When it comes to the planet, Mother Nature knows best.
Learn what she's trying to tell us at the Moccasin Lake Earth Day Festival slated for 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
The free festival is sponsored by the city of Clearwater and the Edible Garden, an urban permaculture design firm and edible perennial nursery. The eco-event features trail walks and talks, exhibitions by environmental groups, and vendors offering natural products, foods and artistic demonstrations using reclaimed and natural materials.
The family-friendly event also includes children's arts and crafts and a scavenger hunt.
The Clearwater Audubon Society, Pinellas Native Plant Society, Florida Herb Society, Hukyu Bonsai Society, Clearwater Turtle and Tortoise Club, and the Suncoast Herpetological Society are among the exhibitors.
It's the perfect time to discover this little-known environmental and educational gem, a 51-acre preserve tucked in the middle of Clearwater, accessible by Drew Street or State Road 590, just east of U.S. 19.
"A lot of people don't know this piece of paradise exists but it's a fantastic place to hold an Earth Day event because of its educational exhibits and sustainable energy elements including solar panels, a tower with a wind turbine and composting toilets," said Nessie Johnson, who co-owns the Edible Garden with Cathy DeFelice.
Moccasin Lake is a 5-acre, manmade lake created decades ago when U.S. 19 was being constructed. When engineers excavated dirt from this spot to build an overpass, the pit filled with rain water and a lake was born.
Today it boasts a variety of fish, water birds, otters and an occasional alligator. It got its name from the water moccasins that once lived there. None exist today, according to a park official.
Over a mile of shell and boardwalk trails wind through the densely forested park where visitors will likely see colorful butterflies or peacocks flaunting their iridescent blue and green plumage. Sit quietly in one of two bird blinds where a variety of birds such as the Great Blue heron, red-winged blackbirds, hawks, osprey and Florida's state bird, the songful mockingbird, can be spotted up close.
View what is jokingly referred to as "the second highest waterfall in Pinellas County."
Observe the beautiful but spiky caterpillars lounging on the boardwalk posts. Remember, "hairy is scary" and some of them protect themselves with toxic substances.
The park's educational center showcases live and taxidermied animals, birds and reptiles. Just outside the center are exhibits of captive, permanently injured birds of prey including an American eagle, vultures, screech owls and hawks.
"A presentation will educate visitors on how we can coexist with these birds," said Johnson. "Instead of trying to make them exist with us, we have to learn how to coexist with them."
Perhaps the most thought-provoking feature of the park is the watershed restoration area. A man-made ditch built to capture storm water runoff empties into Alligator Creek where a containment area captures the trash.
It's filled with Styrofoam cups, plastic bottles and other garbage tossed into the environment by consumers. Heavy rainfalls, typically seen during summer months, produce huge amounts of nonbiodegradable debris that is periodically cleaned out by volunteers.
"This is what us taking care of our environment looks like," Johnson said.
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