Volunteers Honored at Annual Appreciation Day

Volunteer Day eventsFrom the top: Executive Director Dave Moore, left, and Governing Board former Chair Todd Pressman, right, honor Dick Prey for helping maintain the Withlapopka Community Park. Kim DeVary from Land Resources, left, thanks volunteer Carol Beaton for her work at Chito Branch Reserve. Brandt Henningsen from the SWIM Program, right, and Pressman, left, honor Jessica Welling from Tampa Bay Watch. The Lowry Park Zoo was on hand with native animals for the volunteers to see.

The District recognized the value volunteers add to its restoration, education and recreation efforts at the annual Volunteer Appreciation Day picnic March 27 at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park.

More than 600 volunteers helped the District’s Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Program last year. SWIM volunteers participated in nine volunteer events, installing nearly 30,000 aquatic plants and picking up more than 20,000 pounds of debris at restoration sites in the Tampa Bay area. Volunteers tallied nearly 3,000 hours of service during 2009.

The District Land Resources staff also uses volunteers to help maintain more than 50 public conservation properties. Approximately 360 volunteers contributed 9,000 hours last year to help maintain 100 miles of trails, and they picked up a half ton of trash.

The District draws people from all walks of life to find the volunteers it needs.

“We approach different groups such as homeowners associations, churches, Boy Scouts, birding associations, native plant societies and others,” said Kim DeVary, District land use specialist. “They’re motivated to volunteer because they love the outdoors, or they’re already users of the property or they’re local and live near a property.”

DeVary said trail maintenance is one of the biggest contributions made by Land volunteers.

“They mow, they trim back branches from the trails, they pick up trash,” said DeVary. “They also provide a presence on the property, which is always good. People tend to defend what they clean.”

Brandt Henningsen, District chief environmental scientist with the SWIM Program, said volunteers were a real money saver in tight economic times.

“An important value is the dollars they save the taxpayer,” said Henningsen. “The 14 groups that did volunteer work for us last year saved the District $77,000. They picked up trash, they planted vegetation — they provided manpower that we didn’t have to pay for.”

While the volunteers were pitching in with their hands, Henningsen said they were making a difference in the community in a deeper way.

“I see these volunteer events as public educational opportunities as well,” said Henningsen. “Citizens who volunteer grow a sense of environmental ethics. Students gain a greater sense of environmental stewardship while they’re young. Volunteers talk to their families; they bring their friends. It’s like the ripple that spreads when you throw a rock into a pool.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities with the District’s Land Resources Department, please call 1-800-423-1476, ext. 4470. For more information about volunteer opportunities with the District’s SWIM Program, please contact Brandt Henningsen at (813) 985-7481, ext. 2202.