By Sandra Chafin
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t began as a simple THANK YOU to those joining the newly formed Friends of St. Joseph Bay Preserves. It has grown and grown in memberships and Shrimp Boil plates. In February 2012, a record 458 plates were sold to the Winter Bay Day participants. This was quite different from the very first one in size – not so different in the desire to say “ Thank you” to members and supporters of the Preserves, and for all other Bay Days that followed.
Why Preserves you ask? e Friends CSO (Citizen Support Organization) are staunch supporters of the Buffer Preserve and the Aquatic Preserve. There are two entities the Friends Group supports in order to help maintain the pristine condition of St. Joseph Bay. After the State designated Aquatic Preserves in 1969, they realized the importance of the adjacent lands and the direct affect to the water-in our case St. Joseph Bay. The Buffer uplands consist of 5,019 acres which serves the purpose of naturally filtering the water running down through the watershed to the bay. This buffer zone also prevents further destruction of the lands surrounding the bay. Keeping St. Joseph Bay pristine is a very important job. A pristine bay benefits the economic and recreational health of the region, as well as, the breeding areas and our marine goldmine-some of the world’s best scallops.
Bay Day trips are designed for those seasoned birders and those just starting out. Matthew Anderson of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve leads trips starting on the Buffers’ Deal Tract. Another birding trip is led by Ron Houser of the Bay County Audubon Society. Both trip leaders are very knowledgeable and are considered expert birders, making these trips very enjoyable and worthwhile.
Rosalyn Kilcollins leads a beach tour that explores the shorelines at Eagle Harbor which is in the St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. Participants have an opportunity to get their feet wet and learn about life along the shoreline and in the bay, when weather permits. Kim Wren leads hiking trips from the Deal Tract which focuses on the history, archaeology, and the role the seagrass plays in the bay. Both Rosalyn and Kim work at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve. This past October Kim planned a super kayak trip on the bay; however, due to Tropical Storm Karen the Fall Bay Day was cancelled. The newest contribution of the Friends Group was the revamping of the tram used on tours of the Buffer. Seats were retrofitted and a ramp was added to assist those boarding the tram. Everyone now faces the same direction so speakers can address the entire group comfortably. The seats are new and the tram is easy to load and offload. Beginning in January, this new addition will also be used once a month for tours of the Buffer Preserve. Having the tram has provided a long needed addition to the Buffer and eliminates the need to borrow.
Bay Day is one of the most exciting events along the Forgotten Coast in February. Members attend our annual meeting in January and are fired up and ready to learn about the importance and status of the Preserves. They truly enjoy getting to see the Buffer and Aquatic Preserves up close and personal.
JOIN us at the annual meeting to be held on January 18, 2014 and then on February 1, 2013 for our Winter Bay Day. Normally the weather is more like a nice spring day than winter which makes it very nice to attend. There is a $10 donation for a shrimp plate and memberships are encouraged – $10 for Student; $15 for Individual; $25 for Family. All trips and tours are presented by staff of the Buffer Preserve or the Research Reserve, or other local non-profit groups like the Bay County Audubon Society at no charge to the public.
Mark your calendars now – January 18 and February 1, 2014. We invite you to attend and join a wonderful group of people who realize the importance of taking care of our natural resources.