By Dylan Shoemaker, Preserve Manager
Treasure is a word that has long been associated with St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve.
In a previous life the lodge was named Treasure Bay Lodge.
Treasure Bay Lodge and Hunting Preserve provided a place for overnight stays and hunting opportunities. In 1995 the Florida Board of Trustees purchased the property and that same year it became known as the Buffer Preserve.
Now, it is truly a treasure for everyone to enjoy.
The primary function of the Preserve is to protect St. Joseph Bay.
While owned by the Florida Board of Trustees, the Preserve is under the management of Florida Department of Environmental, Florida Coastal Office and managed by the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve.
One question asked a lot by visitors and residents alike is: What do you do at the Preserve?
Our jobs include: inventorying natural communities, conducting prescribed burns, controlling invasive plants and animals, restoring the natural hydrology and establishing visitor access.
As a research facility, we provide living quarters for students who are conducting scientific research and educational opportunities for nature study.
College professors might bring their entire class and stay overnight or for a three-week course of study.
Groups from Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, New York, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas have taken advantage of the diversity of life at the Buffer.
The Preserve is managed under a single use concept as a State Buffer Preserve. For a time in 2013 we were the last Buffer Preserve in the state as all others had been designated as state parks. Some have reopened as Buffer Preserves as their importance is in the spotlight throughout the state.
This leads to another question often asked: What is a Buffer Preserve?
Our 5,019 acres actually buffers the water coming down the watershed and naturally filters it before it enters the bay.
The 5,019 acres also buffers the bay from further destruction and construction. St. Joseph Bay is one of the most pristine bays on the Gulf of Mexico and our goal is to keep it that way.
St. Joseph Bay is the only embayed body of water on the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico that has no major fresh water inflow. Money Bayou, originating in Buffer Preserve land is unusual in that it flows directly into the Gulf instead of through an intervening body of fresh water.
When visitors stop in another question we hear a lot is: What can you do at the Buffer Preserve?
We have trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and nature appreciation. Areas to picnic are provided at various gates and locations. The Buffer Preserve is designated as part of Florida’s Great Birding Trail. We have a tower for visitors to climb and view via telescope various wildlife and to observe the beauty of the Bay.
Rumors of treasure (from long ago pirates) are still around in the area, however, at the Preserve -- staff, volunteers and visitors know true treasures abound in the form of wildlife, rare plants and wildflowers, seagrass beds and salt marshes.
What a treasure for all to enjoy right here in Port St. Joe!