There can be no doubt that summer is fast upon us.

 

That reality struck home for me last Saturday when a yellow fly landed on my left arm and bit me.


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That particular yellow fly is no longer with us, but the coming swarms of his cousins as well as gnats and mosquitoes will be too numerous to handlethrough one-on-one combat.

And that got me to thinking it was time to take a hike in one of the many conservation areas that we are fortunate to have without having to take abath in insect repellant beforehand.

Besides if my fellow columnist Mark Woods can visit a park and call it work, I should be able to do so as well.

In fact, I think I pioneered the idea years ago.

The destination I chose was once known as the Guana River State Park but is now part of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine ResearchReserve.

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to refer to it and the adjacent Guana River Wildlife Management Area as the park.

Hiking through the park’s 12,000 acres, as I did Monday, takes you back in time.

Pausing beneath one of the canopies of moss-draped, gnarled oaks, it’s not hard to imagine life 6,000 years ago when Timucuan Indians inhabited theisland.

Previous generations of songbirds would have filled the maritime forests with music then just as their successors did this day, with numerous cardinalsbeing in particularly fine voice.

In the past, I’ve fished in Guana Lake, and I’ve hunted ducks there.

But even more rewarding is just walking quietly and slowly along the park’s nine miles of trails, soaking up the old Florida we are so busy paving over.

The main entrance to the park is north of St. Augustine off A1A. It’s open daily, and there is a $3 parking fee.

The state purchased the park from Gate Petroleum in 1984. In 2004, the GTM Education Center, also worth a visit, was built, and management of thestate park was turned over to the GTM Research Reserve, which totals 73,000 acres in St. Johns and Flagler counties.

Driving south to the park along A1A through Ponte Vedra provides a forceful reminder of why what’s happening in Tallahassee the next few weeks isimportant. (This is where the work part comes in.)

Not that many years ago, there was a long stretch west of A1A leading up to the park’s northern boundary that was empty except for the oaks, sawpalmettoes, cabbage palms and mangroves that lined the marsh.

The continual march of expensive homes has cut into that treed vista. Twisting driveways bordered by green lawns watered by irrigation systems arenow the norm.

If the state hadn’t purchased the Guana property, it more than likely would be another gated community today full of houses, swimming pools and golfcourses.

That would have been a loss, not only for us but for future generations.

So far during this legislative session, legislators have failed to do what voters told them to in 2014 when they approved Amendment 1.

Voters directed them to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire conservation lands. As proposed, the state budget now being debated in theCapitol fails to meet that obligation.

There are more properties like Guana that need to be preserved before developers gobble them up. Those properties are the soul of our state.

Preserving them so that future generations can experience the wonders of natural Florida would be a gift to them, even if the price of admission is aparking fee and an occasional yellow fly bite.

ron.littlepage@jacksonville.com (904) 359-4284.