BROOKSVILLE — By 9:30 Saturday morning, 10-year-old Jasmine Nordberg figured she had earned a break. So she and several of her fellow Girl Scouts from Troop 581 in Spring Hill eased over to the shade, where coolers of cold water and Kool-Aid waited.
Wiping the sweat from her forehead, Jasmine surveyed Chinsegut Nature Center's newly planted butterfly garden and said, "We really did a lot of work today."
Indeed they had. What once was a pine bark pathway now sported freshly planted butterfly-friendly wildflowers surrounded by a thick layer of pine needle mulch. It didn't take long for the butterflies to find the spot.
The project, which got under way with the help of about 30 Girl Scouts from four Spring Hill troops and several adult volunteers, was part of a four-pronged effort to make some of Hernando County's natural places even nicer.
"It was a great community effort," Chinsegut volunteer coordinator Becky Brown said of the turnout that helped launch the county's first celebration of National Public Lands Day. "We're hopeful that it will gain the momentum to make it more successful in years to come."
The event, sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Hernando County government and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, also attracted volunteers to three other areas. About a dozen people spent the morning cleaning trash and debris from Peck Sink near Brooksville. Other groups turned up at Weekiwachee Preserve and the Weeki Wachee tract of the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area to help collect native plant seeds for upcoming restoration projects.
This year marked the 15th anniversary of National Public Lands Day, a collaborative initiative begun by the National Environmental Education Foundation to encourage federal, state and local governments to come up with ways the public can help in cleanup efforts, tree plantings and other activities to benefit natural areas. It is estimated that more than 110,000 people took part in 1,500 events nationwide Saturday.
Brown said that the involvement by the local government agencies seemed a natural fit.
"Much of the county's undeveloped land is maintained by these agencies and is supported by a number by volunteer environmental groups," she said. "People naturally want to help out because it makes the place they live that much better."
The building of the butterfly and hummingbird garden at Chinsegut Nature Center was a prime example of that, Brown said.
Located behind the welcome center, the new garden is both attractive and environmentally beneficial.
Jeff Hansen, a butterfly habitat specialist from the Florida Museum of Natural History who helped oversee the project Saturday, hopes that the garden will serve as a model for homeowners who might want to build their own.
Hansen said that only native Florida plants and shrubs that are known to be attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds were used. In addition, a specially designed low-volume watering system that traps and holds rainwater will provide the plants moisture without having to rely on outside water sources.
"I think people will be amazed at how beautiful these plants will be with such low maintenance," Hansen said.
Caroline Johnson, a 9-year-old volunteer from Girl Scout Troop 575 in Brooksville, was convinced, once she saw butterflies zooming in to inspect the new garden.
"Having butterflies around is nice," she said.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.