Category Archives: Nature

Palm Beach County in top 100 family-friendly places to boat and fish

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Lake Okeeheelee in Okeeheelee Park (Courtesy: FWC)

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Palm Beach County Parks & Recreation Department scored two local spots on a recent list of the nation’s best fishing and boating locales. Lake Osborne in John Prince Park and Okeeheelee Fish Management Area in Okeeheelee Park made the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and its Take Me Fishing and Vamos A Pescar campaigns’ 2016 Top 100 Family-Friendly Places to Boat and Fish in the U.S. list. The Top 100 list was released leading up to National Fishing and Boating Week.

Cooperatively managed by the FWC and Palm Beach County, both sites provide great access and good recreational fishing for casual family outings and serious anglers alike. Fishing piers, boat ramps, fish attractors and fish feeders are combined with fish stocking and habitat enhancement to create productive angling that is easy to access. This collaboration allows both agencies to offer better recreational opportunities for their mutual constituents.

“These areas are readily available for residents and visitors alike and are known for producing some great angling opportunities,” said FWC regional Freshwater Fisheries administrator Barron Moody.

Lake Osborne is a 356-acre lake in suburban Lake Worth, with much of the shoreline incorporated in John Prince Park. It is easily accessed via John Prince Park, which offers ample shoreline access, fishing access from piers, and a two-lane paved boat ramp in excellent condition with an additional boat ramp located within the John Prince Lake

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Lake Osborne in John Prince Park (Courtesy: FWC)

Osborne in John Prince ParkPark Campground. The lake provides above-average fishing for largemouth bass, bluegill and redear sunfish, channel catfish and exotic Mayan cichlid. Other species include black
crappie (specks), sunshine bass stocked by the FWC plus peacock bass. Some outstanding largemouth bass fishing can be found there, with fish exceeding 8 pounds.  A brochure with map are at MyFWC.com/fishing, click “Freshwater,” “Sites & Forecasts,” “South Region” and “Lake Osborne.”

Okeeheelee FMA is a 157-acre lake conveniently situated in West Palm Beach. This site offers fishing from the shoreline as well as piers. Okeeheelee FMA contains an abundance of native sunfish and hatchery-raised catfish. The catfish are stocked each year to maintain a steady supply of fish for anglers. FWC fisheries biologist John Cimbaro has been co-managing the lake with Palm Beach County for over 15 years.

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Lake Okeeheelee in Okeeheelee Park (Courtesy: FWC)

“While Okeeheelee bass average less than 14 inches, their abundance here offers plenty of action and fun on light fishing tackle or fly fishing gear,” said Cimbaro. “This is also a perfect spot for someone who is learning to fish for bass to get lots of practice.”

Gasoline motors may not be used on boats at Okeeheelee, making it a peaceful site to fish from kayak or canoe. A brochure with map are at MyFWC.com/fishing, then click on “Freshwater,” “Sites & Forecasts,” “Fish Management Areas” then “Lake Okeeheelee.”

Along with fishing enhancements, both sites offer abundant parking, lakeside trails, playgrounds, picnic pavilions, restrooms and other amenities for a great family trip. Both Okeeheelee and John Prince Park are owned by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, and ensuring access to beaches and water bodies are a core service of their department.

The RBFF’s Take Me Fishing and Vamos A Pescar campaigns held a nationwide vote to provide families with a recommended list of locations to visit. Criteria for these top locales included not only the quality of fishing and boating, but proximity to urban areas for easy access and the presence of amenities that contribute to a fun family outing.

Limestone Creek Community Celebrates Florida Historic Marker

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Members of the Limestone Creek community unveil the Florida State Historic Marker.

On Saturday, April 30, more than a century after the first “Jupiter Colored School” was opened in the Limestone Creek Community, residents, officials, volunteers and others gathered inside Palm Beach County’s Limestone Creek Park to celebrate the installation of a marker that commemorates the community’s vast history.

“For too long, way too many people didn’t have access to good education, and this was especially true in the south,” said U.S. Congressman Patrick Murphy, who was present at the event, along with Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Hal Valeche, former L.M. Davis Elementary School teacher Mrs. Dorothy Bendross Walker, and other iconic figures from around the community.

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Congressman Patrick Murphy speaks to the crowd at the unveiling ceremony.

The ceremony centered on the strides in education in the Limestone Creek Community, the oldest African American community in the North Palm Beach area, in the past century. Denied access to Jupiter’s public schools by the laws of segregation, the community opened a school of their own in 1905. The first “Jupiter Colored School” was located in the local African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“This was a community that had nothing, but they made sure their children got a decent school, good teachers,” remarked Jamie Stuve, the CEO & President of the Loxahatchee River Historical Society, an organization that helps preserve “history shaped by nature” of the Loxahatchee River region.

When the 1928 hurricane destroyed the church, community member L.M. Davis donated an acre of his homestead for the construction of a new school. The community pooled their limited resources and even built a school bus for their children. Matching funds from the Rosenwald Fund, created by Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Co, enabled the community to construct a two-room school with a kitchen, and to hire two teachers for grades 1 through 8.

Mrs. Walker, a life-long member of the community who attended the Elementary School and eventually taught there, told a story of the many struggles the students and teachers faced at the school during the mid-20th century. “It was a different time, a different place when we were here, we had no electricity, no running water, no heat, no air conditioning… but we survived,” she said.

The graduating class of 1941 raised funds to construct a sidewalk over the drainage ditch at the entrance to the school and, along with their principal, autographed the remaining concrete. In 1956, the school was renamed the L.M. Davis Elementary School in honor of the man who donated the land and drove the school bus. High school students were transported 20 miles south to attend Industrial High in Riviera Beach LimestoneCreekHistoricMarkerUnveiling (4)until Jupiter public schools began to be desegregated in 1967.

“The Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department is steadfast in preserving our history, but more than just preserving it, we need to interpret it and teach it,” said Eric Call, the Director of the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department.

Limestone Creek Park is operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department. The department operates more than 80 regional, district, community, beach, and neighborhood parks, spanning several thousand acres. Visit pbcParks.com to learn about opportunities for healthy, happy living.

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Thousands Celebrate the Night at Dark Sky Festival

It’s not often we get a chance to turn down the lights and take in the beauty that the night sky has to offer. On Saturday, February 27, over 2,000 Palm Beach County residents, tourists, adults, kids, and nature lovers alike did just that – for free – at the fourth annual Dark Sky Festival.

People of all ages visited Palm Beach County’s Okeeheelee Nature Center from 6-10 p.m. to escape the glowing lights we are so often bombarded by, to gaze at the stars, learn about animals, and enjoy the peacefulness of the dark while having fun with their friends, family, and loved ones.

Campfire, animals, movies & more!

The night was filled with opportunities for visitors to roam the grounds, enjoying the DSC_0036
darkness. Indoors, owls, snakes, lizards and turtles gave animal lovers a chance to learn about the animals that depend on the dark for survival. Curious kids took turns dissecting owl pellets, and visitors of all ages learned about owls and bats through presentations from passionate experts.

Outdoors, active guests enjoyed guided nature hikes through the dark, while others gazed at stars and planets through telescopes. An outdoor classroom allowed guests to soak in the beauty of the night sky, while listening to campfire stories and eating s’mores.

Benji Studt, the Environmental Program Supervisor with Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resources Management, taught a workshop that introduced participants to Palm Beach County’s natural areas and the photographic and recreational opportunities that lay right outside our front doors. “I introduced participants to some tools to improve their composition skills,” said Studt.

IMG_3975_PSStudt then handed the workshop over to local artist and FAU student Max Jackson, who taught the class about techniques to photograph the night sky. After the presentation, the class enjoyed Jackson’s new short film, “Pitch Black Light, A Journey Through America’s Darkest Skies”, which shows time-lapse footage of the stars passing by iconic landscapes from across the country.  The film is a compilation of footage over the last two years, when Jackson spent his summers chasing the darkest skies in the country.  Watch “Pitch Black Light, A Journey Through America’s Darkest Skies” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQdijzuCe3A

 What is light pollution?

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The goal of the event was to teach visitors about the negative affects of light pollution and to encourage better practices with lighting. Guided night hikes, a campfire and s’mores, outdoor movies, photography workshops, bat and owl presentations, live wildlife exhibits, among other activities, helped guests appreciate the darkness.

Light pollution is the “introduction of artificial light into the environment”. The event focused on the impacts of light pollution, and the benefits of having natural night skies. Excessive light pollution threatens humans and many animals, including sea turtles, owls, bats, and others that depend on the dark sky for survival. Excessive light pollution may also waste electricity and destroy the beauty of the night sky.

Why should we “turn down the lights”?

DSC_0056Various experts, photographers, and astronomers were on hand Saturday to explain the dangers of light pollution.

“Turning down the lights helps us all,” said Studt. According to Studt, light pollution impacts a variety of animals. “The natural light provided by the night sky gives sea turtle hatchlings the ability to find the ocean when they hatch.”

Furthermore, Studt explained that migratory birds use the night sky as a roadmap to their seasonal destinations, and humans feel effects to their circadian rhythm as a result of light pollution.

“We are literally losing our stars because of light pollution,” said Callie Sharkey, manager at Okeeheelee Nature Center, who also cited research that links artificial light to breast cancer, while Studt explained, “artificial light pollution is now being linked to human disorders such as obesity and depression.”

What can you do to help?

 In addition to educating the public on the effect of light pollution, the event aimed to increase awareness on what steps can be taken to help fix the problem. You can start helping today:

  1. Check your home lights – is glare hiding potential intruders? Do your lights shine down, or out and up where energy is wasted?
  1. Turn off unnecessary lights – and use motion sensor switches for effective deterrence.
  1. Shield and lower lights, and use dark-sky friendly fixtures.
  1. Spread the word – tell businesses when you see that their lights are bad. Bad lights aren’t just unpleasant, they’re harmful, especially in coastal areas where turtles nest.

An annual event

 Each year, thousands of enthused visitors make their way to Okeeheelee Nature Center to gaze at the stars and learn about what they can do to make the night sky more visible for humans and animals the depend on it. “We had people from all ages and demographics, and the response is overwhelmingly positive…people were impressed with how unique the event was,” said Sharkey.DSC_0015

This annual event is one of the largest dark sky events in the country; it was made possible through a partnership between the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, Environmental Resources Management Department, International Dark-Sky Association, among others.

For more information on how you can help fix the problem of light pollution, please visit the International Dark-Sky Association, www.darksky.org.

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Thousands of photos snapped at Okeeheelee’s Raptor Day

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Photo Credit: Cassandra Jean

Thousands of photos were snapped at Palm Beach County’s Okeeheelee Nature Center on Saturday, January 30, as photographers of all ages captured the majestic beauty of nine birds of prey, aged 3-20 years old.

OKNC sold out of tickets for its Raptor Day photography event, welcoming 50 photographers to the facility – ranging from 11 to 93 years old! Photographers from all over the country traveled to Palm Beach County to take advantage of this unique opportunity, traveling from Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and New Jersey, just to name a few. The event even drew in some international guests.

“This was a very unique opportunity for people to see all of our birds at the same time and that’s certainly never been done and never been done for photographers,” said Callie Sharkey, the Nature Center’s manager.

The fundraising event for Friends of Okeeheelee Nature Center provided the photographers with a unique opportunity to showcase all of the raptors at the facility – various owls, hawks, falcons and others – during private sessions with the birds. The birds sat outdoors for natural lighting on real wood perches, a natural background was set up behind them, allowing the photographers to play with a more natural setting. According to Sharkey, all of the birds were cooperative for the entire event, and all of the photographers were respectful of the birds. Some of the birds even took to roosting and preening, signs that they were comfortable with their environment.

Seven of the birds were from Okeeheelee Nature Center, while the other two were from Daggerwing and Green Cay Nature Centers. All of the birds photographed during the event are cared for at Palm Beach County’s three nature centers as they are non-releasable. Each bird has been through rehab for various reasons, whether they have been wounded by humans or arrived at the nature center as a fully imprinted bird.

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Photo Credit: Matteo Cappella

Sharkey said the Nature Center would like to plan this event again in the future, as it allows photographers – both professional and amateur – to gain a respect for the animals they’re photographing and become further educated on why the animals are being cared for at the nature centers, which leads to further conservation efforts. Promoting stewardship of nature and natural sites is a core service of the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department.

Okeeheelee Nature Center is owned and operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department and is located in Okeeheelee Park at 7715 Forest Hill Blvd in West Palm Beach.

We’d love to see your photos! If you have a photo taken at the Raptor Day event, you can share it on the Friends of Okeeheelee Nature Center’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FriendsOfOkeeheeleeNatureCenter/

Check out the photos submitted below, and be sure to keep checking our blog for more photos as they come in!

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Tips on coexisting with our parks’ animals

Hundreds of animal species call our parks “home.” From wild birds to tortoises and bobcats to alligators, every animal plays an important role in each ecosystem found throughout Palm Beach County’s park system.

Watch this video to find out how you can safely enjoy our parks while helping to ensure our wild inhabitants enjoy their home.