Ten weeks and 1,000 miles after beginning their journey, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition came to an end last week at Fort Pickens.
Wildlife biologist Joe Guthrie, his dog Wallace, conservationist Mallory Dimmitt and photographer Carlton Ward, Jr. arrived at Fort Pickens on Thursday afternoon. After a dip in the Gulf at Langdon Beach, they celebrated with a party at a nearby pavilion. Guthrie says the Panhandle was unfamiliar territory for them.
“Getting here and getting to see things and be impressed by their work maintaining the natural areas we have here in northwest Florida, has been a real treat and eye-opening experience for everyone on the trip,” said Guthrie. “Because we tend to know a little bit more about central Florida. From Gainesville south is kind of the home base for the three of us.”
The trek began on January 10 and carried the team through the St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge; Apalachicola National Forest, Tarkiln State Park, and the Escambia, Blackwater and Perdido Rivers, just to name a few. They traveled on conserved lands on foot, on bicycle and in canoes.
Mallory Dimmitt says getting on the water is like being, “in the liquid heart of wild Florida.”
“But at the same time, we tend to build homes right along rivers,” said Dimmitt. “We tend to build roads and other industrial things right along rivers, and so you see both that conflict between wild Florida and developed Florida.”
Problems evident in Florida’s fresh-waterways can be found, says Dimmitt, in the health of the state’s springs along with its streams and rivers. But she adds that you can’t always see them with the naked eye.
For Carlton Ward Jr., the journey was filled with what he calls a “fair amount of frustration.”
“When we pass places and saw how easy it would have been to have established a wildlife corridor a decade or two ago, before the development came in,” said Ward. “But to see that those connections are all but lost at this point.”
But, Ward adds there are also places of tremendous hope, including the local Headwaters Project near Pensacola. While the trip is at an end, the work continues through passage of Amendment 1, which funds water and land conservation, and through raising awareness of the need for wildlife corridors.
“We have to turn our focus to what to do with this story,” said biologist Joe Guthrie. “We’ve got to make decisions about a book and magazine articles, and what to do with the content we have from this expedition. And then promote the film that we have coming out this fall on PBS.”
More information about the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, team members and the mission of their journey, are at www.floridawildlifecorridor.org.