Focus: Enjoying a Florida park and a Christmas boat parade

Early one morning we took a walk at the Joan M. Durante Park, not too far from where we live. It is a community park and was started much like our Silversmith’s Corner park in Southold, where George Wells, a concerned member of the community, purchased the land and gave it to the town to be used as a community park.

Here in Florida, the town took over the property in the 1980s and a private donor, James Durante, offered the town funds to develop a park and restore the property in honor of his late wife. It is a 32-acre site on Sarasota Bay that had previously been developed with cabins. The cabins were demolished and the exotic vegetation that had invaded the area, such as Australian pine and Brazilian peppers, was destroyed.

The idea of this park was to restore and enhance one of the few remaining vacant island properties to a viable wetland and coastal hammock forest. Once the vegetation was cleared, the wetland area was created and the coastal hammock forest area was restored. Mangroves were planted in the wetland area and live oak, red cedar, sea grape, gumbo limbo, wax myrtle and others were planted in the upland areas to restore the coastal hammock (“shady place”) forest. Sand from digging out the wetland areas was used to form dunes in the area.

This idea of restoring a place that was destined for a housing development reminds me of a situation on the North Fork where Meadow Beach on Nassau Point in Cutchogue Harbor was laid out in 50-foot lots many years ago and almost became a reality until The Nature Conservancy stepped in.

After talking with the owners of the Meadow Beach properties and finding they would give up their ownership, the area became a natural preserve. Since that time, more property has been added to it.  Today the resident ospreys, as well as all the other native species of birds and plants and animals that once lived there, are able to continue to enjoy their isolation on the Meadow Beach wetland preserve, and the people in the community can continue to walk the beach area.

Florida’s Joan Durante Park is a wetland restoration project. It shows what can be done with donations of money and property and the help of volunteers to bring together an area now well used by the community. A wetland and coastal hammock forest provides access to a diverse mix of plants, animals and ecosystems typical of coastal southwest Florida. It is an area we will visit often, particularly the botanical garden area, with so many of the local flowers and trees.

Back across the bridge, north to our island, we passed by a place we had visited before, the Coquina Bay Walk at Leffis Key. On our visits there we have seen numbers of vultures enjoying the area. Today as we slowly drove past the entrance, we saw vultures in the tops of the trees. As we opened the car window and got out the camera, one of them started to take off. We could see its six-foot wingspan as it slowly rose on the warming thermals.

During the Christmas holidays we strung some cranberries and popcorn and put the extra popcorn out in the bird feeder. We soon found out that the red-bellied woodpeckers liked the popcorn as well as they had enjoyed peanuts with shells we had put out previously. The popcorn was easier to carry away than the peanuts, which the birds had to stab in order to get hold of them to carry up to their holes in the telephone poles, where they store them.
Early in the morning sometimes, before we are ready to rise, we can hear the birds calling, letting us know the feeder needs filling. They are colorful, noisy, but fun to watch, so we’ll keep them supplied with sunflower seeds, popcorn or even suet, which they will devour when there is nothing else available.

Looking out our windows here in Florida we have been enjoying the blossoms of the swamp lily. With up to a dozen blossoms when all have opened, this large plant with its showy white or purple flowers is often used as a planting around the communities. We saw many of these large plants when we were visiting the Joan Durante Park.

While we get some cold weather here, we don’t get snow like the North Fork has this winter, but one thing we did enjoy during the holidays was the Christmas Boat Parade, which passed through the Inland Waterway in front of us as the bridge opened to let the tall sailboats and fishing boats, all beautifully decorated, through.

The last to go through, all lit up, was the Wedding Boat. It was a beautiful sight. It is available to anyone who would like to hire it for a wedding with church service (seating for 100) and all. In fact we just saw an advertisement that there will be free church services on the boat on Sundays. Their advertisement reads, “America’s ONLY Floating Chapel on the Bay” and “WOW,” Worship on the Water.