One thing I’ve always loved about journalism is that no matter where you are or what you are doing, there is probably a story close by that is worth telling, and a picture worth shooting. I wrote this story about a nature park opening (and took the picture of the duck, too) for St. Petersburg College. This could have been a routine story of little consequence, but I think it turned out better than that.
By ARTHUR FREDERICK
SEMINOLE, Fla. — In a small corner of Seminole, in the middle of Florida’s most heavily developed county, a tract of nearly-forgotten land plays host to a wide variety of Florida plants and animals.
The land, only about 40 acres in all, is owned by (St. Petersburg College). It is the undeveloped half of a tract that the college acquired in 1969; the other half is home to the Seminole campus.
For years, the college has had ambitions to turn the land into a nature park, where students could observe the environment first-hand, and where Seminole residents could enjoy nature. Those ambitions became reality this year, when non-native plants (28 species in all) were removed from the site and construction began on a boardwalk, a 50-seat teaching pavilion and a floating dock (for use in water sampling) on the largest pond on the property.
The nature park opens Tuesday. College officials knew there was plenty of wildlife on the site, which includes several ponds and wetlands as well as all sorts of plant life. But few people realized just how many species lived together in such close proximity on that small, suburban area.
“We knew that site was a true asset to both the college and the community,” said Jim Olliver, Seminole’s provost. “But I don’t think anyone really knew just how alive that 40 acres was.”
One person who was not surprised was Seminole resident Judy Fisher, an environmentalist who has spent many hours at the site, identifying plant and animal species of all types. Fisher’s research found rabbits, otters, opossums, raccoons, armadillos, coyotes and feral pigs; nearly 200 bird species; 24 species of dragonflies; 24 species of frogs, turtles, snakes and alligators; and seven species of butterflies.
Common plants include slash pines, wax myrtle shrubs and sweetgum trees. Some others include sand live oak trees, red bay trees, grape vines and giant leather ferns.
The recently completed boardwalk, nearly 200 yards long, offers a number of stations, which give visitors the opportunity to observe the site’s plants and animals. On one recent visit, a curious otter bounded up the boardwalk’s entryway and stopped to observe a human visitor before running off to a nearby pond.
The park and pavilion will support various SPC curricula (mostly in the sciences and especially for the Environmental Science Technology, and Parks and Leisure Services programs), and will offer recreation opportunities for the community. The Natural Habitat and Environmental Center will be open Monday through Friday from dawn to dusk; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.