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FMNP Festival and Year-end Recap

20 years of FMNP courses have come and gone. It’s hard to believe how much has been accomplished during that time by instructors, graduates, and FMNP staff. To put this in perspective, over the last 20 years:

  • 10 FMNP courses have been developed (and several more, including Freshwater Restoration, are in the works)
  • 532 individuals have contributed as certified FMNP instructors in the program’s lifetime, with 176 active instructors representing 64 instructor teams currently
  • We’ve issued approximately 20,000 FMNP certificates to nearly 9,000 individuals
  • We responded to the Covid pandemic with online and hybrid course offerings that we will continue to offer along with traditional in-person courses
  • FMNP graduates around the state continue to promote the mission of the program as volunteers, educators/ecotour guides, and by sharing enjoyment, respect, and sensible use of our valuable natural resources

For all these and many other contributions, we are grateful to all our FMNP instructors and graduates and to the folks who have worked behind the scenes to help make these things possible. It’s been an amazing 20 years, I look forward to the next 20!

Our recent 20th Anniversary FMNP Festival was a great success! About 300 FMNP graduates, friends, and instructors participated in the festival and with their support, the over $10,000 raised will support the FMNP Endowment Fund. This newly established fund will ensure the FMNP continues to provide courses and encourage FMNP graduates to share their knowledge and passion for nature with others.

Click the image to download the final FMNP 20th anniversary desktop calendar.

We had 6 amazing online events with speakers from Audubon Florida, Florida Wildlife Corridor Coalition, Florida DEP Office of Greenways and Trails, Florida Wildflower Foundation, and Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. We also came together to celebrate in person! We had 12 in-person events across the state. Here are a few highlights from the events:

Cruickshank Sanctuary Birding Field Trip (Brevard)

About 20 people enjoyed a walk, learned about the Helen and Allan Cruickshank Sanctuary and its ecosystem, and watched as a few Florida Scrub-Jays landed on fellow participants. It was a cool, breezy morning for Central Florida but 18 different species of birds were seen, including Red-tailed Hawks, Roseate Spoonbills, Northern Flicker and over 25 Florida Scrub-Jays.

-Bert Alm, Field Trip Director of the Space Coast Audubon Society

Sunset in the Hollows (Brevard)

Close to 50 people came out to explore Hundred Acre Hollows. Some visitors went for walks on their own around the property while others went with Bert Alm, Field Trip Director of the Space Coast Audubon Society, around a section of the property. Hundred Acre Hollows is home to Native Plant Gardens, bat houses, and an owl box. Some of the visitors saw a deer, a bobcat, and many species of birds. Bert provided a history of the property, a discussion of how the Hundred Acre Hollows nonprofit was formed, and how the neighborhood youth is engaged through the Junior Ranger program. And as a fun bonus, the interpretative signs at the native plant garden on site were influenced by Rochelle Hood’s FMNP Environmental Interpretation Class, as part of the course project.

 -Bert Alm, Field Trip Director of the Space Coast Audubon Society

Photo by Glen McLean

Babcock Ranch Preserve Swamp Walk (Charlotte), pictured at left

Over 3 inches of rainfall the day before made for an excellent swamp walk that was far more wet than dry. The hike was led by Jamie Reynolds, Charlotte County’s lead FMNP instructor and Glen McLean, associate instructor. The hike included presentation stops with topics ranging from the history of the property to the latest news of the panther kittens which have been photographed there. The discovery of a barred owl perched on a cypress limb over the trail had everyone smiling.

-Glen McLean, FMNP Associate Instructor Charlotte County

Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center Tour (Collier)

Florida Master Naturalist alumni visited the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center for a guided tour with Sarah Falkowski, education coordinator and lead coastal module instructor,. Participants enjoyed the new “Natural Selections: Painting Annual Exhibition” in the art gallery and explored the interactive exhibit hall. Athan Barkoukis, the Friends of Rookery Bay executive director, , popped in to say hello and thanked everyone for their support of the iconic Florida Master Naturalist Program. Alumni engaged with volunteer docents at the Estuary Encounter touch tank, meeting a few of the live creatures that call the Reserve home. And of course, the visit wasn’t complete without a stop in the Palmetto Patch Nature Store for souvenir gifts.

-Sarah Falkowski, FMNP Lead Instructor Collier County

Birding on a Bicycle (or Hike) (Indian River)

Craig Weyandt, Florida Master Naturalist, and Ken Gioeli, UF/IFAS Extension agent and lead instructor, led an adventurous group of Florida Master Naturalists and guests on an excursion at Stick Marsh CWA, which is adjacent to T.M. Goodwin Wildlife Management Area, a site along the Great Florida Birding Trail. It was a brisk morning but participants enthusiastically rode 12.08 miles in awe of the amazing birding. Osprey, cormorant, anhinga, great blue herons, egret (snowy, great and cattle), kestrel and more were observed. There was even one roseate spoonbill at the very end of the ride which was like the icing on the cake.

-Ken Gioeli, FMNP Lead Instructor St. Lucie County

Lilly, a recent inductee of the Jr. Ranger program at the park, braved a visit from an eastern lubber grasshopper. (Photo by Cassi Bliss)

A Walk for Wildflowers (Martin), pictured at right

The wildflower walk at Jonathan Dickinson State Park was a nice mellow hike where participants literally stopped to smell the flowers! The group followed the Kitching Creek Nature Trail, which is only about a mile long, but as true wildflower spectators they spent about three hours just hanging out and having fun along the trail.

-Cassi Bliss, Park Ranger at Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Friends of Pinellas Master Naturalists’ FMNP 20th Anniversary Beach Cleanup (Pinellas)

The Friends of Pinellas Master Naturalists went to Clearwater’s Sand Key beach to remove litter. Although it was a very brisk and breezy morning, we were excited to come together safely and share some time outdoors. One of the members brought delicious hot cider, which kept us warm and energized before and after the cleanup. By the afternoon, 11 dedicated Friends members and their guests removed approximately 12 pounds of litter ranging from a soggy diaper to numerous cigarette butts and small pieces of plastics. Everyone had a fun time, and it felt good helping nature wave off some of the beach trash, thereby making a positive difference in the health of our shoreline habitat.

-Jeanne Murphy, FMNP Lead Instructor Pinellas County

Fundy Bayou Paddle (Santa Rosa)

A small but mighty group hit the water just as the air temperature broke 60 degrees. The group kayaked up Fundy Bayou and out to Fundy Cove located along the southeast side of Blackwater Bay. They traveled through freshwater and saltwater marshes, along scrubby flat woods, beach and mesic hammock habitats. Ospreys, a kingfisher and red-headed woodpecker entertained the group.

-Chris Verlinde, Lead FMNP Instructor Santa Rosa County

Photo by Ken Gioeli

Ten Mile Creek Paddle (St. Lucie), pictured at left

Five intrepid kayakers and host Susan Hamburger braved the early morning light rain to paddle three miles of the north fork of the St. Lucie River from Ten Mile Creek Preserve. As the clouds parted and the sun shone, the paddlers saw anhinga and osprey, majestic oaks festooned with bromeliads, a hidden strangler fig, swamp lillies, and invasive Brazilian pepper trees and apple snails’ bright pink eggs while learning about the history of the river’s straightening and dredging.

-Susan Hamburger, Ph.D., Advanced Florida Master Naturalist and Land Steward

Hickory Mound Field Day and Picnic (Taylor), pictured below

After a briefing about the Wildlife management area and ecological description of the area, the participants met at the observation tower and started a clean-up walk for 1.5 miles. The group removed about 300 pounds of trash found in the margins of the road, which included glass bottles, drink cans, plastic bottles and containers, cigarette butts, aluminum foil, plastic bags, pieces of fabric, fishing lines and rope, snack bags, and more. At the end of the activity the group enjoyed a lunch in the picnic area. During the clean-up, the group was able to discuss and identify a diversity of plants, butterflies, and birds.

-Victor Blanco, Lead FMNP Instructor Taylor County

Photo by Victor Blanco

North Central FMNP Networking, Invasive Plant Removal, and Picnic (Wakulla)

On Oct. 30, three Florida Master Naturalist graduates and lead instructor Rosalyn Kilcollins met at the St Marks River Park in the City of St Marks. The group used rakes and buckets to remove water hyacinths from the shoreline of the park, and then traveled a few blocks away to the Wakulla River Park to do the same. Most of the plants at this park were not accessible from the shoreline, but there were a couple of areas the group could reach. The day finished with a picnic lunch.

-Rosalyn Kilcollins, Lead FMNP Instructor Leon County