Friends of the Wekiva want Central Florida residents to get educated by taking classes that include paddles and hikes through the Wekiva River Basin to learn about its springs, wildlife, the river, and its tributaries.
The nonprofit, which fights to preserve the the Wekiva River system, is sponsoring six field classes from June through April that cover the unique ecology of the Wekiva system. The 110-mile basin includes 42 miles of flowing river, 34 springs along with parks, preserves, and state forests.
The Wekiva Basin Field Ecology Course will be led by Ecologist Jay Exum, who has a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology. The purpose of the hands-on nature excursions is to make residents realize the importance of preserving this natural treasure.
“The perception of most of us in the Baby Boomer generation is that we, as a society, are spending less time outdoors,” said Exum, who is an expert on threatened and endangered species, wetlands ecology and conservation planning. “When people go out on our field trips, they’re exposed to nature and that makes them appreciate what we’ve protected in Florida.”
The first class, Wetland Ecology, includes a night walk to discover the diversity of frogs at 7 p.m. Saturday, meeting at the Bear Pond Trailhead in the Seminole State Forest. The basin teems with 10 species of frogs that breed in the isolated wetlands.
Spring Ecology includes an education on the unique hydrology, water quality, and invertebrates that live in the basin. Students will learn how subtle changes in water quality or quantity impact snails and other plants and animals that live in the springs and its runs. The class is at 9 a.m. Aug. 20.
The third class in the series on Oct. 15 includes a hike through Wekiwa Springs State Park, where students will study the botanical diversity of the longleaf pine savannah and see the effects of fire on vegetative communities This trip is scheduled to coincide with the park’s annual flush of fall wildflowers and butterflies.
A December 16 class will help document the winter resident population of birds across the Wekiva Basin during the 2017 Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Participants will be assigned to an experienced birder who will help with bird identification.
Students will observe the biological diversity of the basin’s conservation lands from the wetlands to scrub and sandhill communities on Feb. 18, 2018. Exum will discuss how fire, flood, and historical land uses have influenced the plants and animals that live in each community.
The final class focuses on aquatic ecology during a paddle from Rock Springs Run to Wekiva Springs State Park. The discussion includes the hydrology that drives the spring runs and river tributaries and identification of the plants in the river, along the wetland edge and in the adjacent forests. Students will learn about threats to water quality and quantity in the basin and what can be done about to save the basin.
The Wekiva River together with Wekiwa Springs Run, Rock Springs Run, and Black Water Creek were designated by the U.S. Congress as a National Wild and Scenic River in 2000.
Each field ecology class is limited to 25 participants. The cost is $25 for each class or $100 for the full course. Preregistration is required. Call 407-788-2619 for more information.