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Excitement Builds as Friends of St. Joe Bay Preserves Prepare for Winter Bay Day

Sandra Chafin Special to The Star
The Star

Friends of the St. Joseph Bay Preserves have high hopes that on Saturday 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!

The First Friends Preserves Fundraiser was held on Feb. 1, 2003 as a Thank You to volunteers and visitors and locals. It has grown with added TRAM Tours into the Uplands of the Preserve. The Food has just gotten better with each Bay Day.

Why Preserves you ask? There is a Buffer Preserve and an Aquatic Preserve which the Friends’ Citizen Support Group assists and champions. 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 5,025 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 8 a.m. ET Birding Trip lead by Ron Houser from the Audubon Society in Bay County. Five 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 9:30 a.m. ET. From the Visitor Center, 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, and some of the most beautiful natural areas in our area. Can’t make the 9:30 a.m. trip?

No problem, there are four more: 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. ET.

There are displays from various parks and groups such as the Native Plant Society, Audubon, T.H. Stone St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Turtle Patrol, and many others.

The Tram Tours fill to overflowing with folks anxious to learn about the Buffer Preserve. Those making the trip are excited about what they learned going into the uplands of the Buffer Preserve, controlled burns, rare plants, and how they are all interconnected and work together for the benefit of the environment, especially the 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) has a super display for Bay Day.

The staff of the Preserve does 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, Gulf County Chamber of Commerce 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 Winter Bay Day, which brings in additional revenue for the Friends of the Preserves.

We hope you can join us for our Winter Bay Day on Saturday.

If you have any questions, please call 229-1787 for more information or visit www.stjosephbaypreserve.org.