Left: Addison Bennett, granddaughter of District Executive Director Dave Moore, tries to stay dry at the Hampton Tract. Top right: Karen Fraley, Around the Bend Nature Tours, shows Brady Whalen from Boy Scout Troop 311 how to use a pump drill to start a fire. Above right: Emma Mason, Around the Bend Nature Tours, takes a visitor on a guided hike.
More than 130 people braved the rain Feb. 27 at the District’s “Get Outside!” event at the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve’s Hampton Tract.
The event gave nearby residents a chance to see what the property had to offer and encouraged them to use the property more. Most of the people who attended the event were first-time visitors.
Executive Director Dave Moore was on hand to talk with District staff and visitors.
“I was amazed at the turnout on such a rainy day,” said Moore. “People want to use these public lands we’re protecting, and they had a great chance to see what Hampton has to offer.”
The District reached out to diverse groups for the Hampton event, connecting with local nonprofit organizations and providing bus service to the property. Nearly half of the people who attended were brought in through a partnership with Farmworkers Self-Help, a Dade City advocacy group. About 15 percent of the visitors came with the help of the Boys & Girls Clubs of East Pasco County.
“It was awesome to see this concept of reaching out to more diverse groups turn into such a great outcome,” said Eric Sutton, District land resources director. “The folks attending this event represented a good cross section of our community.”
The “Get Outside!” campaign showcases District lands to neighboring communities, showing participants what is available and encouraging them to return with family and friends.
The Polk Nature Discovery Center had activities for kids. The National Wild Turkey Federation volunteers provided turkey calls and activities from their booth throughout the day, with a turkey calling contest in the afternoon. Bass Pro Shops sponsored the prizes for the turkey call contest. Guides from Around the Bend Nature Tours took hikers on nature walks into the Hampton Tract, pointing out the natural flora and fauna. Their booth included replica tools fashioned from natural material, including a pump drill fire-starting tool. The Communications Department set up educational displays featuring a watershed model, Florida-friendly landscape plants and techniques, and more.
The District brought in partners from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Forestry with displays. The District’s Aquatic Plant Management Section brought a Kaiser walking excavator and a Marsh Master amphibious track vehicle.
“They were very popular,” said Ronnie Crosby, aquatic plant management crew leader. “Especially with the boys. They liked to call the excavator a transformer or a spider. Mostly, they wanted to know what they were and what we did with them.”
Local Boy Scouts set up camp on the tract, complete with campfire. The Scouts were a volunteer labor force, helping to set up and tear down the event. Girl Scout troops had a booth on hand to sell cookies. Students from Lakeland’s Tenoroc High School were also on hand to help. There were nearly 30 volunteers in all helping the District staff make the event a success.
“These events are wonderful ways to reach into the communities that surround District lands,” said Governing Board Vice Chair Ron Oakley. “We’re letting families know that we have places for them to go and enjoy the great outdoors that Florida has to offer.”
The event was the second of four planned. The first event, at the Starkey Wilderness Preserve’s Serenova Tract, took place Nov. 7. The next event is scheduled for April 10 at Deep Creek Preserve in DeSoto County.