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Let’s Get Outdoors . . . Nature Awaits!

Sandra Chafin Special to The Star
The Star

As we continue our adventure at the St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve, we are going to take Pond Road. There’s no sign denoting Pond Road after you leave Treasure Road. It turns to the left -- so it might be a bit tricky because it appears that you are headed to the maintenance shop. Don’t go there, Maintenance specialist, Tony Cole, will try to put you to work. Keeping up with all the necessary equipment is a big job. Tony says, “I will take all the help I can get. If we get enough hikers, bikers, or walkers through here, I can put them to work. I will make an excellent supervisor and we can really get things done.” The maintenance area is for employees only so be sure to go around the pond.

You might see a small gator sunning in the pond, and sometimes they are just lazing around. Don’t go in the water!

The actual name of the body of water on Pond Road is Lake April. Maybe it started out as a pond and eventually grew into a lake, since it is manmade. How it got its name is unknown to the current staff and the first preserve manager says it was named by the owner of the property when the state purchased the original 702 acres. 702 acres have grown into 5,026 acres.

Preserve staff try hard to maintain everything in its natural state. They work to inventory and restore the Preserves’ natural communities. However, there are tasks which require tools and machinery with a location to properly house that equipment. Having a competent maintenance person on the job daily saves the state thousands of dollars and makes work so much more efficient.

Manager Dylan Shoemaker has this to say about Tony, “I think Tony can fix anything. Keeping tractors, ATVs, UTVs, generators, and other equipment running is a full-time job at the Preserve. That’s not all he does either. He mows, discs, helps with prescribed burns, assists other agencies, and, must do that much dreaded paperwork. We are fortunate to have someone willing to help do anything and everything to make the Preserve the best it can be.”

As you pass Lake April and continue down the trail, you will notice both sides of the road have undergone prescribed burning. The longleaf pines are flourishing from the prescribed burns. The undergrowth of palmettos along with other flora and fauna is just what the staff ordered. There will be many different species of plants growing under the pines.

Notice the undergrowth which is home to many wildlife species. There can be as many as 50 different plant species in a small area in the pine forests. These are old growth (just growing naturally) and not planted in rows. Old growth pine forests covered the south before being over harvested for boat and house building. Very few of the old growth piney woods remain when historically they covered 90 percent of the southern United States.

You might see deer while on Pond Road. They seem to like this area and have been spotted many times. Sometimes they look like – what are you doing in my part of the preserve! They might notice you, look up, then continue eating.

Pond Road is 1.87 miles long. Be sure to bring water, hat, walking shoes, sunscreen, bug repellent, and phone. Phone service can be spotty in the Uplands or as staff calls it --- “the heart of the Preserve.”

TRAM Tours have been suspended at this time, due to COVID-19. We hope to resume tours as quickly as possible however, Pond Road is not on the route. Hiking Pond Road is the best bet to see trees, plants, animals, and nature at its finest! Enjoy the month of June and the Great Outdoors!

Thanks to volunteer Kristy Hamilton and Buffer Preserve staff for pictures.

Find out more about the Preserve and its CSO (Citizen Support Organization) -- Friends of St. Joseph Bay Preserve at www.stjosephbaypreserve.org. You can be a member of this growing and vibrant group working to make the Buffer Preserve even better.