Ok….I admit it. I’m the world’s most reluctant flyer. I’m a man of the earth and the rivers. I leave the sky to the birds. I usually find a reason to drive across the great state I call home, and across the Gulf region for meetings and gatherings. My GRN compatriots are well aware of my reluctance to enter the big metal tubes that shoot across the sky that fly from one uncomfortable airport to another.
With that said, I was intrigued when Southwings offered to take me up over the Nature Coast of Florida to see some the wild and special sections of the region. Protecting Florida’s Nature Coast is one of the top priorities for the GRN. Having the view of the swallow tail kite or the osprey seemed invaluable. With great reluctance, and not a little fear, I agreed to go up with Southwings and put flight to our conservation agenda.
I met Caroline Douglas and Hume Davenport of Southwings at the Gainesville Airport on a crisp, clear day. A good day for flying if there is such a thing. I got to the airport earlier and learned that pilots like to tell a lot of jokes about crashing planes, particularly to folks like me who clearly were out of their element.
Not only am I not the most eager flyer, I’m also not the smallest guy in the world so I was not looking forward to 3-4 hours in a small plane. Caroline and Hume did a great job putting me at ease, and as we pulled out the maps and started charting our trip I began to feel a little excitement as it displaced the raw terror of leaving the earth and challenging gravity.
As soon as we zoomed into the sky I was a new man. I have never seen Florida from a small plane flying at a low altitude. It was transcendent. Now I know why people love to fly small planes. Seeing the braided rivers, the vast coastal plains, the pine and cypress, and the transitions from upland to coast all at once in one visual moment was incredible. There is true magic where the land meets the sea. To see it from the air……truly uplifting.
We flew from the Hernando/Citrus region all the way to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. We saw the best and the worst of the Nature Coast. The vastness and the shear wilderness along that coast is truly magnificent. The threats are daunting, but the opportunities for conservation and restoration are incredible. Seeing it all from a small plane is truly an effective way to see the story unfold below you.
We saw loggers clear cutting cypress for mulch below us. We saw the stagnant and polluted pools of effluent leaving the Buckeye pulp and paper mill as the Fenholloway River suffered through another day of slow death below us. And yet we saw miles and miles of endless and undeveloped coastlines, and thousands of acres of wild places still untouched and pristine. Tragedy and hope laid out in a vast mosaic below us in every direction.
I’m not rushing to the airport anytime soon, but I will gladly fly with Southwings again and we are honored to have them as a partner in our efforts to protect Florida’s Nature Coast. I look up to the sky and envy the swallow tail kite and the osprey, and know now why they float majestically across a sun swept sky.
Stay tuned for more blogs and updates about future and upcoming adventures of GRN as we take to the ground, the rivers, and now the sky to protect and preserve one of Florida’s last great frontiers.
Joe Murphy is the Florida Program Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network.