Florida State Parks have a program called “parknerships” that involves, as you might guess, partnering with other agencies, civic groups and schools to achieve its goals. This is always a win-win for those involved. This past week, it was a winning day for the Levy Association for Retarded Citizens (LARC) and the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge.
Ranger Pam Darty was contacted by Manatee Spring State Park, sponsors of a grant that funds transportation of LARC clients to outdoor activities in public lands like state parks and National Wildlife Refuges. When Darty was asked to host the group at the Lower Suwannee NWR for the day, she got with one of LARC’s best friends, volunteer and Levy heritage author, Toni Collins, and planned a day of outdoor fun, history and heritage.
Ranger Pam introduced LARC clients to bats at the giant bat house near the Refuge headquarters all the while promising a big surprise at the River Trail. As the group rounded the corner at the trailhead, Collins and Lindon Lindsey, dressed in late 1800’s period-clothing, greeted them as if they were pioneers. They spoke of the old sawmill no longer at the end of the trail, lifeways of Florida pioneers like the Lindsey family and priceless public lands like refuges and parks. Several of the clients recognized Collins from the many times she has interacted with them, enjoying the surprise.
After walking to the Suwannee River and finding no alligators, the group ventured to Shell Mound to learn of its ancient origins. Everyone took turns throwing a spear before learning of archaic technology demonstrated by the atlatl used to project the spear. After walking up the 28-foot high mound, the group was thrilled to view the Gulf from atop the mountain of shells.
“I couldn’t have been happier that Ranger Dudley asked us to host LARC; all the clients are so sweet and appreciative,” said Darty. “One of our goals at the Lower Suwannee NWR is to encourage non-traditional users to come visit, use our fishing pier, enjoy our trails, photograph birds at our observation decks or view the bat exodus from our giant bat house.”
For more information or to make arrangements for your group to visit, call the Refuge at 352/493-0238, ext 223. It’s all free.