Friends of the St. Joseph Bay Preserves have high hopes that on Feb. 4 they will break their previous record set in 2014 of serving 550 Low Country Shrimp Boil plates!

Friends of the St. Joseph Bay Preserves have high hopes that on Feb. 4 they will break their previous record set in 2014 of serving 550 Low Country Shrimp Boil plates! Friends of SJB Preserves need your help to break the record!

Why Preserves you ask? There is a Buffer Preserve and an Aquatic Preserve which the Friends’ Citizen Support Group assist and champion. The Aquatic Preserve was established in 1969 to protect the important natural resources of the Bay. Recognizing the importance of the protection of surrounding uplands to the preservation of the outstanding water quality and natural resources of the Bay, the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve was created in 1995 with an initial 702 acres. Currently the Preserve has 5,019 acres.

Together the Aquatic and Buffer Preserves help protect a regionally significant natural area with important ecological, economic, historical and cultural values.

Twice a year the deck at the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve goes from empty to completely full in a few short hours. The food lines in the past were the longest seen so far – yet there were no complaints as those attending were enjoying the marvelous weather and visiting with each other from all over the world. There were no disappointments either when the plate was served as the shrimp, kielbasa, potatoes, corn, slaw and bread were perfect (to match the weather).

Things get started early with an 8a.m. ET Birding Trip led by Ron Houser from the Audubon Society in Bay County.

Two years ago, Ron recorded 52 species of birds during the morning trek. The group, in their individual vehicles, leave from the Buffer Preserve and travel to Salinas Park, the Deal Tract and on to T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park looking and listening for the birds listed in various publications.

The group finishes in time to return to the Preserve Lodge for the Low Country Shrimp Boil and afternoon activities.

Not into Birding? Then you might enjoy the Tram Tour which begins at 8 a.m. ET.

From the Visitor Center and after signing-up and receiving your ticket, you will travel to the “heart of the Preserve” and hopefully see some wildlife out and about. You will see areas that have been in a prescribed burn cycle, low water crossings, Photopoint markings, eagle nest, and some of the most beautiful natural areas in our region.

Can’t make the 8a.m. trip? No problem, there are four more: 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. All times are ET.

There are displays from various parks and groups such as the Native Plant Society and Audubon.

Gibby Conrad of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve has a great display spotlighting various reptiles. The corn snake is interesting to watch in his cage and it is fascinating how he reacts to being held by Gibby.

The Tram Tours fill to overflowing with folks anxious to learn about the Preserve. No reservations are required as sign-up is on a first-come basis. Those making the trip are enthralled with what they learned about the Buffer Preserve, controlled burns, rare plants, and how they are all interconnected and work together for the benefit of the environment, especially St. Joseph Bay.

Volunteers for the Friends of the Preserves are the Buffer and Aquatic Preserves’ greatest resources. Without the dedicated cadre of volunteers who lead trips, cook the food, and perform a wide variety of services, Bay Day would not be the outstanding event it is. Without them it would not happen. Some volunteers work behind the scenes on the website, newsletters, notices to members or other duties. It takes a group of individuals who can work together, are conscientious and willing to go the extra mile for the event to be successful.

Jonathan Brucker, Central Panhandle Aquatic Preserve Manager, and his crew from the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (who directly manages the Buffer and Aquatic Preserves) have a super display for Bay Day.

The staff of the Preserve do an outstanding job before, during and after the event. Dylan Shoemaker, Preserve Manager sets the tone for Bay Day with staff and volunteers with his enthusiasm, energy and zest for the event. Site volunteers play an important role in making the day a success.

We are hoping to break the current record of 550 plates served in 2014 as over 30 volunteers, board members, and staff from the Aquatic and Buffer Preserves pitching in and working together to make the event one of the best! The Star, the Gulf County Tourist Development Council and many local businesses in the area are instrumental in helping to get the word out to tourists and residents. Local businesses also provided items for a silent auction and raffle drawings for our Fall Bay day last October and for Winter Bay Day, which bring in addition revenue for the Friends of the Preserves.

We hope you will join us for our Winter Bay Day on Feb. 4. If you have any questions please call 229-1787, Ext. 1 for more information. Check out the website: www.stjosephbaypreserves.org.