Gulf Power’s Plant Crist employees tame and enjoy the wilderness of Perdido River Preserve
Plant Crist employees took time off from work to make sure nature lovers have access to one of the area’s outdoor gems

PENSACOLA, Florida - Playful chatter and an occasional “watch out!” along with the whack of machetes and the crack of small trees giving way to saws, rose above the calls of song birds and chirps of crickets in the Perdido River Nature Preserve last week. 

Creating the commotion in the otherwise tranquil wilderness was a small army of Gulf Power employees from Plant Crist and Environmental Affairs giving The Nature Conservancy a hand with trail maintenance.

Brent Shaver, The Nature Conservancy conservation forestry project manager, explained to the volunteers that the goal was to clear vegetation overgrowth from three to four miles of the six miles of trails in the preserve.

“We’re keeping the hiking trails open and easily accessible to the public,” he said. “Some areas have to be maintained by hand. Volunteers like this help us keep this area open.”

The volunteers had their work cut out for them on trails almost completely swallowed by fallen trees, tangles of thorny saw greenbrier laced around turkey oaks and pine saplings. But most of the volunteers knew what they were getting into and were more than willing to put in some hard work for the opportunity to enjoy the wilderness oasis.

“I’ve been coming out to volunteer five or six years,” said Aubrey Garrett, a welder-mechanic at Plant Crist, as he snipped down saplings invading the trail. “I like being out in nature.”

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John Dominey, Plant Crist compliance analyst, said volunteers have been working in the preserve twice a year for about the past five years as part of the plant’s goal to help the community with environmental stewardship.

“Over the years we’ve cut new trails, planted wire grass and pine trees and worked on a farm house that’s used as a work house,” he said.

Providing public access to the natural side of Florida was one of the goals the Nature Conservancy established in 2003.  Shaver said Gulf Power, through Southern Company and in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, have been great partners in providing grants and volunteers to help conserve what is among the few slices left of undeveloped or developable land along the Perdido River.

“The idea is to have people come out and use this property, the Rainwater Family wants people to come out and use this property and so does Gulf Power,” Shaver said. “Mountain biking, hiking and nature watching are encouraged out here.”

Jeff Cole, environmental affairs specialist, heads up Gulf Power Stewardship program, noting the volunteer workdays are about much more than the work. 

“Southern Company helps the preserve with grant money, but this hands-on work gets actual Gulf Power employees involved in stewardship,” he said. “This allows employees to get out and participate in the projects we support financially. At the end of the day, the whole Gulf Power team has a sense of great pride and a feeling of accomplishment for the environmental stewardship work completed.”



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