Keep Putnam Beautiful, Inc., Palatka, FL

Water Works Environmental Education Center Enhancements made possible through a Lowe’s Home Improvement Grant

Keep Putnam Beautiful (KPB) received a $5,000 grant award from Lowe’s Home Improvement Center in 2012 to enhance the natural environments at Water Works Environmental Education Center (WWEEC) located in Palatka, FL. Thanks to the Lowe’s contribution, we now have new ecological demonstration areas that include a sandhill habitat with native xeric-adapted plants, gopher tortoises, and box turtles; a shady hardwood hammock (forest) with the Puc Puggy Nature Trail passing through it; and a steep-head slope forest along the fence between Water Works and Ravine Gardens State Park. More than 50 native plant species have been added to these habitats to supplement their species richness. Over forty professionally-prepared plant identification signs have been erected next to unique native plants along each of these sites. The current efforts at WWEEC are to restore the wetlands associated with White Water Branch. This steep-head stream drains Ravine Gardens and Water Works and flows directly into the St. Johns River. The stream had been badly abused when it was the main source of the water supply for the town of Palatka. Our intention is to restore portions of the stream to its former appearance 80 years ago.

Enhancing the natural environment and educational aspects of WWEEC was the purpose of the grant. The planting of native, non-invasive species enriches and compliments the educational experience of the visitors, particularly the children engaged at WWEEC through school field trips and summer programs.

Each habitat will provide teaching opportunities related to conservation, preserving wildlife, and re-establishing native plant species. The dry sandhill-tortoise demonstration area provides excellent opportunities to teach water conservation practiced by both plants and animals and the importance of keystone species like the gopher tortoise, which through its extensive burrows, provides homes for more than 300 other animal species, many of which are found no other place in the world. These and other stories show how ecosystems are connected and the importance for maintaining the integrity of these special places.

A walk along our developing trails with the opportunities for linkages to the Bartram Trail system in Putnam County will provide an occasion for hikers and bikers to investigate the diversity of habitats, plants, and animals of this resource rich region.

KPB and the WWEEC Advisory Council are very thankful to Lowe’s for funding these project improvements, and to the Lowe’s Heroes who helped construct the fence for the tortoise preserve. The WWEEC is open to the public each Wednesday from 8 am-12 pm, and the first Sunday of each month, from 1:30- 5 pm. For more information call KPB, 386-325-9598.

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