Celebrating Florida’s Nature Coast

In this season of celebration and giving thanks, we should celebrate the natural wonders of our public lands. Florida’s rich natural heritage is woven through the wild places that all of us own together, and that are managed for us in trust by our local, state, and federal governments. These amazing natural places, places that define what it means to be a Floridian, are the birthright of every Floridian and belong to future generations as they belong to us. My wife and I recently adopted two children and one of the most incredible and enjoyable things our new family has shared together is time spent exploring and enjoying our public lands. We have hiked through Cypress Lakes Preserve, paddled down the Withlacoochee River, snorkeled in the Gulf of Mexico at Pine Island, looked for wildlife at Chinsegut Nature Center, and swam in the cool clear waters of Juniper Springs. These places helped our new family bond, and helped introduce our children to their natural heritage. My kids and I have explored the Withlacoochee River in the big old red canoe that my father bought when I was a kid. The first time we went paddling together on a cool fall day my children got to see the same places and wildlife that I saw in the canoe on that river decades ago. The legacy being past to them was past to me by my parents and grandparents. I want my children to see a Florida Black Bear in the wild as I have been so blessed to have seen. I want them to fish clean waters, hike through longleaf pines, hear birds and frogs calling, and pass those experiences on to their children.We should all work to ensure that our public lands are valued and protected, and that our grandchildren know the Florida our grandparents knew. Each generation must protect the right of the next generation to know and love natural Florida.Anyone who hunts, fishes, paddles, sails, snorkels, birds, rides horses, hikes, or otherwise recreates on our public lands understands what an incredible resource they are and how valuable they are. We must continue the work to acquire new public lands and manage our current public lands for their highest conservation value.Our public lands provide tremendous public benefits at little cost to Floridians. They help filter our water, protect our communities from flooding, provide critical habitat for wildlife that we love, and create economic activity through recreation and eco-tourism. In the Nature Coast they provide some of the best and most sustainable economic development opportunities we have. People come here to explore and enjoy nature and the amazing mosaic of wetlands, uplands and sandhills, rivers, and coastlines we are blessed with. Our public lands nourish our spirits, and our economy.As we begin to formulate our resolutions for 2011, let us resolve to spend more time outside under the sun or the moon and in and on the waters, trails, and back roads of our public lands. Let’s take our kids out into the woods and share with them all the wonders of the outdoors. Our public lands are our children’s public lands, and they bind generations together in a shared love of nature. All of us have the responsibility to be good stewards of our public lands, and future generations will thank us for protecting their natural heritage.Joe Murphy is a Gulf Restoration Network Board of Directors Member from Florida. He and his family live in Florida’s Nature Coast. Protecting Florida’s Nature Coast is a conservation priority for GRN.

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