Student Swamp Scientists… Sally Wilson explains

Sally Wilson

Kids, seniors and everyone in between can enjoy something outdoorsy at one of our nearby national parks. Big Cypress National Preserve is just a quick 30 minute drive from Naples and offers 700,000 acres in the expansive outdoor playground. It is not only home to the endangered Florida panther, but you can often spot a manatee and alligators.

The South Florida National Parks Trust (SFNPT) began in 2002 out of a working need to ensure that more people – especially children – have an opportunity to experience these remarkable  places and learn about the resources the parks protect. In addition to Big Cypress National Preserve, the SFNPT also supports the Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas National Parks.

From Collier County, students become scientists for the day through a program called the Swamp Water And Me Program (SWAMP). Other park outreach programs include wet walks, canoe trips, bike trips, and interpretive programs like an evening of dark sky education (one of the darkest skies in the eastern United States is at Big Cypress National Preserve), overnight camping programs, boater education and special events. A day spent outdoors exploring in the wilderness is a prescription for health and wellness!

As a non-profit operating on both coasts of Florida, these critical educational programs happen through donations from individuals, corporations and foundations. The board is representative of both coasts. Every year to celebrate the parks and what they have to offer, the SFNPT holds their annual Wine & Wildlife event.

In its 5th year, it is set for February 26, 2020, at the Naples Botanical Garden. The SFNPT and Big Cypress have a working relationship with the Garden. This year, the SFNPT funded a new landscaping project at the Swamp Welcome Center that recreates various habitat types allowing visitors to see the many diverse plant communities that make up the Big Cypress National Preserve. Professionals from the Naples Botanical Garden designed the sustainable landscape project and helped plant the new landscaping.

One program to benefit from Wine & Wildlife is the SWAMP education program. It is provided to nearly 3,500 6th grade science students and their teachers in the Collier County public and private schools each year. First, all students are visited in the classroom by a ranger for the pre-site program to help prepare them for the field
trip. Each class visits the preserve for an all day field trip becoming scientists for the day. Students use a variety of scientific equipment to perform hands-on experiments, make observations and collect data on animals, vegetation, water, soil and weather while exploring three habitats. All data the students collect is used in activities back in the classroom in follow up activities.

Through these programs, the SFNPT hopes to foster an awareness of the importance of the South Florida Ecosystem that leads to the stewardship of our natural areas.

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