I would like to share a story of how state parks can have deep and meaningful impacts on their visitors. The story is about a little girl spending the day at the beach with her mom.
The little girl was at the water’s edge chasing the water was ebbed and flowed back and forth until she saw something in the sand. A beautiful seashell. She picked it up and ran back to her mother to show her, her found treasure. They examined the shell and were surprised to find a perfectly round hole in the shell. They wondered how it got there. Had someone drilled a hole in and left it for someone to find on the beach?
Later, as they were leaving the beach they met a park ranger. The little girl pulled out her shell to show the ranger her found treasure. The ranger expressed what a pretty shell it was and asked the little girl if she knew what kind of animal had made the shell. With an inquisitive look on the little girl’s face she asked, “an animal made this?” The ranger revealed it was made by a clam. Then shared with her how the clam began its life as a tiny microscopic plankton drifting in the ocean currents, how it lived along the coast burying itself into the sand for protection and how it fed upon plankton to grow to be so beautiful. The little girl was then asked if she could guess what had made that perfectly round hole in the clam’s shell? She shrugged.
The ranger told her the fascinating tale of how a moon snail had come along, wrapped its body around the clam, drilled a hole in the shell and then slurped the clam out like a milkshake by inserting its proboscis through the drilled hole. A proboscis looks kind of like slimy straw! The little girl was enthralled with this tale of her seashell and left with a huge smile on her face wondering what other secrets nature held.
Six years later, the little girl had just graduated high school, she returned to the park just as she had each summer since that wonderful day on the beach. She walked into the nature center and saw someone she hadn’t seen in years. The park ranger who had opened her eyes to discovery! She approached the ranger and told her of how that moment on the beach had inspired her to go to college to study marine biology. She wanted to be a park ranger, so she could work to preserve, restore and interpret the mysterious world of nature to others!
I must say, that day when the little girl told me she had been inspired to help conserve our precious natural resource, it was one of the most rewarding days of my career! I think it touched me so personally, because as I child I grew up going to parks and beaches with my mom. I remember seeing park rangers and thought they were the most amazing people and that they had the coolest jobs. Through those profound memories with my mom in state parks I was inspired to start a quest to conserve the environment. I found my true passion was environmental education. I wanted to have the opportunity to enlighten and illuminate a passion for conservation in others just as I had experienced as a child.
There is a quote I look at each day as I enter my office which provokes my passion for conservation through environmental education. I think the statement which was written by a Senegalese ecologist, Baba Dioum in 1968 captures the essence of what this center will be.
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love, only what we understand; and we will understand, only what we are taught.”
Without a deep and meaningful appreciation for nature we wouldn’t have public lands for us to step away from the hustle and bustle, put our phones down and just be. Nature gives us the opportunity to open our minds, our hearts, and our senses to discover the secrets of another world. I hope that your experience at Lovers Key State Park will provide you the opportunity to enjoy nature and escape to the Real Florida!