June 3. Visit the Extension’s website, duval.ifas.ufl.edu, for details.
With an estimated 82.5 million people having visited Florida in 2008, the State of Florida website calls it “the top travel destination in the world.” What do those 82.5 million people know? They know that Florida has 700 campgrounds, 663 miles of beaches, 11,000 miles of waterways, 4,500 islands and 166 National and State Parks. They know that when Floridians plan their vacations, they shouldn’t overlook the environmentally themed staycation opportunities right in their own backyard paradise. As Tree Hill’s Lucy Cortese says, “You don’t have to go far to enjoy a special treasure.”
by anna rabhan