SEBRING — Highlands Hammock cordially invites residents and visitors from communities throughout the greater Heartland and neighboring counties to join the park in celebrating Earth Day on Saturday, April 1 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The 5th Annual Earth Day Festival is an educational day for park visitors of all ages. Exhibitors include Archbold Biological Station, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Florida Trail Association, Nature Conservancy Tiger Creek Preserve, Highlands County Audubon Society, IFAS Master Gardeners, Florida Forestry, Big Cypress National Preserve, Heartland Beekeepers and more!
In addition to the exhibits, a series of programs which are 30 to 45 minutes in length, will be shown on the stage of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum. Park Services Specialist Carla Sherwin, remarked, “We have four outstanding presentations lined up.” At 11 a.m., FWC panther biologist Carol Rizkalla, will provide information and a research update on the highly endangered Florida panther. At 12:15 p.m., Archbold research assistant Rachel Fedders will reveal the ‘secret lives’ of gopher tortoises and provide information on the ecology of this land-dwelling, burrowing reptile. Sherwin added, “These tortoises are commonly referred to as ‘keystone species’ because of their critical importance to the survival of other wildlife residing in their tunnels.” At 1:15 p.m., CCC Museum curator David Schmidt will review the origins and shared history of Archbold Station and Highlands Hammock and their magnificent legacy. Conrad Provan, a seasonal ranger at Big Cypress National Preserve, will close the programs at 2 p.m. in a journey to the ‘depths of space’ with stories of distant stars, nebulae, and the galaxy. Visitors may peer into the night sky from the swamps of the Big Cypress!
Children and their families may view nature exhibits, examine a live pine snake, and take a scavenger hunt at the Kid’s Corner in the Otter Pavilion. Ranger Laura McMullen will introduce families to the Junior Ranger program in the Alligator Pavilion. This hour-long, stewardship program presents a series of core areas centered on recreation, natural and cultural resources and service. Children, who must be accompanied by an adult, will receive booklets and other items. The program, which has to be attended from the beginning time at 1 p.m., is recommended for youngsters aged 7 to 12 years.
Park Services Specialist Carla Sherwin stated, “This a wonderful opportunity for residents and visitors to learn about local government agencies and environmental organizations which are working to make a world of difference! New residents may be surprised to learn of the many resources available to them as well as opportunities to volunteer.” Two nature walks are scheduled for the festival. ‘Birding with Ranger Blake’ departs from the Panther Pavilion at 9 a.m. A ‘Saturday Kids Discovery Nature Walk’ will depart from the Wild Orange Trail behind the Hammock Inn at 10 a.m. The hikes take approximately one hour. Visitors may also go on one of the regularly scheduled tram tours operated by the Hammock Inn concession. Trams run at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The cost of tickets is $15 per adult and $10 per child. Children 5 and under are free. Tickets may be purchased one day in advance and on the day of the tour at the Hammock Inn. Call the Hammock Inn at 863-402-0061 for more information.
Food and refreshments will be provided by Tacos and Salsas and the Hammock Inn. The festival is sponsored by the Friends of Highlands Hammock State Park. For more information, visit www.floridastateparks.org/park/Highlands-Hammock. Find the Friends on Facebook at facebook.com/fhhsp and visit their website, www.friendsofhighlandshammockstatepark.org. All programs are free. Park entry fees of $6 per vehicle (up to 8 persons), $4 per single occupant vehicle, and $2 for bicyclists and pedestrians apply. Highlands Hammock is located at 5931 Hammock Road in Sebring.