There are some who are compelled by a landscape, a sacred site, a river… so compelled that they want to be there, even need to be there. Shell Mound is such a site. Have you seen the group of our neighbors and friends who have been so compelled by the site that they have chosen to be its caretakers?
Shell Mound and Dennis Creek, public lands administered by the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, sit within the Gulf’s estuary known as the Big Bend extending from Apalachicola down to north Pinellas County. A fishing pier, exhibits, two trails, a magnificent archaeological site and an observation deck provide recreation and solitude. To ensure that the site remains in good condition, volunteer Ron Black and his cadre of caretakers spend nearly 40 hours a week removing litter that visitors leave behind, maintaining the facilities, replacing signs vandals and thieves destroy, installing brochures in the welcoming kiosk, and more.
Because the Refuge has more work than its staff can keep up with, Ron Black and Charles Neese, State Museum Manager, began their volunteer work at Shell Mound in 2010. The two built a cadre of family and friends to keep up the good work. The late Phil Cothan, Kate Seeking-the-sky and Christine Black initially helped welcome visitors, maintained the area, talked to the anglers on the pier and shared the vast history the mound has seen over the millennia.
The ranger responsible for the recreation areas provided by the Lower Suwannee NWR says she would like nothing more than to spend all her time at the sacred site, but the many facets of her work keep her otherwise occupied.
“When I saw the passion Mr. Black and Mr. Neese have for the site, I knew I could pass the torch”, says Ranger Darty.
The two that continue the work can be seen in their emblazoned Shell Mound Caretakers uniforms. After performing over 500 hours, Ron Black was awarded with an annual pass to all national wildlife refuges, national parks and national forests.
Now, there are uniformed Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge volunteers assisting anglers, interpreting the history and spreading word of the good works of the National Wildlife Refuge System across the country and in our own backyard.