Conservationist's 150th birthday celebration to highlight Sebastian pioneer life
By Jessica Creagan
SEBASTIAN -- Ever tried swamp cabbage or heart of palm salad? If not, these old Florida dishes will be available for sampling at the inaugural Sebastian Pioneer Festival on Jan. 9.
Pioneer days will be here again for this special free event, held on the 150th birthday of a man who stood up for wildlife conservation in the in the late 1800s, Paul Kroegel.
"We have been talking about having a pioneer festival for a while, and this year is the perfect timing," said Kevin J. Lowry, visitor services manager at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Sebastian.
The event, which is free to the public, will take place at Fisherman's Landing on Indian River Drive in Sebastian on Jan. 9 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Among the activities scheduled are guided bird tours, cast net demonstrations, scavenger hunts and various food booths with samples of traditional pioneer foods, including sun-brewed iced tea, honey, oysters and yes, swamp cabbage.
"It's serendipitous that we will be able to have the first one on Paul Kroegel's 150th birthday and be able to celebrate his legacy and the legacy of Sebastian pioneers, Mr. Lowry said.
Paul Kroegel stands tall in the annals of Sebastian history and U.S. history as a German immigrant who fought to protect the nesting birds of the area from poachers and was made the nation's first national wildlife refuge manager by President Theodore Roosevelt.
The area he defended is now known as Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge and hold the distinction of being the first national wildlife refuge in the country, but despite this, many people in the area hear the names "Paul Kroegel" and "Pelican Island" and still have no idea of the history of it all, said Mr. Lowry.
"I've been telling the story of Paul Kroegel my entire career and his legacy is one we have to educate people about. He was a very significant conservationist," Mr. Lowry said.
"We want to reconnect the city of Sebastian with the refuge and want Germany to recognize its son and the great impact he had here, and we want to support local businesses with this festival," he said.
The mayor of Mr. Kroegel's hometown, Chemnitz, Germany, as well as other representatives from Germany will attend and participate in the festivities, Mr. Lowry said.
Local businesses will participate by donating food items and participate in the scavenger hunts, Mr. Lowry said.
During the festival, Janice Kroegel Timinski, Mr. Kroegel's granddaughter, will pull up a rocking chair and share stories about her grandfather, who died in 1948.
His great-grandson, Tim Timinski, owner of Kroegel Homestead Produce on U.S. 1 in Sebastian, was involved in developing the festival and is one of the financial underwriters of the event.
The Sembler family, another Sebastian pioneer family, has has been in the fishing business since the early 1900s and is also helping to cover costs for the event, Mr. Lowry said.
"We hope that this is a very unique and memorable event, unlike the other festivals we already have in the area. We think it's very exciting for Sebastian," Mr. Lowry said.
For more information, call Mr. Lowry at (772) 581-5557 or visit www.facebook.com/pelicanislandnwr.