The following guest column by Gulf Coast Senior Community Investment Officer Jennifer Johnston appeared in the May 29th SRQ Daily:
I may have found the path to enlightenment.
That’s what I thought when I followed The Bay’s winding walkway toward a glowing sunset. A blue jay landed in the mangroves beside me, the wind rustled the palms overhead, and golden sun warmed my skin. There was a young man walking his dog and a couple picnicking. I felt a lightness I have missed during the pandemic.
I enjoyed all the fun facts about native plants etched into wooden sections of the Mangrove Bayou Walkway. I read a sign about a denitrification trench buried beneath my feet. When it rains, polluted stormwater that would previously drain untreated into Sarasota Bay now filters through the ingeniously designed trench, which neutralizes harmful nitrogen and returns clean water into the environment for the first time in a century. This natural pollution solution is a strategy included in the Community Playbook for Healthy Waterways.
Working from home for the past year, I have taken a lot of walks, especially on the Legacy Trail. I drive to the parking lot on McIntosh Road. But soon the trail extension will be complete and it will come right by where I live. Walking the trail clears my head and has been a source of solace since I moved to Sarasota four years ago. I see more people biking and jogging on the trail now than ever before. Mother Nature has been our refuge during this challenging time.
I visited Bobby Jones Golf Club for the first time during the pandemic, when most everything else was shut down. As I walked the paths, I couldn’t believe the size of the property—almost 300 acres. Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast recently negotiated a conservation easement to protect and steward these natural wetlands and wildlife habitat. On Tuesday, the Southwest Florida Water Management District voted unanimously to fund half of the $3-million cost to return the wetlands to what they were before the golf course was built. This will remove pollutants from stormwater runoff before they enter Phillippi Creek and eventually Sarasota Bay.
Local government supported this important decision, as well as master plans for The Bay Sarasota and Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Selby Gardens just announced it has raised over $38 million to create a path to the future for its downtown campus and protect the world’s best-documented collection of orchids and bromeliads. This week, The Bay Park Conservancy announced it has raised $20 million in philanthropic funding to build the first phase of the 53-acre bayfront park.
I feel lucky to live in a community where generous visionaries invest in the well-being of all of us and our natural surroundings. We have a long journey ahead to restore nature’s balance, but we’re on the right path.
No matter our age or the size of our bank accounts, we all can be a part of making Sarasota a heathy and fun place to live. Join the Friends of The Bay, volunteer to help plant the Venice Urban Forest, tour Selby Gardens, and support Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. What we do today matters, for us and for our children’s children.
Hope to see you on a walk!