February 12, 2020

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press
Florida Bay Forever members have submitted a proposal to the Islamorada Village Council to manage Green Turtle Hammock, a conservation property that includes the historic Russell Cottage.

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press Florida Bay Forever members have submitted a proposal to the Islamorada Village Council to manage Green Turtle Hammock, a conservation property that includes the historic Russell Cottage.

ISLAMORADA — A local environmental organization recently submitted a proposal to serve as stewards of the Green Turtle Hammock property, a park owned by the village of Islamorada.

Members of Florida Bay Forever, a registered nonprofit, presented a plan to create a “Florida Bay eco-center” with “really high-caliber educational programs for the community on the Everglades and Florida Bay,” said organization director Emma Haydocy.

“There are a lot of different issues we can address, but we really want to focus on Florida Bay,” Haydocy said. “Green Turtle Hammock is the perfect location to do that. It’s a gem of a park, but as one of the smaller conservation properties, it’s kind of underutilized.”

At 1 p.m. Feb. 19, Haydocy will host a Florida Bay Forever program at Green Turtle Hammock on “Florida Bay: It’s Complicated.” The free one-hour session will focus on “some of the features of the ecosystem and its complexity, along with Everglades restoration. It’s a way to get things going,” she said.

Islamorada Village Council members have not yet approved a stewardship agreement with Florida Bay Forever for the 9-acre conservation property at mile marker 81.2, bayside. The site also must operate under guidelines from the Florida Communities Trust, which contributed to the acquisition.

A former ranger and educator at Everglades National Park, Haydocy took over the Florida Bay Forever director’s post in January from co-founder Elizabeth Jolin, who now serves on the nonprofit’s board of directors.

Haydocy previously worked at the Blue Ridge Parkway, Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Mount Rainier National Park before moving to South Florida.

“I’m thrilled to see the [village] staff and council consider partnering with Florida Bay Forever to maximize public use of this special place,” Jolin said in an email. “Green Turtle Hammock is a gateway to Florida Bay and Everglades National Park. If managed with the aim of environmental education, just imagine the jewel it could be for our town and community!”

As outlined in the stewardship proposal, the historic Russell Cottage could be opened as an “eco-center” with a museum and exhibit space to help visitors, community groups and school classes learn more about Florida Bay and the local biodiversity. Other concepts include nature walks, a science center and access to the park’s paddle sports basin.

A two-story masonry home overlooking the boat basin has been approved by the village for demolition. The empty house has badly deteriorated over the decades and would require extensive and costly repairs, staff and council members agreed.

Green Turtle Hammock is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with no admission. Leashed dogs are welcome.

Reservations are requested for the Feb. 19 program on Florida Bay. Email info@FloridaBayForever.org.

kwadlow@keysnews.com