A unique and exciting relationship between the public and private sector exists in the southern portion of Martin County, Florida. Here, the Hobe Sound Nature Center, Inc. and the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge offer visitors, schools and organizations the opportunity to explore and learn about Florida's natural areas.
The Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1969, when residents of Jupiter Island donated 229 acres to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Additional donations have brought the total to nearly 1,000 acres today. The Fish and Wildlife Service manages the land to provide habitat and protection for a variety of wildlife and plant native to this coastal area.
The Refuge includes three and one-half miles of barrier island beach, sand dunes and mangroves on Jupiter Island and a sand pine scrub forest on the mainland. The beach is one of the most productive sea turtle nesting areas in the United States, with the endangered leatherback, green and threatened loggerhead sea turtle using the beach for their nesting. Other wildlife species inhabit this environment, including brown pelicans, ospreys, least terns and many shorebirds. Wading birds may also be found along the beach and the mangrove areas.
The sand pine scrub habitat, preserved between the U.S. 1 corridor and the Indian River Lagoon, is Florida's oldest and most endangered habitat. It is home to many vanishing plant and animal species, including scrub jays, gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, four-petaled pawpaw and dancing lady orchids. The Refuge borders an estuarine area, where seagrass beds occur. The estuary provides food and shelter which are critical to the manatee, an endangered species.
At the headquarters of the Refuge, you will find the office of the Hobe Sound Nature Center, Inc., a private, non-profit organization. This environmental learning facility was established by Mr. Jackson Burke and Mrs. Elizabeth Kirby for the Jupiter Island Garden Club, Inc. The Club's vision became a reality in 1973, when the Center first opened its doors to educate people of all ages about Florida's fragile environment. The Center enjoys a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which allows it to conduct education and awareness programs on site, while the Service provides and maintains the facility. The Jupiter Island Garden Club continues to sponsor the Nature Center and remains one of its major funding sources.
In 1982, a new staff was hired by the Nature Center Board of Directors and charged with the responsibility of expanding and improving existing programs. One of the first projects put into operation was "Friends of the Nature Center." Membership in this organization entitles "Friends" to receive the quarterly publication, Mangrove News, schedules of programs and activities and interpretive information about Florida's environment, while helping to fund various programs.
The next step was to design and operate an Exhibit Hall geared to Refuge issues and open to the public. The Elizabeth W. Kirby Interpretive Center opened to the public in 1985 and features exhibits on the estuaries, sand pine scrub, manatees, sea turtles and much more.
In addition, the Spring and Fall Program Series was initiated to present to the public, especially new residents, information about the local environment. These programs include both field trips to other natural areas and audio visual presentations at the Nature Center. School groups and other organizations visit the Center to take part in specially designed environmental education awareness programs. Popular topics include Florida's myriad threatened habitats and endangered species, native wildlife and estuarine life cycles. Outreach programs are also available and the Center staff often goes into the community to present their very enlightening programs.
A highly successful program sponsored by the Hobe Sound Nature Center occurs during the summer months. Our summer environmental camp for students ages 6 to 12 has been held every summer since 1973. Its excellent reputation has drawn students from three counties and even youngsters visiting relatives in the area. Field trips, arts and crafts, interpretive programs, hands-on experiences and other activities enable the participants to enjoy their summer while learning about Florida's wildlife and what they can do to protect it.
Another summertime program begun in 1982 is nighttime interpretive "sea turtle walks," held from late May to mid July. These walks begin with a presentation in the Center's classroom and end with a visit to the Hobe Sound Public Beach to witness the egg-laying of the threatened loggerhead sea turtle. A special permit is issued to the Nature Center by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in order to provide people with this unique opportunity to observe this natural phenomenon. The 20 to 22 walks now offered each summer are always booked way in advance and demand for these programs can never be satisfied.
The Hobe Sound Nature Center, Inc. wishes to remain in the forefront of enviromental education. Its programs have taught, trained, and influenced an entire generation of environmentally sensitive people. If we wish to continue enjoying our fragile Hobe Sound environment, we must continue to support the growth of the Hobe Sound Nature Center, Inc.
In 1990, the Hobe Sound Nature Center Foundation, Inc. was established. This tax exempt foundation was created for the sole purpose of supplementing the monies available for the Nature Center itself.