Indian River Lagoon Counties identify lands for purchase based on their conservation value with consideration to allowing for public access and recreational use and enjoyment. In episode 6 of our podcast, we talk with Beth Powell (Director of IRL County Parks), Amy Griffin (Environmental Resources Director of St. Lucie County), and Mike Knight (Program Manager at Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program) about how lands are identified for purchase and what the criteria are, how public recreation factors into decision-making, particular projects’ successes, and each of the managers’ favorite projects in their respective counties.

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[Audio transcription via]


Episode Speakers:

Heather Stapleton, Community Engagement Coordinator, One Lagoon

Mike Knight, Program Director, Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program

Beth Powell,  Director of Indian River County Parks and Recreation

Amy Griffin, Director of St. Lucie County Environmental Resources Division


Duane DeFreese: Hi, I am Duane DeFreese, Executive Director of the IRL Council and the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program. Welcome to our One Lagoon, One Voice podcast. 

Each week, myself or one of my staff members will host leaders in the community, scientists along the lagoon, people who know a lot about the system, to talk about some of the problems, and most importantly, some of the solutions to solve the Indian River Lagoon’s health and make sure it’s great for future generations. 

If you enjoy hearing us talk about the Lagoon, like and subscribe to this podcast. Let’s get the show started, and let’s talk a little lagoon.

Heather Stapleton: Hi, I am Heather Stapleton, one of three Community Engagement Coordinators with One Lagoon, the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program. I’m hosting today’s podcast. I have loved the lagoon since I moved here 22 years ago. I’ve loved being on it and I’ve loved just being around it. 

As part of my role at the One Lagoon, I find myself advocating for the health of the lagoon through opportunities and experiences. And what a better way than to simply enjoy being outside in nature, especially nature that’s been set aside for the protection of the lagoon.

Conservation lands serve an essential role in preserving natural resources and wildlife habitats, protecting clean water and clean air. In much of our lagoon counties, conservation lands help improve the water quality of the lagoon as well. Plus, with so much population growth, as we see in coastal counties especially, conservation lands guarantee open spaces for current and future generations. Though certainly not the same as parks, conservation lands can also provide benefits of nature and being outdoors. Nature can provide peace of mind or it can be energizing, or it can be relaxing, and just opportunities for recreation.

On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk about conservation lands along the Indian River Lagoon and even lands that might not be adjacent to the lagoon, but still benefit the lagoon. Specifically, the unique recreational opportunities that these lands provide. We’ll talk a little bit about how these lands are selected, what role they play in education, in recreation, and how our listeners can get involved. 

With me today to help answer these questions, I’ve got three of the five counties represented along the Indian River Lagoon. I’ve got Brevard County, Indian River County, and St. Lucie County, and each of these three counties basically started preserving land in the early ‘90s.

I have Mike Knight, the Program Director from Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands program. Hey, Mike.

Mike Knight: Hey, happy to be here.

Heather Stapleton: Thanks for being here. I’ve got Beth Powell, Director of Indian River County Parks and Rec, which includes conservation lands. Hi, Beth.

Beth Powell: Hi, everybody. I feel like the peanut butter in a peanut butter jelly sandwich today. Brevard to my north and St. Lucie to the south. Glad to be here.

Heather Stapleton: I also have Amy Griffin, who is the Director of St. Lucie County Environmental Resources Division.

Amy Griffin: Hey, Heather and everyone, thank you for hosting this and really looking forward to participating today.

Heather Stapleton: Mike, I think I want to start with you because I think Brevard County might have been the very first, and I know that when acquiring new lands, lots of qualifications enter into the formula. I’m just wondering, does the possibility of future recreation, passive or active, play any role in helping guide the decision to actually acquire lands?

Mike Knight: Well, it is included in our ranking process. As we’re looking at each property, one of the things we do consider is what does it have to offer and how does it complement the lands we have? But it’s definitely not a key deciding factor. The key factor for us is its ecological value, but we do assign scoring to it for ranking if it has good opportunities for public use.

Heather Stapleton: So good opportunities might kind of give it some bonus points then?

Mike Knight: Exactly, yep.

Heather Stapleton: How about you, Beth? What about the Conservation Lands program for Indian River County? What role does recreation play in helping to initially acquire the lands?

Beth Powell: I think recreation historically has played maybe a little bit larger role for us. We’re a slightly smaller county in terms of lagoon front and ocean front compared to Brevard County. We’re a little bit younger of a county than St. Lucie and Brevard County. And so I think our focus, even though the aspect of recreation maybe would not be the driving force, I think it maybe is weighted a little heavier in our county.

Of course, that’s passive recreation, and I think we’re really focused on the passive recreation aspects as opposed to active recreation. Even in some of our conservation areas, we acknowledge that some properties that were purchased, for instance, on the South Bronx slough, were so degraded from agricultural historic uses, that it was important for us to recognize the fact that it might not be restorable. It might not be a practical thing for us to restore those properties. And so, we actually put in green space, so that might be a little bit different.

Heather Stapleton: Yeah, that all makes good sense. I assume it’s somewhat the same for you, Amy, in St. Lucie County?

Amy Griffin: Yeah, absolutely it is the same as Brevard and Indian River County. First and foremost, when we’re looking at acquiring land for conservation purposes, we look at the ecological value more than anything. And so high quality, native, rare habitats rank the highest. Of course, once it’s identified, we always factor in what recreation potential is out there. As we’re developing the properties, we try to factor in, okay, as Beth said, this area over here is suitable for restoration, so we’re going to focus on restoration.

However, this area over here has been impacted heavily in the past, so that’s where we’re going to focus our recreation uses. That’s typically the thought process of how things are developed. I’m going to let you in on a secret. Just like Beth and Mike, mostly, we go for grants to match our acquisition dollars. We’ll talk about our bonds a little bit later probably, but we have our bond funds and we don’t like to spend those without leveraging them with outside funding sources.

The primary funding source we’ve used historically is Florida Communities Trust for Forever funding from the state. When you’re writing those grants, they want to see public access and recreation. We’re almost driven to get creative and put those uses in. We want to do things, as Beth spoke about, not ball fields or volleyball courts, or tennis courts or anything like that. I mean, the recreation we’re talking about is hiking trails and real low impact compatible uses with the land. It’s always a factor, but it’s not the primary driving factor for acquisition.

Heather Stapleton: Yeah, and in those grants or grant reviewers, I should say, like to see that public access and recreation component. It always makes me wonder, is it helpful to have public access and passive recreational opportunities in educating people about why we want to even acquire land. 

I mean, I know a lot of people think, “Well, why should we preserve this land if we never get to use it?” Mike, what do you think? Is it helpful having public access and passive recreation as a kind of educating the public?

Mike Knight: Oh, yeah. I mean, I think it’s very critical to what we do. We strive to have access on every site we can. The only time we wouldn’t would be is if for some reason the site is a portion of a site or a small site. Near another site is just not legally accessible for people. That doesn’t happen very often. But yeah, we think it’s critical that people go out and visit the sites. 

We have to focus on making sure the experience is a passive experience, and that’s challenging for people sometimes. With changes in the types of uses that are out there, especially with things like electric bikes these days, the lines start to get blurred on some of that stuff. Yeah, I think it’s a very, very important thing to do what we do, and it’s important that we facilitate that as best we can.

Heather Stapleton: Mike, that’s interesting that you bring up electric bikes. It’s something that I hadn’t even thought about. One, Mike, would you consider biking in general a passive use?

Mike Knight: We do generally. It really depends on the site, which has something more to do with the size of the site and the conditions of the site, so the substrate, if it can handle biking. The challenge we have these days is we generally allow mountain biking, and we have a couple sites that have some hard surface trails along the perimeter, so we allow that as well. The challenges we’re running into these days are with the versions of electric bikes that are throttled.

Since we don’t allow motorized vehicles, a throttled electric bike would be classified for us as a motorized vehicle. You’ve got class one, two, and three bikes. Class ones are the motor only works if you’re pedaling versus two and three, you have a throttle option so you don’t have to pedal. If we feel that we allow those, then you’re going to have to let electric motorcycles in and all kinds of things. It gets complicated and it’ll probably continue to get even more complicated.

Heather Stapleton: Wow. Yeah, that definitely gets complicated. It’s not even something that I had thought about, but it makes me think, Beth, of one of Indian River County’s newly opened properties, the Jones Pier Conservation Area. You do have a paved trail there. And so, when is biking considered passive or just not allowed?

Beth Powell: It’s so funny that you brought this up because we were just talking about this in a staff meeting yesterday. We’re talking about signage and how do you convey messages to the public in a way that’s effective, that’s easy, that’s simple, that’s enforceable. It’s so funny because I said, “We don’t need to have signs anymore that say no inline skating.” I mean, people might be inline skating, but the impact to the resource, whether it’s a sidewalk or a park, isn’t what it was 25 years ago or 30 years ago. 

And so, use changes over time, recreational activities change over time, and as Mike had mentioned, e-bikes are now something that we have to address. It didn’t exist before. Literally did not exist before, so we don’t have signs. We say, “No motorized vehicles.” Well, what does that mean? What do we mean? Do we mean little uni wheels?

Do you mean that or do you not mean it in a park, for instance? Do you mean a cross motor golf cart that has a license tag on it? I mean, that’s what we’re seeing now too, or do we not mean that? Messaging is really important, and the decision point often, at least for us, happens, and I’m sure for our counterparts and partners, happens around a table during a staff meeting where we’re hashing out what about, what about, what about. 

In conservation, those decisions are even more critical because you have to be understanding the impact to the habitat. Not only do you have to understand the dynamics of equestrian use, bicycle use, pedestrian use, et. cetera, but you also have to take into account the number of people doing that activity.

For instance, at Jones Pier, we do have a milled trail, a one-mile milled trail. In that particular instance, it’s not the trail surface so much that we’re worried about. It’s the width of the trail, so it’s a true recreational capacity. You can’t have four or three people walking and get buzzed or clipped by bicycle. In that case, it’s not necessarily a resource decision. It happens to be a compatibility use issue. So, is it appropriate use to have a five-foot wide trail with slopes on either side? Pretty substantial slopes on either side, one of which goes into the wetland. We’ve seen bikes fall into the wetland before.

Heather Stapleton: We don’t want anybody going for a swim, whether they’re walking —

Beth Powell: Yeah, no swims.

Heather Stapleton: — or biking. No swimming

Beth Powell: Appropriate use is definitely something that we look at. Again, it’s these conversations and it has to do with what’s the demand out there? Are people asking for it? Sometimes you can. I know one of our conservation areas, we allowed a mountain bike club to come in along a canal bank. Again, appropriate use, appropriate location. They were willing to maintain it.

Heather Stapleton: Oh, that’s a nice little added bonus that they were willing to help maintain it.

Beth Powell: Yeah, exactly. And the folks that are using that then become our advocates for conservation. They become our advocates for protecting places like this. They also become our eyes and ears in the outlying areas because they’re moving much more quickly through a larger area. We were finding out, “Hey, you’ve got palmetto berry pickers out here,” or, “Hey, I’m seeing something illegal over here,” or “You’ve got a deer stand.”

Heather Stapleton: Yeah. It’s almost like they take a sense of ownership too of the property.

Beth Powell: Absolutely, especially if they’re volunteering and they’re creating something that belongs to them. Again, they’re more vested in the project, and so they want success as well.

Heather Stapleton: Yeah. Amy, I heard you agreeing with some things that Beth was saying. Have you found the same thing, like citizens helping to take a little bit of ownership and pride in the properties that they visit?

Amy Griffin: Sure, absolutely. The question evolved from the actual using these conservation lands for recreational purposes. I agree completely with… Mike called it critical. It is critical. I just have to say in the very beginning, maybe in my earlier years where I was more of a purist, I was like, “No, these lands are for conservation only. You’re going to scare the birds and disrupt the wildlife,” and all that. But in my time here, and growth and seeing, that’s exactly why we need to make sure that the public is invited out there and wants to be out there because that creates stewardship.

Heather Stapleton: Yeah, and it’s like they become allies for you helping maintain the land. I love this reporting of some potentially harmful activities out on the lands that you might not have enough staff to go and visit.

Amy Griffin: That’s exactly right. We kind of turned this situation where, I’m sure you all know, you get the frequent callers to tell you exactly what’s wrong out there and where a limb has fallen, or where somebody dumped their trash in the parking lot and we’re like, “How do we turn this into something where you are the ones we want to help?” So we created a program called Preserve Pals, and it’s run out of our Oxbow Eco Center. They took a faction of our volunteers, they’re amazing down there at the Oxbow Eco Center, getting volunteers. They have over 600 volunteers going at any one time.

Heather Stapleton: Oh my gosh, that’s remarkable.

Amy Griffin: It is, but what has really helped is they have job descriptions and matching people’s interests with our needs. Not just showing up and “What can we keep you busy with today?” No, it’s “Okay, that’s what you’re interested in? This is your assignment.” We’re starting to grow beyond the Oxbow properties, thank goodness, to the other 20 plus preserves throughout the county. And so, we have fillable forms. They go out to the site, they tell us what they’ve done, everything from removing the limbs on the trails to picking up the garbage in the path. 

But just like Beth said, keeping the eyes and ears. We can’t be everywhere. We’re all, I’m sure, woefully understaffed. So, just to let us know that, “There’s a suspicious car, and they’re carrying loppers off into the woods, and they have the bags.” We’re pretty sure they’re after saw palmetto berries.

Heather Stapleton: I didn’t think about the potential frequent caller issue, but I’m glad that people care so much about these lands. I think that’s a real testament. Kind of getting back to what you were saying about messaging, I know that I don’t always feel welcome when I go someplace and there’s a whole bunch of nos on some sign, no this, no that, no, no, no. I love it when we can figure out how to message in more positive ways about how people use the land. This Preserve Pals program sounds amazing.

Amy Griffin: Absolutely, and they’re actually, while they’re on the preserve, they’re engaging the public as well. One of the issues [is] every preserve, we do allow bicycles, except the Oxbow Preserve.

Heather Stapleton: That’s interesting. Yeah.

Amy Griffin: Yeah, limited capacity thing. We also allow dogs on every preserve. People think their dog is outside, they should be able to run free and off of the leash. They also think, “Well, it’s nature. I can just let the dog do its business and kick it over on the side of the path.”

Heather Stapleton: That’s a challenge.

Amy Griffin: When we’re talking a couple hundred dogs a month, that builds up quite a bit of business kicked off the side of the trail. So, we’ve worked with the Bark Rangers. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of that program through the — 

Heather Stapleton: I have heard of that, yeah. But do you want to explain to our listeners what the Bark Rangers are? Because I bet not everyone has heard of it. It’s the Aquatic Preserve Offices —

Amy Griffin: Yeah, Aquatic Preserve. They just work with dog owners to train dog owners how to be more conscious and aware of the impacts that dogs have on preserves, not just like the dog being on a leash, but the dog waste problem, the amount of bacteria that builds up in the runoff. It really has a negative impact on the wetlands and aquatic areas surrounding it. That’s why it’s very important to the aquatic preserves.

Heather Stapleton: Of course, that’s always a big educational message. I think pretty much of every environmental entity I can think of is making sure you’re being a responsible pet owner and picking up after your pets when you are allowed out and about. Beth, I know that you were kind of giggling when Amy first started talking about dogs. Are there conservation lands in Indian River County where dogs are allowed?

Beth Powell: We do. The standard is the same as St. Lucie County as well where, and Mike, probably the same for Brevard County because we patterned…a lot of our programming modeled that off of our neighbors, which is dogs are allowed on a leash. I do know that it is a huge management issue, and we want people to be able to go outside and enjoy conservation areas. Many, many people do that, and they’re so respectful, and their dogs have a great time, especially in the winter here in Florida. It’s such a nice opportunity to be able to take your dogs on leash, on a hike, and yet there’s so many challenges with that as well. So yeah, we have those same challenges. I love the idea of the Bark Rangers. I’m going to have to look that up because I haven’t heard that before.

Heather Stapleton: Oh good, yay.

Beth Powell: I learned something today, so I’m excited about that.

Heather Stapleton: Yes, fantastic.

Beth Powell: For us, it may be a little bit different. I know Mike up in Brevard County, dogs are allowed in parks as well, on leash, and St. Lucie County… I know I’ve visited Lakewood Park, and I was like, “Oh, this is so nice. People can bring their dogs and they’re on leash.” My experience was very positive. People were respectful, and the dogs were having a great time, and people were having a great time. I was like, “We don’t do that.” Indian River County Parks do not allow dogs, even on leash. 

Again, these are decisions that were made over time, so sometimes there’s history behind why those management decisions are made. Sometimes they’re cultural to your location and certain preferences community-wide, but there’s no doubt that dogs present certain challenges for both parks and conservation areas management wise.

Heather Stapleton: Well, Mike, I know that the Environmentally Endangered Lands program of Brevard County has almost three times as much land set aside in conservation, as do the other two counties. Obviously Brevard County is a larger county. Are you finding these same kinds of management problems, maybe even more so because you have so much more land to take care of?

Mike Knight: We actually don’t allow pets. Brevard County has an ordinance that doesn’t allow pets in parks unless it’s in a specifically designated area. The Parks Department does have a number of dog parks, and they have a number of parks where they do allow leashed pets. On the conservation lands, we currently don’t allow it, mainly from a disease vector issue. Vaccinated pets can still move those diseases to wildlife. That’s the main reason we do that. Yeah, it’s a challenge. It doesn’t stop the problem. It just keeps the honest people.

Heather Stapleton: Yeah, but I do like how there are alternatives. Just because a conservation land might not allow it, but there are dog parks and there are specific places so that dog owners can be out in nature and have an alternative to that. I know I just enjoy having so many easily accessible properties where I can just walk out and be in nature. I, of course, love it when I can see the water from a property. With the lagoon being 156 miles long, there is a lot of opportunity there. Mike, maybe this isn’t a very fair question, but what would be your favorite lagoon-front conservation land in Brevard County?

Mike Knight: Well, that’s a good question. I would say that probably one of my favorites is Pine Island Conservation area on North Merritt Island just because we have such a variety of shoreline variations there. It’s a wonderful place to go kayaking.

Heather Stapleton: It is such a wonderful place.

Mike Knight: Yeah, it’s a great place to just get out. It’s shallow and you can just walk through the water along the whole shoreline. There’s some nice interior connections to wetland areas that you can get in with your kayak. That’s probably one of my favorites.

Heather Stapleton: It’s always cool where you can get a kayak in where motorboats can’t go, and just to get into some more secluded places like that. How about you, Amy, do you have any… What is your one preferred lagoon-front property in St. Lucie County?

Amy Griffin: That’s definitely a tough one. There’s a couple of them.

Heather Stapleton: You have so many to choose from.

Amy Griffin: Well, we don’t actually. I wish there were more. We have to get working on that. We have one called the St. Lucie Village Heritage Preserve recently renamed to the Donald B. Moore Heritage Preserve. Donald B. Moore was apparently integral in helping to write the grant and get the funding from the state. And so this is an interesting partnership with St. Lucie County and the village. 

There’s a small little incorporated village called St. Lucie Village, of 681 residents. It protects not only the ecological important resources, and I was trying to look up the linear footage of the shoreline, but it’s a pretty substantial length of shoreline. It also has some really neat history with a Seminole Indian war fort having existed on that site.

Heather Stapleton: I love those historical and cultural connections, and it kind of brings everything all together. There’s recreation, there’s nature appreciation, there’s preserving history, as well as ecosystem preservation.

Amy Griffin: Absolutely. This site is kind of one of those where you can over capacity certain preserves, but this is one where we’ve had a big variety of uses that are compatible in not putting it over capacity. We have a beautiful nature trail through the coastal hammock area to the lagoon where there’s a really tall observation tower that overlooks the lagoon. It’s a paddle trail stop over, so you’re not going to want to haul your kayak down the nature trail to put it in, but from the lagoon, you can stop over as you’re out exploring all the different spoil islands and such. 

This is in the northern part of the county near Harbor Branch, so a lot of folks put in those areas up that way and explore the spoil island. This is one of the stopovers. You can go up and have a picnic lunch on the observation tower.

Heather Stapleton: That’s great.

Amy Griffin: But towards the front at Old Dixie Highway in Thorpe Road, there’s a disc golf field.

Heather Stapleton: I’ve seen that, and I was surprised, because that’s obviously very heavily for recreation, but tied into conservation lands.

Amy Griffin: Right. Again, it was just one of those situations where when we purchased the preserve, there was a small section just, I wouldn’t even think it’s two acres, that was already heavily impacted, kind of just a mowed field. It was perfect. The disc golf community approached us, asked us to put in nine holes. That’s kind of their minimum. Then we put it in and it just became really a hotspot. Again, one of those, well, you’ve got user groups that are out there picking up trash. We don’t put garbage cans at preserves. We don’t have the staff to go and empty them, but if a group wants to adopt a preserve, they can put the garbage can in, and then they take care of emptying the garbage can. They’re doing that. They’re keeping an eye on the preserve and trimming trails. It’s just growing.

Heather Stapleton: They just took advantage of this amazing opportunity to make something a little bit more than it might have been otherwise.

Amy Griffin: Absolutely.

Heather Stapleton: Yeah. And how about for you, Beth? What’s your favorite conservation land that provides recreational opportunities near or on the lagoon in Indian River County?

Beth Powell: That’s such an unfair question.

Heather Stapleton: I know. I know. I even prefaced it with that. I know you all love your land so much. I know you do.

Beth Powell: I’m going to stick to the lagoon, because I would go off the lagoon otherwise. I think I’m going to have to go — I’m glad I was last because I really had to think about that. I think I really just have to stick with Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. It encompasses the history of our county, the history of the lagoon, the history of the beginning of conservation efforts in the country.

Heather Stapleton: I know, I get the goosebumps.

Beth Powell: I do too.

Heather Stapleton: Beth, we get to call it home. It happened right here in Indian River County.

Beth Powell: That’s right. When I see in November, it’s usually the second week of November, if you’re early, and definitely the third week of November, you start to see the white pelicans come in. I just feel so blessed to be in an area where I was getting excited about conservation as a college student and knowing that that was really my career path, and I was explaining to my daughter, who’s 18, turning 19 now, and she’s kind of trying to find her way. I said, “You need to find the thing that makes your brain smile.” I remember taking ecology, and I was like, “That’s what you want. You want your brain to light up. I want you to find that thing, whatever it takes.”

I remember being in that ecology class, and I was so excited about just conservation and about ecology, and learning all about the National Wildlife Refuge System and taking ornithology. I learned more ducks than I care to think about now, because when I was in college, it was all about wildlife management. There really wasn’t environmental science, at least at my college. I was really immersed in wildlife management at the time, which was fine, but it really wasn’t my passion. I mean, it was really close, and I was like, “This is kind of it.”

So, to have been immersed in an academic setting, and then to be fully engaged in that, not only in my career, but to live in the community where all of that kind of was birthed-

Heather Stapleton: Are you saying… Pelican Island, yeah, was the heart of all of that.

Beth Powell: It was the heart of it. That was the foundation of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and people coming out at a time when it wasn’t cool to go advocate for birds. You know what I mean? We’re still doing that, and people are still doing that on conservation efforts. The topics may change over time, but if you look back in time, you could see the progress that we’re making. That gives us, as Jane Goodall would say, reason for hope. To me, that’s really encouraging, and I’m like, all I have to do is I can just look at a map and see where it all started, and I can look at the progress we’ve made. To me, that’s really exciting.

Heather Stapleton: You’re right. It’s all so exciting. For Indian River County, Pelican Island is certainly unique. Mike, I want to talk to you about something really unique that’s gotten your county conservation lands a lot of attention lately, the treasure coin hunt. Can you tell us whose brainchild was that and how’s it going? I think it’s been like, what, three years now?

Mike Knight: We’re on our fourth year.

Heather Stapleton: Oh, wow.

Mike Knight: I don’t remember exactly how the idea came up, sort of a variation on geocaching and letterboxing, and that kind of thing. What we do is each year we have about 100 to 150 coins made. They’re about silver dollar size metal coins. We pick a different creature, a native species, and we put that on the coin. Then we build up through Facebook, the whole idea. And then over the course of a few weeks, we’ll go out and hide the coins, usually about, I don’t know, six or eight per site across three or four different sites. Then we’ll put clues out, and all you get is the name of the site, the trail map, and you get a photo of each location.

Heather Stapleton: Which can be a little bit cryptic sometimes, by the way.

Mike Knight: Right. Yeah, that’s the point, right? You give them one photo that the coin is always somewhere in that photo roughly. It’s always going to be no more than 10 feet from the trail. It’s very popular. We run out of coins really quick.

Heather Stapleton: Do you think that’s helped get some new people out, or at least get some new attention to your properties?

Mike Knight: Oh, absolutely. I can’t say for sure how many people are new versus people who go there regularly, but we hear so much more from people because we ask everybody to let us know so we can tell their story, of course. Then as they’re found, we will re-hide coins back in those same locations so multiple people can find them.

Heather Stapleton: But the finders get to keep the coins? You just hide additional ones, is that correct?

Mike Knight: That’s right. Yep.

Heather Stapleton: Okay.

Mike Knight: Yep.

Heather Stapleton: And then Beth, I know you guys in Indian River County, you have a new way of engaging people, a little more tech heavy, but it includes sharing stories, which I love. And that’s your use of the app called Outer Spatial. Can you tell us just a little bit about that?

Beth Powell: Yeah, I’d be happy to. Outer Spatial is a free to the user application that can be put on a smartphone, a device, or you can also look it up on the computer. It’s supported on Androids and also Apple devices as well as an iPad or a tablet. What we found was people were having trouble, and we were having trouble communicating where conservation areas were located. 

As technology has improved over time, we were trying to find a way to create a more seamless transaction between, “I’m visiting here, or I live here and I want to go somewhere.” Then also, to be able to tie all the educational information into a site specific, because signs get vandalized. I’m not sure, I think people eat brochures. I don’t know where they all go. I’m convinced. If people are really reading that many brochures, then we have some pretty spectacular educational outreach.

Heather Stapleton: Engaged readers.

Beth Powell: Yeah, engaged readers.

Heather Stapleton: Right. Right.

Beth Powell: But I am convinced that that’s not what’s happening.

Heather Stapleton: Tell us specifically about the — o course, I’m going to go to the Love Your Lagoon one just because that one was so cool in my point of view.

Beth Powell: Yeah, some of the other applications that are out there are you have to pay for them, or the data is user-driven. People can add things like trails that don’t exist or inappropriate information. Obviously being a county government, we all have to comply with public records requests and public records. And so, we want to be sensitive to the information that we’re providing to the public. We wanted people to have a place where they could gain information that was credible. 

That’s how we found Outer Spatial, and we’ve been so pleased with the company and so pleased with the response. But one of the components, aside from just being able to geolocate yourself while you’re on a trail, geolocate a trail close to you, and see what’s there and get feedback, they have a social media component to it. People can say, “Hey, the trails are muddy.”

It’s just that the communication is so cool. One of the things that we can do is we can build challenges into that. We’re still learning it, and we’re still kind of perfecting that. One of the ones that we did was Love Your Lagoon, which was an idea around Valentine’s Day to promote appreciation and to really get people out to conservation areas that they hadn’t been to before. By going to the app, they could log in that they had visited different conservation areas, and then they could share their experience and get credit for having visited different conservation areas. We also did a scavenger hunt, and there’ll be momentum behind that. The more people who use it, share it, et cetera.

Heather Stapleton: I like the fact that the challenges are different. There was one that was all about mileage, but there was another one like how many of these places can you visit? There was another one, how many things can you find? It’s a nice variety, so it’s not just for people who are physically fit, trying to get in as many miles as possible, because there are all kinds of challenges.

Beth Powell: Exactly. All different kinds of things. The thing we were really trying to generate was use of the app because we figure if you at least have access to the app, then getting out to a conservation area, even if you don’t do it today or tomorrow, you’re going to be like, “Ooh, it’s a nice day.” Right now, it’s a little hot and a little mosquito-y.

Heather Stapleton: Yes, it is.

Beth Powell: But if I have the app and if I’ve used it and somebody comes into town and they’re saying, “What can we do today?” “Oh, well, I’ve got this app.”

Heather Stapleton: Yeah. I want to start with a quick literal, like a round-robin kind of question. When you think about lagoon conservation properties, what would you consider the most unique in your county? Amy, we’ll start with you.

Amy Griffin: I guess I’m going to have to go with DJ Wilcox Preserve. It is about 100 acres. It’s on the lagoon. We have a parking lot on the north side, or the upland side where you pass through along this beautiful boardwalk overlooking a gator pond. People love to go there and look at —

Heather Stapleton: Alligators, yeah.

Amy Griffin: The alligators. It’s just Florida, right? Then one mile, figure eight nature trail that takes you through the uplands, along the mangrove swamps, which are our mosquito control impoundments. Or you can drive to the diagonal other end and put in a kayak or go out on the fishing pier that’s out up along the lagoon.

Heather Stapleton: So many opportunities with just that one property. All right. Mike, how about you? What lagoon-front conservation property would you consider the most unique in Brevard County?

Mike Knight: I would have to say Thousand Islands Conservation area in Cocoa Beach. It’s a wonderful place to go kayaking and get out and get lost, temporarily at least, in the mangroves and the narrow channels. It’s a wonderful place to go exploring, and you just feel like you’re really away from everything. There’s a couple places you can get out and hike around on the islands, which is very unique. There’s a lot of open water around them too, so you get all those different facets. You see anything from the birds on the interior to dolphin, and all kinds of cool things along the exterior. That’s probably one of mine.

Heather Stapleton: That’s always a good mix of those mangrove channels and then open water, and having a chance to get out and stretch your legs.

Mike Knight: Exactly.

Heather Stapleton: How about you, Beth? Most unique?

Beth Powell: Most unique would be Jones Pier Conservation area, which is newly open to the public, due to the fact that it has such a unique historical component on the historic Jungle Trail. Mr. Jones and his family, but also new and innovative techniques to improve water quality with the four acre salt marsh. That’s mine.

Heather Stapleton: And One Lagoon loves that. Of course, we were a partial funder and part of that project.

Beth Powell: Absolutely.

Heather Stapleton: Amy, what conservation property is the most popular in St. Lucie County?

Amy Griffin: Well, that would definitely be the Oxbow Eco Center that’s situated on St. James centrally located smack in the middle of St. Lucie County. It’s in the jurisdiction of Port St. Lucie and Port St. Lucie, of course, is one of the largest growing populations in the state of Florida. We try to capture all of that. We see 40 to 50,000 people come through the Oxbow Eco Center and Preserve. There’s 225 acres. They come religiously to walk those trails, even if they’re not visiting the Nature Center, which you should visit the Nature Center.

Heather Stapleton: Yeah. Mike, what is the most popularly used conservation land in the eel program in Brevard County?

Mike Knight: I think I would say it’s probably the Enchanted Forest in Titusville. It was the first property the program purchased. Beautiful oak hammocks. It’s right along the main thoroughfare out to Kennedy Space Center, so it gets a lot of extra traffic from that. Super popular with the trail running community.

Heather Stapleton: Oh, yeah. All right. Beth, I think we’re probably going to wrap up with you talking about what is Indian River County’s most popularly visited conservation lands?

Beth Powell: Oh, gosh, that’s a tough one. I would think maybe Indian River Lagoon Greenway, which is a really small conservation area, but I think soon to be surpassed by either Oyster Bar, Marsh Conservation area, and/or Jones Pier. Yeah, definitely.

Heather Stapleton: Both of those are, I should say, all three of those actually have been getting so much great press lately. Good job on that.

Beth Powell: Yeah. Thank you. And thank you guys for your partnership on those properties, because we appreciate the ability to be able to spread the word and provide exceptional educational information to people and videos, and just different ways for people to be able to expand their knowledge base about the lagoon.

Heather Stapleton: We talked a little bit about volunteering. I am assuming that folks can go to websites to find out more information, find out about things like Preserve Pals and find out about things like Outer Spatial, and the coin hunt for next year, the next round that goes around. Mike, you want to give people the most succinct website where they can go for more information about conservation lands in Brevard County?

Mike Knight: Sure. If they just go to E-E-L We have a tab for the sanctuaries or the conservation areas. You can sign up for the newsletter for each of our three education centers that we have, but you can also sign up for the treasure coin hunt, and then you get early notification before we send out the clues.

Heather Stapleton: Yeah, advanced notice.

Mike Knight: Yeah, because it happens quick.

Heather Stapleton: Okay. How about you, Amy? Where can our St. Lucie County listeners go, or really any listeners, who want to explore any areas?

Amy Griffin: Right. S-T-L-U-C-I-E You can go there, you can find about all the 20 plus preserves in St. Lucie County. Sign up as a volunteer sign up for our free guided nature programs.

Heather Stapleton: Then Beth, how about for folks wanting to visit the conservation lands in Indian River County?

Beth Powell: Right now, you will go to, and our website will soon be changing to So, just keep that in mind, but it’ll redirect for a while. I-R-C, like Indian River County,

Heather Stapleton: I just want to thank all three of you. I’ve known Beth for a long time, and actually I’ve known Mike for a long time too. Amy, it’s been great getting to know you better. I was cracking up when we were just chatting the other day, and we got stuck for 30 minutes in a parking lot just talking about conservation lands, because you never know, and they’re so much fun to talk about. I know we had a lot more topics that we were considering, but I am super appreciative of you sharing all this information, all this enthusiasm. I want to be an ambassador for these lands as well, and get people out there enjoying them properly for sure.

Beth Powell: Thank you, Heather.

Heather Stapleton: Thank you so much.

Mike Knight: Thank you.

Amy Griffin: Thank you.

If you gauge success by listeners wanting to go visit these places, I am realizing I need to get out of St. Lucie County and go visit Indian River County and Brevard County. I’ve not been out of our county for a while, so I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I got to get up there.”

Beth Powell: Yeah.

Amy Griffin: Well, thank you for hosting this.

Beth Powell: Thank you.

Amy Griffin: Good to see you guys.

Heather Stapleton: I know all three of you are so busy. I really appreciate you fitting us into your schedules.

Beth Powell: Absolutely.

Mike Knight: I’m happy to do it.

Beth Powell: Happy to do it again.

Amy Griffin: Pleasure.

Heather Stapleton: Thanks, guys. If you enjoy these discussions about the Indian River Lagoon, please like and subscribe to this podcast. To learn more about the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, how you can get involved with volunteer opportunities or tips on living lagoon friendly or even support lagoon restoration, you can go online and purchase our amazing One Lagoon Merchandise. Visit us at One Lagoon, that’s O-N-E

Another really great way, we’re all excited about this right now, to support lagoon restoration efforts is to purchase the newly redesigned Indian River Lagoon license plate. The license plate has already helped raise about $8 million for lagoon restoration projects since its inception, and that was the old design. We’re super excited about the new design. To stay informed about lagoon news and upcoming events, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at One Lagoon.

We look forward to communicating with you and hearing all about your amazing visits to conservation lands in the Indian River Lagoon area.

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