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Volunteers needed to help maintain Hernando's Fickett Hammock

Fickett Hammock covers 148 acres on Centralia Road, just west of Citrus Way.

I like this location — perfect quiet and solitude less than 10 minutes from State Road 50.

I like that the dense shade of the hammock, along with the first reasonably cool day of the season (Wednesday), let me walk the 1-mile trail and barely break a sweat. Imagine that a week ago!

I like that the trail leads past a clearing of shoulder-high palmettos that practically glowed in the sunlight, a giant oak with a small, bonsai-looking palmetto growing from a crook in its trunk, and a shrub called an Eastern wahoo (so Jim King, the county's conservation lands specialist, tells me), with a bright red seed pod that stood out like a brake light on an empty highway.

I like that the hammock is named after someone who deserved it — Steve Fickett, expert birder and co-founder of Hernando Audubon, who died in 2006.

I like that the trail was built last spring partly by volunteer workers — my kind of people, the ones who care about the woods — and that my view was more natural and less cluttered because still another crowd of volunteers had cleared away an invasive plant called Japanese climbing fern and a truck-load of trash last Saturday during National Public Lands Day.

Organized locally for the second year by Becky Brown, volunteer coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, it attracted 180 volunteers in Hernando County, twice as many as last year.

The jobs they did included planting 200 cypress trees at the Silver Lake Recreation Area, cleaning overgrowth from miles of trail in the Richloam Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest, and pulling down tons of potato vines at the Springs Coast Environmental Education Center on the Weeki Wachee River.

What I don't like is that I missed it. It makes me feel downright guilty, in fact, because the agencies that manage natural lands have always been stretched thin. King, for example is the only land manager assigned to three tracts of county-owned environmentally sensitive land.

They are stretched even thinner now in the era of tight budgets.

The state Division of Forestry headquarters north of Brooksville, which is responsible for keeping up the vast Withlacoochee State Forest, has lost three positions permanently and is unable to fill five more, director Winnie Schreiber said.

And they will be stretched even thinner as revenues continue to drop, she said: "We expect it to get worse next year.''

"We're scrambling, trying to do the most with the least,'' King said. Volunteers are a way to leverage the effort of each paid worker, he said, especially for tasks that can only be done with lots of human labor, like picking up garbage or clearing brush.

That is next up on his schedule, on a work day scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 7, at 8 a.m. — cutting a boundary line through the woods on the Fickett property so a fence can be built.

For those of us who slept in last Saturday, he has planned three more chances to exorcise our guilt — cutting trails, picking up debris or laying tree limbs to prevent erosion — on work days in January, February and March.

C'mon, get out there. Steve would be proud of you.

Volunteers needed to help maintain Hernando's Fickett Hammock 10/01/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 1, 2009 4:12pm]
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