October 2014

It’s here! Our long-awaited self-guided tour that you can take using your smartphone or cellphone. It’s been a labor of love on the part of Refuge staff and Friends members and volunteers, financed through a generous grant from the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation and from matching donations from many of you. Look for the signs along the Marsh Trail and at the boat docks and the Visitor Center – you can start your tour wherever you choose.

If I tried to thank everyone who has contributed to this project I know I would miss someone and feel bad about it, but I do want to single out one person without whom this project might never have gotten off the drawing board. Jay Paredes – Friends board member, photographer, videographer, artist, volunteer naturalist and technical guru – has devoted his considerable talents in his not-so-considerable spare time to bringing all the disparate pieces of this endeavor together.

Those of us who already love this special piece of the Everglades may feel that here of all places you can put your phone down and disconnect from the outside world, but with this self-guided tour we hope those same phones can connect a whole new generation to the wonders of the Everglades and its wildlife. Or maybe reconnect older generations with memories of days when Ranger-led tours (and the Rangers themselves) weren’t so rare and hard to come by.

Connecting new generations to our National Wildlife Refuges is what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Urban Initiative is about. Check out our Gator Tales to read about this Refuge’s very first Urban Initiative outreach project. In it you’ll also find an article by this summer’s STAR teacher, Wendy Casperson. Wendy spent the summer working with Ranger Serena Rinker, developing lesson plans to take back to the classroom, thanks to funding from the Friends.

The Friends are very pleased that last year’s STAR teacher Cindy Bhebe has been able to bring several of her classrooms out to the Refuge on field trips, with funding for the buses made possible in part by a generous donation from a Friends member who met Cindy and was moved by her presentation at our annual Friends meeting earlier this year. We hope Wendy and her fellow teachers will continue this fine tradition of bringing the Everglades into the classroom and, when possible, bringing the classroom into the Everglades.

Elinor Williams President