Catching frogs, hiking the trails and going fishing in Clam Bayou was a way of life for Trudy Archer as a young girl. Nearly five decades later, she's protecting the place that once sheltered her.
Archer, 52, born and raised in St. Petersburg, calls Clam Bayou her second home. The bayou was only a block from her front door. When she was a child, the bayou was a place to play and discover new things. Today, she says, her feelings about it remain the same.
"Growing up poor wasn't an issue back then because we had the bayou," she said. "We would catch frogs and fish and eat them. We caught a lot of blue crabs and cooked them up. We ate very well as kids because of the bayou. We had hunting knives strapped to our sides. We'd come home every day with mud all over ourselves. We had some good times."
She has helped protect the bayou since she was a child. She picked up trash, rescued animals and planted new vegetation. Even now she petitions against plans to build condos there.
"I believe we need to leave the land like it is because it is something everyone can use. It doesn't matter if you are poor or rich. It is there for everyone," she said. "We need to protect it because our open space is disappearing."
For the past six years she has volunteered as the site captain at the bayou for the Florida Coastal Clean Up. Twenty large garbage bags of trash were collected at the cleanup in October. Mattresses, grocery carts and parts of broken boats have been collected during the history of the cleanup at the bayou.
"I am very thankful for the volunteers help. No matter how much trash we pick up, there is always more. Every time I walk through here I'm picking up trash," Archer said. "This year some children found drug paraphernalia during the cleanup and it just breaks my heart."
"When you look around and see the egrets and mangroves in the green water it is hard to imagine dirty trash next them, but there is," Archer said.
Archer goes to the bayou for quiet time. She rides along in her 11-foot Coleman boat. Through the winding paths around the mangroves it's almost silent except for the sounds of egrets and great blue herons.
"The Clam Bayou is such a relaxing and peaceful place. I come here at least three times a week. I don't take medications or go to hospitals and see doctors," Archer said.
"I don't have a computer. I don't have a cell phone and I just got a microwave a few years ago. I'm content with that. A lot of people are consumed with keeping things they can't afford: houses, cars, large boats. I don't have that kind of stress."
Archer often read National Geographic but learned more about nature from hands-on experiences. She preferred to spend hours in the bayou watching the wildlife rather than sitting in front of the television.
"I can remember going to bed with my clothes on so that after my mother would tuck us in at night and go to work, my brother and sister and I would sneak out to the bayou," she said.
"The bayou has taught me how to be self-sufficient. I had everything by simply walking out the front door. You become extremely independent and smart out here. You can drop me off in the middle of the woods and I can defend for myself. I just figure things out that way."
"There is so much nature here," she said. "A lot of people don't know that at the end of the small drive off the road is this beautiful area to see. It is free to everyone and that is the way it should be."
IF YOU GO
Clam Bayou is a wild pocket of Boca Ciega Bay, situated between Gulfport and southwest St. Petersburg. On the St. Petersburg land side, a neighborhood is named after it, and Clam Bayou Park is at the western terminus of 34th Avenue S.