By Taylor Paynter, Ray Bodrey and Scott Jackson
Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) students know their journey is only beginning at the completion of any course. One of the program’s main goals is to train those who will share and foster in others the principles of sustainability, connectivity and biodiversity.
Graduates Jill Bebee and Beverly Maddox, both of Port St. Joe, were recently involved in a particularly shining example of turning lessons learned in FMNP courses into real community action.
The pair were enrolled in the FMNP Freshwater Systems and Coastal Restoration special topic course and saw that they could advocate for a more sustainable plan for a local nature trail, an area favorite for walking and hiking activities. The City of Port St. Joe had announced plans to develop the area, which was once home to a golf course and presently includes a canal system.
As a team, Jill and Beverly decided to focus their final course project on reimagining the planned development area. Their next action wasn’t a class requirement, but the two presented their vision for the park to the City of Port St. Joe, with an alternate development plan that focuses on preserving the greenway and incorporating native flora and fauna into the natural hiking trail, complete with educational signs to promote environmental stewardship. The City is now considering developing another area and not encroaching on the green space.
“The Freshwater Systems course was a great way to learn about the environment around me,” Jill said. “It enhanced my appreciation of Florida’s freshwater assets,” and also provided “a different perspective on the relationship between freshwater and marine systems in Florida’s ecosystems.”
More importantly, Jill added, “I’ve learned valuable skills in how to communicate the knowledge I’ve gained, and I feel more polished in providing science-based information.” Both she and Beverly have continued to seek out opportunities to further enhance their educational leadership.
Among those recent opportunities for Jill was becoming a Scallop Sitter for Gulf County. The program is available in Bay, Gulf and Franklin Counties. Click here to learn more.
Nonformal education benefits students at any age and can help anyone interested in learning. Florida Master Naturalists learn the importance of conserving Florida’s natural ecosystems. This can create a domino effect, changing minds on multiple levels. FMNP provided Jill and Beverly the confidence to speak up about conservation values when it mattered the most.
If you are interested in taking a FMNP course, registration is open for courses in 2021: https://conference.ifas.ufl.edu/fmnp/courses.html
Taylor Paynter is interning at UF/IFAS Extension Bay County; Ray Bodrey is the UF/IFAS Extension Gulf County Director; and Scott Jackson is the UF/IFAS Extension Bay County Director and Florida Sea Grant Agent.