2022 Volunteer Awards at Highlands Hammock State Park

Volunteer Awards

Volunteer Spotlight, Friends of Highlands Hammock State Park  

Friends of Highlands Hammock State Parks are the recipient of the 2022 CSO Special Event of the Year Award for Resource-Based Recreation. 

Just about every year in November, the Friends of Highlands Hammock State Park puts on the Turkey Trot 5K, and in 2022 the event marked its 30th year. For many campers and Heartland residents, participating in the Turkey Trot 5K is an annual tradition.

From 2013-2020, the Turkey Trot 5K grossed $76,340. Over the last 30 years, the number of runners has increased from 60 to more than 600.

This event is organized and managed by a group of volunteers who are passionate about putting on races in the local area. They also volunteer with the Central Florida Striders Timing Group, which helps with approximately 30 running events in Highlands County. Their involvement gives them access to chip timing for accuracy and measuring the success of the runners.

The key volunteers are:

  • Chet Brojek has been volunteering for 26 years and has contributed more than 1,620 hours of volunteer time. Chet’s love of running began in junior high school and has carried him through 11 Boston Marathons.
  • Arin Morton has served on the CSO board for almost 15 years. She has been the treasurer for nine years, handles the CSO membership and serves on the Hammock Inn Camp Store Committee. She has contributed more than 2,300 hours of volunteer service.

There is also a small cadre of 10 to 20 volunteers who assist at the Turkey Trot 5K.

Congratulations to the Friends of Highlands Hammock on another successful year of the Turkey Trot 5K.

Volunteer Spotlight, Lana and Alana Edwards

Lana and Alana Edwards are the recipients of the 2022 Volunteer Team of Two of the Year for Resource Management.

Ms. Edwards receives the award from Emily Lewis, BJ Givens and Brian Fugate.

Lana Edwards and Alana Edwards are a mother and daughter team who helped found the Atala Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) in Palm Beach County in 1995.

They became involved with local butterfly counts and launched chapter counts in the same year. After seeing a documentary on butterfly gardening, Lana became intrigued. She and Alana created a garden in their backyard and got hooked.

On a trip to Highlands Hammock in 1997, Alana was amazed at the diversity and abundance of butterflies. She arranged to have her parents visit too. Once again, they were impressed by the explosion of Red Root, numbers of butterflies and the spotting of a great purple hairstreak.

In July 1998, they conducted the NABA Count at Highlands Hammock and have continued the counts annually. The July 2022 count marked 25 years of butterfly data at Highlands Hammock!

Over the years, other people have joined the counts, including Buck and Linda Cooper, Susan Farnsworth, Nancy Prine, Dave and Marga Cuttler, and Jean Evoy.

The count is physically demanding due to long hours in the summer heat. Alana Edwards has been front and center with public outreach and education speaking to groups from the Sierra Club to homeowner associations. Lana Edwards works behind the scenes to organize the counts, and they both work together on collecting and compiling the data.

Congratulations, Lana and Alana. We appreciate your efforts.

Volunteer Spotlight, Audubon Florida Jay Watch

Audubon Florida Jay Watch is the recipient of the 2022 Volunteer Team of the Year 3+ for Resource Management.

A representative receives the award from Emily Lewis, BJ Givens and Brian Fugate

Florida scrub habitat is one of the rarest ecosystems in the world. It’s found at the southern end of the Lake Wales Ridge and provides habitat for some of Florida’s most imperiled plant and animal species, one of which is the Florida scrub-jay.

For nearly 10 years, park staff has planned and implemented Florida scrub-jay monitoring at four resource management units within Highlands Hammock and Lake June-in-Winter Scrub Preserve state parks.

Teams of three to seven volunteers have contributed 375 hours assisting with Jay Watch at Highlands Hammock, Seven Lakes, the East Property and the South Property. Additionally, volunteers have contributed 310 hours at Lake June-in-Winter Scrub Preserve.

Audubon Florida Jay Watch, the citizen science program that monitors the endemic Florida scrub-jay, marked its 10th anniversary in 2022.

Monitoring is scheduled during a window of time from mid-June through mid-July when juvenile jays can be distinguished from adults.

The scrub habitat is largely inhospitable to people. When volunteers are working to ensure accurate identification, it can be formidable to navigate beyond the dense, twisted oak trees, palmetto, cacti, scattered pines, and open, sandy patches to reach the interior pine snag where a bird might be perched. Other challenges are the intense and unrelenting heat of the scrub, lack of shade and the oppressive summer humidity.

Volunteers pair off with park staff to observe and record data at designated locations on three consecutive mornings, and although they get an early start, working in these conditions can be exhausting by mid-morning.

In 2021, 60 jay watchers counted 535 adults and 183 juveniles at 46 sites throughout Florida. Within this count, 16 adults and 13 juveniles were sighted at Highlands Hammock, and 32 adults and 18 juveniles were sighted at Lake June-in-Winter.

Congratulations, Audubon Florida. Your dedication is appreciated.

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