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Twelve NWR members cover more than 60,000 acres

By Toni Collins
Special to the Beacon

Few residents and visitors to the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges realize that these very popular recreation areas encompass more than 60,000 acres of land in Levy and Dixie counties. The Lower Suwannee NWR, which was established in 1979, is the largest undeveloped river delta estuarine system in the United States and the Cedar Keys NWR, established in 1929, is composed of 13 islands including Seahorse Key, the site of the Cedar Keys Light Station. In addition, NWR staff maintains Atsena Otie for the Suwannee River Water Management District.
Six of the twelve staff members of the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges introduced new staff members and presented their goals for the Refuges to an audience of about 50 interested persons. The “Refuge Night: Meet the People, Programs, and Plans” program was co-sponsored by the Friends of the Cedar Key Public Library and the Friends of the Refuges. Friends President Peg Hall introduced the new Refuge Manager, Andrew Gude, who presented the opportunities offered by the local Refuge System.
Gude, who took over the duties of Refuge Manager this past September, outlined the six major areas of recreational activities offered in the refuges. Visitors can enjoy environmental education; interpretation; photography; wildlife observation; hunting; and fishing. The Refuges also offers miles of hiking trails and many creeks for canoeing and kayaking.
Refuge staff members, Larry Woodward, Vic Doig, Daniel Barrand, Pam Darty, and Kenny McCain presented how their positions contribute to the overall maintenance and custodianship of the refuge lands. Refuge Manager Gude also proposed more interaction with the University of Florida Marine Laboratory to provide the general public with additional access to the Cedar Keys Light Station.
There are numerous volunteer opportunities open to the public which would help promote the stewardship of the refuges. Interested persons can contact Refuge Ranger Pam Darty at (352) 493-0238, Ext. 223 or view the Refuges web sites at www.fws.gov/lowersuwannee for a calendar of events.