In the center of Gator Lake at St. Andrews State Park, there is a small island covered in dense brush. It’s a rookery, a group nest site for many different bird species. The lake is teeming with wading birds, including great blue herons, great egrets, snowy egrets, tricolored herons and the secretive yellow-crowned night heron. Nearby, a pair of whitetail deer browse through the undergrowth.
Standing on the overlook by Gator Lake, Assistant Park Manager, LeAnne Hinson, recalled how on the first day after the storm, she and two other rangers worked tirelessly to clear brush and fix water leaks.
Community groups rallied around the park and aided continuing cleanup efforts. The Florida State University Buddhist Student Association visited St. Andrews and collected seaborn debris.
“The FSU Buddhist Student Association had a great time cleaning the beach at St. Andrews. The staff was super accommodating and provided us with trash bags and gloves. We expected about as much trash and litter as we found on the beach area, mainly cigarette butts and broken plastics. We found a large boat cushion which we brought back to our campsite garbage area. Styrofoam was the most frustrating litter to encounter because it had broken up and was difficult to gather.”
Months later, the park is getting back to normal. The popular fishing pier is open and a recent viral photo of an alligator relaxing on the beach did nothing to scare away the usual spring breakers. The campground is open on a walk-in-only basis and repairs are underway on several damaged boardwalks and pavilions around the park. The Surfer's Boardwalk and the Overlook Boardwalk are closed until repairs can be made.
St. Andrews State Park is located on a barrier island. Natural communities common on barrier islands, such as maritime hammock, have evolved over millions of years and countless storms. At St. Andrews, tall dunes provide extra protection. This island ecosystem is one of the best-suited to rebounding after hurricanes.