Sunday, July 6, 2008

Winter Park's Genius Reserve to receive award from 1,000 Friends of Florida

The Genius Reserve in Winter Park will receive 1000 Friends of Florida's 2008 Better Community Award at the Orange Audubon Society Work Day at Genius Reserve, on Saturday, June 28, 2008. "The approach taken for the restoration of the Genius Reserve offers a model for community education and action," notes 1000 Friends President Charles Pattison, who will be presenting the award. In 2002, Rollins College faculty worked with the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation to develop a management plan for the Genius Reserve, a largely undeveloped 48-acre site near its campus. Utilizing the University of Wisconsin Arboretum as a model, faculty drafted a conceptual restoration plan. An interdisciplinary team then inventoried and "envisioned" the reserve, incorporating this exercise into five Environmental Studies (ES)courses. The outcome was a management plan to provide "working laboratory in ecological restoration." The plan delineated areas dominated by exotic canopies, which were slated for restoration over a five-year period. The restoration project was integrated into the ES curriculum with a senior capstone course. The project was expanded to other disciplines including biology, philosophy and literature and funded a student-driven field guide and web site. The Genius Reserve restoration is the product of a great synergy between Rollins, the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation, and Orange Audubon, according to Dr. Bruce Stephenson, Environmental Studies Professor at Rollins College. "As an educator it is everything we preach, putting theory into practice and serving the community," he notes. "Moreover, it has keyed an initiative to re-invigorate Rollins legacy in pragmatic education, what Rollins President Hamilton Holt (1925-1949) called "Rollins great adventure in common sense education." College and Foundation staff, Rollins students, and volunteers from the Orange Audubon Society have labored to turn the restoration plans into reality. At the plan's inception, eight acres of habitat were dominated by exotic species; today only one acre awaits restoration. Before starting restoration students analyze the Wisconsin Arboretum, read works by Aldo Leopold, and study healthy mesic oak habitats. Next, they use native landscaping texts to design restoration plans (including plant acquisition costs) for designated sites. Their work is presented to a landscape architect who draws a formal plan. The foundation oversees the removal of exotics and students and Orange Audubon volunteers provide the labor for planting native species and maintaining newly restored areas. To provide additional plant materials, ES majors transformed an abandoned aviary into a native plant nursery. The Foundation provides student stipends to insure the nursery's operation. Once a site has been restored, the students monitor the area and devise a management plan that evolves as conditions change and information is collected. The Orange Audubon Society nominated the Genius Reserve project for the award. Board member Teresa Williams explains that the Orange Audubon Society is proud to be part of the Genius Reserve Project. The group is encouraged by data being collected through wildlife surveys-over 100 bird species use the property for breeding and nesting and it serves as a vital ecological stepping stone during migration. "The collaborative effort of the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation, Rollins College and Orange Audubon Society has helped restore a bit of 'old' Florida, while creating hope for a 'new' Florida," says Williams. "The Genius Reserve project is a model of education and action as it protects and enhances a vital wildlife habitat. In a state where development continues to encroach upon natural areas, we encourage others to replicate the project to establish and preserve places for wildlife and native habitat." 1000 Friends' Better Community Award is presented annually for plans that have been implemented and projects that are completed that use the principles of smart growth to create livable, vital environments. "This is a well-planned and implemented effort to restore and protect an important piece of open space in an urban setting," noted Pattison. "It shows what a committed group of people can accomplish with vision and a workable plan." 1000 Friends of Florida is also presenting five other awards over the course of 2008. A statewide nonprofit organization, 1000 Friends was founded in 1986 to serve as Florida's growth management watchdog. It has been presenting awards for innovative growth management efforts since 1990. For more information on 1000 Friends, visit www.1000friendsofflorida.org.

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