June 4, 2014: Living in Peace With Our “Wild Neighbors”

~by Susi Pittman

I have finally been able to schedule a long awaited desire of mine. One that has been on a back burner for years due to “life” in general. I am spending the summer working in one of Florida’s most pristine parks, one that in 1972 was given the title of a National Natural Landmark, the Itchetucknee Springs State Park.

The Itchetucknee River is six miles of sparkling clear water with seven springs, gushing 233 million gallons of water a day. Native Timucuans populated the area before the arrival of Europeans. In 1608, Spanish Franciscans built the San Martin de Timucua Mission at the springs, which was later destroyed by a Timucuan uprising. This gracious river is on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail being selected as such because of its excellent birdwatching, wildlife viewing and educational opportunities.

It is perhaps one of the most beautiful, natural places you would ever want to visit, still a hidden gem for most and a glorious, refreshing summertime gift to the locals.

While in the off season from Labor Day until Memorial Day the park is only open for hiking, kayaking, canoeing and scuba diving, the summer season allows a limited number of people each day to “tube” down its crystal,l clear blue-green waters. There are the fish that swim beneath you, the eel grass that sways like maiden hair in the current and so much wildlife that frequents its banks, like deer, wild turkey and great blue herons.

This past week, we have had up to eleven gentle manatees with one calf visiting the river to gorge on the water cabbage. Tubers have been thrilled when they would swim up to them for a visit. Like the Galapagos Islands, there is no fear of injury for these animals in this setting, they are safe from injury and from taunting.

It has been many years since the manatees were in the river, but, with the extraordinary wet spring that the Park has seen, the river level is up and they have been able to navigate up to take advantage of the plentiful food source. They certainly have been a treat for the park visitors.

Perhaps one of the most outstanding elements of working here has been in meeting the international visitors to the park. This small park (small in the sense that it is only 2,241 acres) which is located in an obscure and rural section of Florida, attracts an international interest. I have spoken with people from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, India, South Korea, China, Sweden, Australia, Kuwait, Germany, Poland, Switzerland…and this is just in one week.

I ask them, How is it that you have come to our Park? What drew you here?

Each one answered exactly the same way; We are here to see the beauty of America, to visit the state and national parks. Your parks are some of the most beautiful in the world. That was certainly a prompt to me that I tend to take these incredible spaces for granted. It opened my eyes once again to the fact that God truly has blessed this country from sea to shining sea!

It reminds me of how truly visionary our President and Congress was back in 1872, to establish the first National Park, Yellowstone, as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people and placed it under exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior. Today, the National Park System of the United States now comprises more than 400 areas covering more than 84 million acres in 49 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.

These are OUR parks! The fundamental idea behind the parks is that they belong to us, that they are present to us to enrich the lives of all of us.

I encourage you to take time this summer to visit YOUR land, something that YOU have ownership in, your National Parks. Give thanks to the Creator for the diversity of the fabric of creation and share in the splendor of His natural sanctuary.

Our National Parks belong to each of us, and they are natural places to learn, exercise, volunteer, spend time with family and friends, and enjoy the magnificent beauty of our great land.

-George W. Bush
Announcement of National Park Week (April 16, 2008)

How To Do Tubing

Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; a member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Council of Women in Jacksonville, Florida; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

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