Saturday, March 11th through Saturday, March 18th, the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge Complex and their Friends group FAVOR (Friends And Volunteers Of Refuges) host the second annual Outdoor Fest with a full week of family-friendly, mostly free outdoor adventures and hands-on activities that encourages people to get outside in a wildlife-friendly manner while promoting the history and stewardship of the refuges. Newest to the four Florida Keys Refuges is the remote Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a 37-year-old refuge on mile marker 106.3 on Card Sound Road off US Highway 1.
The events in the Upper Keys portion of the Fest provide a rare glimpse into this refuge that is typically closed to the public due to the number of extremely endangered species that inhabit it and are sensitive to human impact. Its moniker alone suggests one of them— the federally endangered American Crocodile—attracted to the large dredged berms along the canal banks of a former major housing complex project that ultimately “failed.” Kayak tours through the mangroves into Barnes Sound, tropical hardwood hammock nature walks, and an evening outdoor experience attracting Florida Keys moths and other cool insects with “Moth Man” citizen scientist David Fine are all safe and educational opportunities to possibly view this elusive, toothy creature and the many others that inhabit the area.
“These events in the Outdoor Fest provide an opportunity to learn about the history of the Upper Keys, gain an appreciation for wild places and wild animals, and take the philosophy of nature stewardship to their homes and communities,” says Jeremy Dixon, Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge Manager.
Environmental stewardship may not be a new concept for those that love and appreciate nature, but key to effective stewardship is responsible use and protection of these environments through conservation and sustainable practices. The Fest aims for this in their many offerings, which include everything from educational nature walks, history talks, and get-your-hands dirty gardening workshops that educate on the importance of composting and replacing invasive exotic plants with natives.
“Some of the most troublesome invasive plants we have on the refuge include Brazilian pepper and Australian pine,” says Dixon. “They can out-compete native plants and the wildlife that depends on the native plants suffer.”
Some of the Fest’s offerings remind us that nature can be our greatest teacher. The inherent nature of the Key Largo woodrat, a federally endangered species found only in northern Key Largo conservation lands, beautifully illustrates how to keep things moving forward in a mutually balanced and beneficial way. Dr. Cove will share the research and science that are bringing it back during an hour-long nature walk (Monday March 13 from 11:00am-12:00pm), and point out their huge stick nests that “benefit several native species,” says Dixon.
“They keep the forest healthy and diverse by continually moving around seeds and fruits and also the stick nests themselves are a source of composting material and fertilizer which completes the nutrient cycle,” he says.
These events and the other Outdoor Fest events, which are offered throughout the four Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges, will provide participants with plenty of opportunities to enjoy these special public lands designated to protect and maintain the many natural habitats and creatures found in them, helping us understand our place in the order of nature and—hopefully— our commitment to it.
The Outdoor Fest is brought to you in part by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. For more information about the refuges, FAVOR, and the list of events, visit www.favorfloridakeys.org/outdoor-fest or contact Kristie Killam at 305.304.9625 or email Nancy or Jan at [email protected]