Tree Hill Staff Spends Day Off at Museum
Stacey, Environmental Educator
So what is exactly new? Quite soon, starting their day in the Joseph A. Strasser Amphitheater, you'll see students immersed in another brand new educational Outdoor Experience program that compliments the traditional Field Day Experience. The trails' signage and guides will appear to have gone through enriching metamorphosis. Our museum's exhibits will also evolve to better reflect our local North Florida environment and its issues. The new year will usher in an evening speakers series. Environmentally Speaking will feature discussions about pressing, timely environmental issues with important leaders in our community. Look forward to discussions with experts from the St. Johns Riverkeeper, Florida Native Plant Society and the UNF Biology Department, just to name a few. This is just the beginning of the "list!"
Please plan to stop in and visit Tree Hill as we witness an amazing Autumn of transition. Not only are the outdoors changing color and reflecting a new season; so too, is the staff at Tree Hill. Professional development days, such as our experience on Sunday, renew our passion and devotion to teaching stewardship naturally.
My Summer Adventure in South Florida
Teen Volunteer Alana, Special Contributor
This summer I spent a lot of time travelling, but my favorite trip was when I ended up in the Florida Keys and the Everglades. At the beginning of August, my family and I hopped into our van and headed southbound all the way to the Keys. I had no idea what to expect, because I had never before been in such a tropical environment. During my trip, I experienced many new things and will definitely call this my favorite vacation of all time. The first thing I noticed as we travelled farther south was the difference in the trees. There were these crazy looking palm trees called the Bismarck Palm. They were a pale green color and almost didn’t appear to be real.
Once we reached our destination on Marathon Key, we were ready to explore. The animals and insects in south Florida were much different than ones we would see in Northern Florida. We stayed in an amazing condo, with a great view, but never would we have guessed the welcoming committee in our room would be a scorpion. Yes - there was a scorpion in the bathroom sink. And you knew it was a scorpion because of how loud my mom screamed! I’m surprised she didn’t wake up the whole island. The best part was when the guy who came to catch the scorpion was happy to see that it was contained in the sink. When he said most of the scorpions he has encountered were running around the condos, you knew my mom was just searching for a chair to stand on. This is when I knew for sure this place was not like home and this was going to be a great trip.
One of the coolest things was that every morning when I woke up, there were iguanas everywhere. The sand was covered with little green figures. In the Keys you would also see many weird looking bugs. Of course we couldn’t leave the Keys without going snorkeling over a coral reef. This was an amazing experience. I was able to swim alongside schools of brightly colored fish and see a thriving ecosystem. There were tons of little comb jellies in the water as well. Comb jellies are transparent jellyfish. We also had the opportunity to visit a sea turtle rescue center while in the Keys. At the rescue center they had a turtle named Bubble-Butt. This turtle was the first one to be labeled with bubble-butt syndrome. Bubble-butt syndrome is when a turtle is hit by a boat or other object that deforms the shape of its shell.
After leaving the Keys, we headed to the Everglades for a night before heading home. In the Everglades there really are a ton of alligators. Everywhere we would stop, there would be an alligator. One of my favorite experiences in the Everglades was when went on an airboat ride. If you have ever had the opportunity to ride on an airboat, you know how awesome it is. The airboat goes really fast and it feels like you could be flying over top of the water. Our air boat driver was awesome. He would take sharp turns and make water splash everywhere. We would also stop in different places to see the wildlife in the swamps and trees. Our driver took us up to an area where wild raccoons were living in the trees. They apparently like to stay around the mangrove swamps because they are able to catch the catfish living in the water. This vacation was the best, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to experience all the things I did.
Recognition the Tree Hill Way
Stacey, Environmental Educator
It was a Weeping Willow. I was about five.
My father took his pocket knife out of his back pocket, the blade appeared in some magical way and he cut off a branch of our Willow. We were in the back yard. My father was a house painter. As a result of his craft, we always had clean buckets and paint cans neatly stacked in the garage.
"Hold on. Stay there. I'll be right back," said my father on his way to the garage. My father was a storyteller. He loved an audience. I was the only one home. So I stood there and waited.
He came back with a five-gallon white plastic bucket, turned on the hose and filled the bucket with water.
"See this branch?"
"Mhmmm," I answered. My father, when explaining something, he always commanded one's full attention. It was important to make eye contact, never yawn or appear bored. No matter, I wasn't bored. I was fascinated by nature, even at a young age.
Eye peering from branch to bucket, he continued, a la Houdini. "I'm going to put this branch in water and in about a week it will grow roots. This branch will become a tree."
He was not kidding. I had to believe him, because, after all, at five, it is a well-known fact that your father knows everything. But how could this be true? A tree is a tree. A branch, well, it grows from the tree. End of story said my five-year old reasoning.
"Okay," I said, as if I just agreed to some type of shady deal.
My father put the bucket with branch under the hose bib to collect any drips. He went back to cleaning his paint brushes.
A week is a painfully long time. I'm not sure if it took a week, a month, whatever. But I do remember occasionally checking on the branch in bucket. My curiosity simultaneously challenging the veracity of my father's outlandish claim and my desperately wanting of a miracle to happen. And it did.
At first I saw white bumps on the branch. Then it seems these long reddish-pink strings appeared. This could not be real. I remember hearing about Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon. That, I could believe because it was on TV. This growing thing in a bucket, this alien thing in front of my face was beyond comprehension.
I summoned my dad to the backyard, pointing to Exhibit A. "What happened? What are those long red theeeeeeengs?"
"You are looking at a tree. Those are the roots. Next job: you're going to plant it."
And I did.
And man that thing grew. Grew probably as wildly as my love of nature grew. And I am sure that Weeping Willow fouled up someone's pipes or plumbing, too.
Two years ago my father passed away. But his lessons of teaching me about the nature's life cycle are a integral part of me. To honor his memory, I made an on-going donation to Tree Hill. This is a place where our small yet dedicated staff teach and preserve nature and its life cycles.
Please consider honoring the special people in your life through an on-going donation to Tree Hill. In memory of, in celebration of, in recognition of, whatever.
Just go to https://secure.qgiv.com/for/thnc/.
It is pretty simple.
My father taught me the wonder's of natural world. What better way to honor nature's life cycle than by making an on-going donation to Tree Hill.
JEA Energy Program with a Twist
Recently, Educator Greta was visiting a local elementary school to talk about energy. Coal was a nature subject. Greta talked at length about coal, how it is used in terms of energy and as a present natural resource. Greta has been talking about energy resources, including coal, for two years. She has visited hundreds of schools and spoken with students of all ages about energy … and coal. She has fielded endless questions about energy consumption and conservation, including questions about coal.
During a recent energy conservation program, Greta encountered a very determined student. As she explained the characteristics of different energy sources, including coal, one student kept raising his hand. Because she is so familiar with the structure of her programming, she let the student know that she’d address his question, momentarily. But this student continued to raise his hand.
She motioned for him to lower it as she completed her thought.
He raised it yet again.
Again, Greta motioned that he lower his hand until she had finished explaining her concept about coal.
But he rose up his hand, again.
She repeated her gesture. She wanted to present her facts about coal, uninterrupted, to best relay her information.
The child, even more determined, swung his extended arm in the air, lips pursed, brow furrowed.
Greta relented, “What is your comment, Mr. Ninja Turtle?” The student was wearing a t-shirt with a green pattern. The child adamantly responded, “My name is Cole! “ He paused, “And this t-shirt is the Hulk, not the Ninja Turtles!”
Lesson learned: Cole is a very powerful resource!
The other day I met the two most wonderful children. They both were newly adopted and seemed to be adjusting very well. Their family was participating in a Twilight Trek. As our adventure was starting, the black bear exhibit at the front desk mesmerized both of the kids. I am sure neither of them had looked a black bear in the face before.
The evening started with dinner; I have never seen a four and five year old eat so much! After dinner, we began the walk. The main purpose of the walk was to locate a nesting pair Barred owls and get close enough for the group to view them. This can be tricky because Barred owls have a very keen sense of hearing and can quickly learn to distinguish artificial calls - synthesized calls, recordings and human imitation - from real calls and will ignore anything non-owl.
We walk to a clearing on the hill and got set up to call in the owls. The group circled around me with anticipation. At this moment, I am hoping I can give everyone a show. I turn on the CD player. The Barred owl’s signature call bellowed out of the speakers. “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?” Dead silence.
I play another call. Nothing. I hoot by mouth, still nothing. Then, from the distance a Barred owl calls back. Everyone turns toward the sound as a majestic adult Barred owl silently glides in about ten feet over all of us. I am sure this was the first time most of the group had been that close to an owl. I wanted to make sure both of the little boys could see the owl sitting on the oak branch. I knelt down next to the older one and he said, “I see it!” I could hear the wonder in his voice as the owl continued to call back to us. What a perfect night!
I hope those two little boys and the rest of the group will never forget this experience. We watched the owls for a few more moments and continued our walk. That owl followed us for the entire walk as if to make sure everyone had a good time. I was very grateful, but more importantly I hope I ignited something in everyone that will stay with them their entire life.
Guess Who's Having a Birthday!
Pam Olson, LENS
Guess who's having a birthday? Yes, it been 40 years since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed into law by President Nixon in 1973 and the act, both its past and future, was discussed by panels of experts at the Nineteenth Annual Public Interest Conference held at the University of Florida College of Law this February. This mainly Florida centric group of attorneys, federal and state policing agents and land and water conservationists offered a consensus that the Act is mostly successful for recovery once any animal and plant species is “listed” on either the threatened or endangered list. However getting on the “list” and how it affects development of both private and public property can be a multi-year convoluted process involving the overlay of several agencies, both federal and state, involving miles of red tape and years in time and in many instances ending in court. Hence, the act is either highly praised or strongly criticized.
The Endangered Species Act today is met with new and unanticipated challenges facing our rapidly warming world. Scientists agree we are entering into a mass extinction of plant and wildlife but, different from prior mass extinctions, this will be the first time they will be caused by human influence and development. These environmental challenges will increase workload in the practice and enforcement of the Act by the designated agencies while they are going through severe budget cuts. One bright spot - there was also a consensus that where in the early days of the Act, the federal, state and local governments were in territorial wars, it was reported they have morphed into highly cooperative agencies, particularly as their budgets dwindled and more and more species were brought under the Act.
The panel members differed as to the future effects of requesting and placing more species on the Act’s lists as endangered. With a shrinking pie of monies, will the Act be able to continue with any efficiency as more money per species also dwindles? There was much talk of the agencies shifting to labeling ecological habitats as endangered areas rather than individual species and “batching” commonly affected species which could be more efficient methods. The sad figure given by a world-renowned coral reef expert from the University of Miami - the coral reefs are disappearing four times faster than the rain forest, which were the former poster child for global warming. Also, to drive home the near future effects of warming, the Director of Legislative Policy & Strategies at The Nature Conservancy announced in her speech that her agency would no longer be buying any lands for conservation in the Florida Keys as it feels the Keys are a lost cause. Additionally, they are reevaluating all proposed purchases of land near the coasts. There was also great concern by the environmentalist that the state and federal governments are not following through on recommended controlled burns. The agencies answered has been budget cuts and fear of liability when burnings are near homes and major highways. The last panel examined ideas from the participants as to how to make the public more aware of the importance of nature and particularly wildlife. There was real acknowledgment that young people today are so plugged into their electronic devices, the schools and communities are going to have to up the ante. Even with many conservation groups using all the latest media, there is a grave disconnect between nature and our urban areas and young people. That’s where we at Tree Hill are trying to make a difference by getting young people more charged up about conservation. All the families we see here are giving their children early exposure to wildlife and the wonders of nature which we hope will follow them the rest of their lives into our future generations. Hope to see you soon!
Get more information
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission - Imperiled Species
By Education Coordinator Stacey
Last Friday the weather was excellent. Low humidity. Refreshing. The songbirds were thrilled. Lots of people visiting Tree Hill.
Late in the afternoon, a gentleman walked in and asked, “Where’s the big Oak.” I repeated the question, just to make sure I understood, because he had an accent. Showing him our trail guide, which I am presently revamping, I pointed to the approximate location. But I knew this wasn’t going to do much good, because behind him flowed in a group of about 12 French-speaking Canadians. None of them understood what I was saying.
My high school French is literally from another century. My Friday afternoon brain function was running on reserve batteries.
We exchanged acknowledgments that they spoke French, not English and that I spoke English and really lousy, disjointed, all-wrong conjugation, Académie-française cringing French.
Armed with their little blue trail guide, the group headed out to the trails, or to airport, as I couldn’t be sure mon parler en français translated at all.
Looking at these happily retired, inquisitive travelers congregating outside in front of the butterfly house, huddled around a, let’s face it, a horribly outdated trail guide, I wondered. Which would inflict less damage: the group going alone on the trails in search of the Live Oak that is situated next to the parking lot, where Howland Creek and Red Bay Branch Creek meet, but, not really because you have to walk a little bit further, past some signs to get to the Oak, where you’ll see a nice park bench, but don’t go to far, because if you reach the paved path, well, then, that’s Sabal Palm Trail and then you’ve missed the Oak altogether, or ... hope they won’t feel Les Miserable as I lead them to le grand arbre?
I decided to give this a shot.
Pourquoi pas? Introductions commenced.
I found out (I think) that the group was from Quebec. They were staying at the Flamingo Lake RV Resort, spending three days in Jacksonville, moving on to Pensecola and then to New Orleans (but, of course!) for the Superbowl. These people know how to travel. I asked them if it be ok for me to try to show them the Oak, with my un peu français. They were game. Off we went. Allez-vous.
Then, two distinct things happened. If you’ve read Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, you may know the Flaubert used a literary tool called vision binocular. Bascially, he described two things happening at the same time. If Bovary’s not your thing than a movie, 500 Days of Summer, uses the same technique near the end of the (quite erudite) film. Well, mon dieu, I had my very own vision binocular experience.
Slowly, now I am talking very slowly, bits of my French came rather “upchuckingly" back into my brain and outta
my mouth. I explained that the group was having a very special “Grand Tour,” which, in French, should probably have been said as, “Le tour grand,” or something sophisticate like that. However, I left my iPhone with its translator app at the Top of the Hill. Luckily, bonne chance
, I had Madame Vardinikas, my high school French teacher, who, I now realize had a very Greek last name, anyways, she was somewhere in my brain, guiding me, in order to guide my Quebec charges throughout Tree Hill.
This surge of energy from being immersed in hearing French, which, pour moi, sounds tres magnifique coupled with being outside in nature, which, my personal cathedral o’nirvana, released an entire, albeit grammatically challenged, detailed explanation in French of the scientifique, ecologique, historique et naturale happenings here at Tree Hill.
The Grand Tour started at the Live Oak, which is stunning and jaw-dropping regardless of how you translate OMG. From there, after asking if they’d like to do more...plus?, we traversed Red Bay Branch Creek. With lots of hand gestures, game-show-like tossing of words to catch the right one, topics such as adaption, the water cycle, secession and drought were discussed.
Making eye contact with everyone to see that they understood the ah-ha moments triggered my inner recessions of French vocabulary to bubble to the surface. Deep in my brain, my French synapses were firing, giving me the word, mot, arsenal to explain concepts such as native versus invasive species and the complicated balance within lichen that lead to bold synthesis-type questions in French like, “Why do we have sand at Tree Hill? How old is the water in Red Bay Branch Creek? Howland?” Walking along Howland Creek trail and explaining the history of Jacksonville as seen through the Cat Face Pines was my pièce de résistance.
So all the while, these ever-so-patient tres curious Tree Hill hikers, were having a unique en Francaise experience, here in North Florida, in Arlington, well, basically in the middle of city Jacksonville, I was in mental hyper-overdrive mode, flying at warp speed from one word to another, in French, to convey, share and educate about ma passion absolue, nature.
Wrapping up the tour, I asked how they knew about “the big Oak.”
“Non? Non Facebook? Coupon? Le Monde du Jacksonville?” (The best way I could convey Jacksonville’s newspaper?)
The most I could garner was one that someone in the group read about the tree in small circular or French RV guide. I will never know the seed that lead this lovely group to Tree Hill. I can only be grateful to work for a place that gives me the rare opportunity to pull my passion from the past and dovetail that with my dedication to my present profession.
Look at Kevin! He's Smiling!
Lorin, Membership and Special Events Manager
As an "office" person here at Tree Hill, I don't usually get to interact with visitors. One day last week was different. Two staff members were out sick and we had three groups coming for educational programs. Things were a little hectic as our skeleton crew scrambled to make sure the day ran smoothly for our visitors.
In the morning, I helped by feeding the goats and working the front desk, both pretty fun diversions from my normal office work. But, the real treat came when I got to help with one of the programs.
Not having a science background, I was relegated to "cookie" duty. I handed out cookies for the kids to feed to the goats. These weren't just any kids, though; they were a class full of kids from across the autistic spectrum.
As with most middle school groups, the kids were loud and excited to be out of the classroom. I was thoroughly enjoying watching this happy and energetic bunch get hands-on as they giggled, wriggled and squealed at the hungry goats. But, what got me that day was hearing the teachers’ absolute astonishment at the kids’ reactions.
Some of these kids don’t talk much. They don’t smile. They don’t make eye contact. But, when they got the chance to feed those goats, they came alive with excitement. They clamored for more cookies. They asked what the goats’ names were. They were just like any other group of kids feeding the goats.
This experience may have been a passing moment for those kids. Or, it may stick with them for years. I know I’ll remember it for a long time.
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
Tree Hill has just completed a project that embodies the phrase, “Good things come to those who wait.” After four years of planning, development and implementation, we have completed installation of a geothermal HVAC system.
We have been in desperate need of a new heating and cooling system for many years. With help from the Environmental Protection Board, City of Jacksonville Environmental Quality Division and JEA, we were able to fund the installation of a new energy efficient HVAC system. Not only are we using less energy, we have become a showcase for energy efficient geothermal technology.
Geothermal HVAC units use much less energy to condition a space than traditional equipment. Energy usage at the center has dropped by 40%. The Environmental Protection Board also hopes to collect valuable performance data from the HVAC units. Signage will be in place throughout the property explaining how the system operates. I encourage everyone to come visit and view the system at work. I am very pleased that after such a long journey Tree Hill has a project that not only serves the needs of the center, but also demonstrates how we can all save energy for the future.
A Special Day for Some Special Kids
A school arrives here at Tree Hill Nature Center for our Duval County School Program. On the bus are 3 special needs children. Sara, Robert and Beth. Sara is confined to a wheelchair, Beth uses a walker that subs for a wheelchair and Robert has a severe limp. Because of their special needs they rarely get to go on field trips, let alone enjoy a day in the woods.
I am free, so I help by taking them on their own special tour. We head for the gate that enters the Sable Palm Trail. They all seem nervous. Robert cowers behind me holding the back of my shirt. He is afraid of the woods.
After a little coaxing they all follow me in. We stop at the Sable Palmetto Tree. They enjoy learning about our Florida State Tree. I tell them people eat the heart of the tree. Our conversations naturally progress to trees and plants being categorized as "producers." A little further on the trail we pick up hickory nuts. Two different types of squirrels have been eating them. A good time to discuss "consumers." All the children are much more relaxed as we proceed to some benches on the hill top.
Since they never were able to study the woods, they do not know about the layers of the forest. We talk about each layer and what type of animal uses it for their habitat. Now they are excited . We go back to our trail and see fungus. We talk about "decomposers." Robert sees a spider web way up in the trees, over the trail and does not want to continue. I convince him to hurry under. It is not going to jump from its web. Once again, the thrill of being outside overcomes fear. It just takes a little knowledge of the animals and plants in the woods.
I decide to treat them to some one-on-one time with Tree Hill’s animals. We go into the Nature Center and up the ramp to the Discovery Room. I take out a Corn Snake. The girls admire it from a distance. Robert wants to touch. He is surprised that it is not slimy.
I take out a turtle. After touching we have a great conversation about reptiles and mammals. We notice that it is time to meet the other children for lunch. My three students don’t want to go. They are all enjoying something that I often take for granted - time with nature.
I have to say that day was one of my more rewarding experiences. Sharing these first-time experiences with these wonderful kids gave me great pleasure. One of the parents commented on how much they personally learned on this day at Tree Hill. I guess if you think about it, they probably don’t get outside much, due to caring for their children. It was my pleasure sharing with them, too!
Do you have monkeys?
Last week I had the opportunity to go on the trails with Mason, a burly third-grader who was obviously scared to be outside. Yes. Scared to be under the tall trees, walking on fallen crunching leaves, fearful of every insect, bird sound and hanging vine.
Mason was the leader of his little posse. Because he came to Tree Hill armed with his fearful distain, his disposition filtered easily through the group. Arms crossed, looking straight at me, "I'm-not-touchin'-that," attitude all over.
"Are we going in there?" was his first scared tough-guy reaction as the kids were lead away from the picnic area and into the woods. "I hate the woods. I hate being outside," he blurted, all decked out in his crisp new Jaguar football jersey and bright Nikes.
To this, I ignored, deciding that this morning, Mason was my challenge.
Through the gate, into the hardwoods forest. Gorgeous lush ferns. An abundance of grape fine. Regal spiders. "Spiders! I hate spiders. I'm not getting close to no spiders!" announces tough guy in Jaguar attire.
The stunning Tropical Argiope splayed magnificently in the center of her web, freezes. A geometric fractal site to behold, suspended parallel to our trail. "I ain't going near no spider. Get me outta’ here."
The posse adapts the same stubborn tone. It has the possibility of being a very long, frenetic trail walk.
"Mason, come to the front."
"Yes, Mason, you come up by me."
"Shoulders shrugged, made more prominent by the football jersey's cut, arms wrapped, elbows pointed forward, fingers splayed to protect the defensive end who begrudgingly traipses forward.
"Who's bigger? You or the spider?"
This quandary of either a public educational emasculation about-face or maintaining of bravado-camouflaged fear leaves him cornered.
We moved on, into the forest and down the hill, from towering Oaks to swampy Cinnamon fern. Mason's posse, now in the back, are separated from their leader. They relax a bit, see clearer, feel better.
"Do you have monkeys?"
"No, we don't have a habitat for monkeys. Do you know what makes up a habitat?"
A discussions ensues.
Mason will need this discussion of words for the dreaded FCAT. He'll need an understanding of the connections between flora and fauna. He'll need to understand his immense responsibility of stewardship as a fellow human being in order to feel connected to the world around him now, the world of yesterday and the world of tomorrow.
On the trail, the foundation is planted.
Meet Victoria the Volunteer
We are lucky to have the support of a number of wonderful volunteers. One of our newest is Victoria. Here's her story:
Tell us about yourself:
I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. I have five sisters. I’m the middle child. I have been in elementary education for the last 20 years, primarily in Chicago and New York. I retired early to work as an education consultant. I visited Ponte Vedra for work in January 2008 and decided I liked the warmer climate of Florida.
What would a friend say about you?
“She is a go-getter in terms of accomplishing any task she endeavors. Just remember to get out of her way!”
What would we be surprised to know about you?
I traveled through Europe alone recently. I had to facilitate three different languages and cultures. I also enjoy different genres of music and play an acoustic guitar.
How did you find out about Tree Hill?
My roommate told me there was a park in the area that looked real nice. And, I saw an excerpt about Tree Hill in the Buzz and Forum that mentioned volunteers were needed.
What was your first thought about Tree Hill?
My initial impression was that of surprise to discover that Tree Hill wasn’t just a vast land with trees, but it had a wonderful in-door museum with exhibits and live animals. There are, additionally, the animals on the outside and the trails to discover. The staff is knowledgeable and quite friendly as well, which helped considerably in feeling this was a place where you would be wanted and/or appreciated.
If you had $30,000 to donate to Tree Hill, how would you want it spent?
I would put the money towards the amphitheater and/or the nearby garden with my name on a little plaque.
What do you wish other people knew about Tree Hill?
I wish that other people knew what a really cool place Tree Hill truly is. When it comes to nature in a lot of people’s minds is the word “boring.” However, it is not so at Tree Hill. It’s a wonderful place for you to bring family and friends.
What would you say are your strongest beliefs about environmental education and stewardship?
My beliefs are that if you start educating young people early about the environment and the need for stewardship in Jacksonville, our planet and lives would be significantly richer for all people and animals.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering or donating to Tree Hill?
Don’t just think about volunteering and/or donating to Tree Hill, Do It! And Sooner rather than later.