Weeki Wachee, FL- Volunteers flooded the park as torrents of rain came down at Linda Pederson Park on May 22, 2018. Students and helpers beat the Monday blues as they decided to invest their energy in aiding a worthy cause. Volunteers began working as early as nine, that morning. They removed the dead oxeye, lantana, rosary pea, and Brazilian pepper seedlings from the parks. Prepping the sites, as they labored through the downpours of the day, the early volunteers decided to cook hot dogs for the second round of helpers. Around 3 pm, the group effort reached full force as students from Hernando High School, the UF/IFAS Master Gardeners and community volunteers worked together to add new greenery and variety to the park.
The various species of coastal upland plants were grown in the Hernando High School’s greenhouse and tended by Rick Ahrens (FFA) and his dedicated students. They had grown plants such as Muhly Grass, Goldenrod, Sage, and more.
“What we are trying to do,” explained Dr. William (Bill) Lester from the UF/IFAS Hernando County extension, “Is get rid of the bad invasive plants that were killed and replace them with the good native plants that we have been raising.”
Brittany Hall-Scharf, Florida Sea Grant agent (UF/IFAS), also on-site informed us more about the effort. “The project started at the beginning of the school year when we (IFAS extension office and Hernando High) were awarded the FFA Living to Serve grant. Our goal was to grow native coastal species to go in place of the invasive Brazilian pepper and lead tree that per county ordinance was being removed. Once Cemex Brooksville learned of the project, they also donated some funds to support project,” said Hall-Scharf.
She went on to explain how the beginning of the growing process was difficult due to Hurricane Irma eradicating part of the greenhouse. Once the greenhouse was fixed, they bought native plants and seeds from local vendors.
“Rick Ahrens’ students were the stars of the show- caring, propagating, and growing the plants. They worked in the greenhouse weekly and dedicated over 550 hours towards this project,” boasted Hall-Scharf.
Mike Singer, an Environmentally Sensitive Lands Specialist, gave a helping hand and also directed volunteers on-site. He had worked alongside the Florida Sea Grant Agency to select these particular planting sites. Singer and Brittany Hall-Scharf were able to narrow it down to 10 sites within Linda Pederson Park.
Overall, it was an extremely productive day for coastal restoration. There was a total of 21 large trash bags of dead invasive plants which were removed by the volunteers. The new species were planted into 11 sites between Bayport and Linda Pederson Park, and 500 out of the 700 plants grown in the greenhouse were successfully given new homes.