Free activities, volunteer opportunities scheduled for Sept. 29
By Dan McDonald
For Hometown News
ROCKLEDGE - From biking, running and kayaking to getting-your-hands-dirty manual labor, the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program is encouraging everyone with a passion for nature and education to participate in National Public Lands Day, Saturday, Sept. 29.
"We have events planned in all areas of the county," said Katrina Morrell, education coordinator for the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands program. "We have a lot of fun stuff going on and also several work programs that will give people a chance to help improve some of our public properties."
National Public Lands Day is a fee-free entrance day offered at numerous federal pubic lands and national parks throughout the country.
In Brevard County, nine different locations will host a variety of events, such as guided hiking trails, conservation presentations, kayaking and cleanups. Each event is designed to encourage people of all ages to explore, volunteer and help support public events throughout the Space Coast.
Initiated by the National Environmental Education Foundation in 1994, National Public Lands Day has become the nation's largest, single-day volunteer event for public lands, according to www.publiclandsday.org.
During its 2011 events nationwide, the organization recorded a total of 170,000 volunteers, working at 2,067 sites in every U.S state, according to the website.
. Together, volunteers collected an estimated 23,000 pounds of invasive plants.
. Built and maintained an estimated 1,500 miles of trails.
. Planted an estimated 100,000 trees, shrubs and other native plants.
. Removed an estimated 500 tons of trash from trails and other places.
. Contributed an estimated $17 million through volunteer services to improve public lands across the country.
Locally, Brandon Smith, environmental program coordinator at Brevard County Parks and Recreation's Riverwalk Nature Center in Rockledge, knows full well the value of that volunteer program.
"Last year, we had nearly 20 volunteers - mostly Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts - who helped us get control of the grapevines that spread over our park," Mr. Smith said. "The grapevines are actually a native species; however, they are normally controlled by seasonal forest fires. Since we haven't had any fires, they tend to spread and take over other plants and our boardwalk."
With budget cuts, Mr. Smith said his department doesn't have the manpower to take care of the problem.
"It's a big help to have volunteers, and we're going to be putting people to work, who want to come again this year," he said. "We can use all the help we can get."
This year marks the 19th annual Public Lands Day, and Ms. Morrell and her team are hoping for their greatest turnout yet.
"It's just a great opportunity to get outside and enjoy some of the amazing public land we have here in Brevard County," she said. "No matter where you live, there's something going on near you."
Here is a list of the scheduled events in Brevard County:
. Fox Lake Sanctuary Trail Fun Run, 7:30 - 9:30 a.m.: Join EEL staff for a guided 4.5-mile trail run. Participants should be comfortable running on a trail, with unstable footing and plenty of trip hazards. Meet at Fox Lake Park, 4400 Fox Lake Road, Titusville.
. Indian Mound Station Sanctuary Workday, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.: Help pick up trash. Suitable for ages 10 and older. Meet at Indian Mound Station Sanctuary, 4001 Parrish Road, Mims.
. Interpretive hikes at the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary: Two hikes - one at 10 a.m. and another at 2 p.m. Each hike focuses on geology and biodiversity. Meet at Enchanted Forest Sanctuary, 444 Columbia Blvd., Titusville.
. Scrub Jay Walk and Talk at Cruickshank Sanctuary, 9 - 11 a.m.: Meet our resident Florida Scrub Jays, as we hike a 1-mile loop through Cruickshank Sanctuary. Limited to 15 participants. Call (32) 449-4720 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a spot.
. Why Conservation Lands Matter slideshow, 11 a.m. - noon: This presentation explores the benefits conservation lands provide to animals, plants and people. Meet at Sams House at Pine Island, 6195 N. Tropical Trail, Merritt Island.
. Malabar Scrub Sanctuary Trail Mountain Bike Ride, 9 -10:30 a.m.: Two bicycle rides available - an easy, guided 3-mile ride and a more difficult 8-10 mile ride on new single-track trails. Guided ride is limited to 15 people. Participants must bring their own fat-tire bike suitable for off-road riding. To RSVP, call or email Brad Manley at (321) 255-4466, Ext. 32 or email@example.com.
. Barrier Island Sanctuary Seining, 10 a.m. - noon: Assist Barrier Island Center biologists in using large nets to catch and identify Indian River Lagoon species. All children (ages 5 and older) must be with an adult. Water shoes required. Meet on the Barrier Island Center oceanfront deck at 9:30 a.m. to prepare for departure to the waterfront, 8385 S. Highway A1A, Melbourne Beach.
. Barrier Island Sanctuary Kayak Paddle: Two sessions: 9 a.m. or 11 a.m. Paddle and explore with a free, guided kayak tour. Enrollment is limited. Children (ages 5 and older) must paddle tandem with an adult. Call (321) 723-3556 to make a reservation by Thursday, Sept. 27.
. Riverwalk Nature Center: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Vine-trimming, cleanup and other volunteer activities. For vine-trimming, wear long pants and bring work gloves, drinking water, bug spray, sunscreen and hedge clippers, if you have them. Meet at the Riverwalk Nature Center at 5355 U.S. Highway 1.