Everglades Day on February 14 was a huge success, at least judging by all the visitors I heard saying how much they were enjoying and learning from all of the activities and presentations. Many told me they loved the Refuge and had visited many times, but for many others it was their very first time. For lots of local folk the Refuge remains an undiscovered gem, a piece of the Everglades right here in Palm Beach County. The Friends’ primary mission is education, about the Refuge and the northern Everglades, and our support of Everglades Day is one of the ways we pursue that mission.
Starting in September, every fourth-grader in the nation will receive an “Every Kid in a Park” pass that is good for free admission to all of America’s federal lands and waters — for them and their families — for a full year. This initiative recognizes the importance of getting our kids and ourselves outdoors, to appreciate the recreational and educational opportunities our National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges and other special places have to offer.
The Refuge already hosts a number of school groups throughout the year, sometimes almost daily, which is pretty astounding considering that only one Refuge staffer, Interpretive Specialist Serena Rinker, is devoted to leading these groups. Serena, by the way, is also the primary staff person responsible for organizing each year’s Everglades Day, nearly a full time job in itself. To give her some much needed help during the coming school year, the Friends will be providing an intern to work with her leading and teaching some of these groups.
Another of the Friends’ missions is advocacy for the Refuge. We have to do a better job not only of raising our profile in the community, but also of communicating some of the issues that affect the Refuge. And the number one issue affecting the Refuge right now is the spread of invasive exotic plants, in particular Lygodium, also known as Old World Climbing Fern. This vine is taking over the tree islands of the northern Everglades one by one, climbing the tree trunks and spreading over the canopy, blocking the light and smothering all growth underneath. The portion of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual budget that is devoted to eradication efforts is woefully inadequate to stop the spread of this insidious invader, much less to bring it under maintenance control. This is an important issue that we hope to raise awareness of amongst our members, so that we can all help make our decision makers understand the need for a budget commensurate with the problem.