In Yankeetown, Fla., just off State Road 40, sits 413 acres of undisturbed forests and wetlands reaching out into the Gulf of Mexico across the Waccasacca Bay. The Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve (WGP) is supported by Yankeetown through a town budget allocation, a Board of Trustees, a non-profit group the Friends of Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve (FWGP) and a small army of volunteers.
This pristine example of old Florida requires ongoing maintenance, trained volunteers and development of educational facilities to enhance its visitors’ experience. Since its purchase in 2002, development of this small coastal community’s treasure includes the efforts of Yankeetown School’s students and teachers and the expertise of Levy County Master Gardeners.
The maintenance and development activities will always involve costs more than the town’s population of under 500 can contribute, however generous the allotment. Successful support is dependant upon the fundraising activities of FWGP and the trustees; grants, donations, FWGP memberships and peoples’ participation in yearly events.
One such event was held at the Yankeetown Seafood, Arts and Crafts Festival. The whimsy of the fourth annual sponsored Rubber Duck Race hit the lazy waters of the Withlacoochee River at the town’s Boat Ramp Park. Past president and FWGP board member Ellen Klee said, “Apart from such fun, it is very gratifying to see this event grow, especially this year. Contributions were up by nearly 30 percent and we had 470 ducks out there.”
Klee said that December is FWGP’s membership drive month and added, “But be sure we welcome new members any month of the year.” She confirmed an annual single membership is $25 and $40 for a couple. Proceeds from T-shirt sales also benefit the FWGP’s endeavors.
Seven Geocaching sites have been established in the preserve as an added attraction. These are locations in a hi-tech treasure hunt game that are found using a global positioning system device (GPS). Dogs on a leash are welcomed and their responsible owners and other visitors can enjoy picnics, kayaking and fishing among the flora and fauna inhabiting the preserve’s trails, streams and lakes. Identification of these plants and animals can be found on the science database site DiscoverLife.com.
The FWGP also offers a range of free educational programs where experts share their knowledge on subjects from bees to oysters or the environment or astronomy. It seems the preserve is also an excellent location for stargazing. The newly renovated Ellie Schiller Education Center, dedicated to the memory of the local philanthropist and conservationist, will soon provide WGP visitors with extensive facts and information about the natural history thriving across the preserve’s acres.
Meanwhile, the FWGP is working to raise the money needed not only for the center’s final code approval but its ongoing maintenance. FWGP plans are underway to finalize the center’s themes for educational materials and displays by the new year, so the public will soon be enjoying admission to this modern facility. A daily rental fee structure has been initiated for park events and conferences. Park admission is and will remain free for the public to share the natural beauty of the Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve.