Written by Ashley Pardee – Eldest Daughter
Wetland Preserve is a family business. Our family’s roots are in Saint Johns County Florida. We still have a family home on the beautiful Satin Johns River in Fruit Cove and are involved in the community. Louann, my mother, works on a volunteer basis with the Saint Johns County Library System. Ben, my father, is passionate about the health of the Saint Johns River and is an active member of the River Keepers. I myself live in Jacksonville Beach where I run a small business from home and have art work in a few local galleries. My younger sister and only sibling, Emily, is not involved with Wetland in a professional manner but enjoys time on the farm with her husband and their 5 young daughters.
We didn’t start out as a tree farming family! In fact, we didn’t know a thing about farming or trees before purchasing the land that was destined to be Wetland Preserve. Ben and Louann did however have a great deal of experience and knowledge of how to run a business. Having owned and run a retail seafood market and wholesale business in mandarin from the late 80’s to 20015 when it was sold. Wetland Preserve was a sort of “retirement” plan that did not involve retiring at all! The property was purchased in 2009 and so began our tree farming story.
From the outset Ben and Louann always loved the outdoors and spent much of their time either hunting, fishing, camping or generally “wandering” the woods – as my dad , Ben would put it. So, though it might seem like a huge leap to go from a seafood market to a tree farm it really made sense in a lot of ways. The long-term goals for Wetland Preserve are to preserve it as a wild space and open it for research. Wetland Preserve will never be bulldozed for a housing development or converted back into a high intensity farming operation as it was before we purchased it. We also work with groups and organizations like the Florida Native Plant Society and the Florida Wildlife Commission. By opening Wetland Preserve to them they are able to perform ongoing studies and gather information to help further their research. Some of the ways we are ensuring these goals into the future include implementing conservation easements and designing a management plan for Wetland Preserve that focuses not only on profit but, also on Best Management Practices as set out by the Florida Forestry Service.
When you come to visit we hope that you leave with a better understanding of Florida’s forestry industry, which contributes $25 billion to the state’s economy annually and provides 124,000 jobs ….all while providing habitat for wildlife, filtering our water and air and offering many recreational activities.
Fun Fact: Did you know that over 5000 items are made from forest products? Some surprising examples include : soaps, cough syrups, the cancer-fighting drug Taxol, football helmets, car wax, crayons , sports drinks and the list goes on!
Wetland Preserve was originally owned by a large timber company, Plum Creek. This company merged with Weyerhaeuser in 2016. Our family purchased the first 3400 acres of land from Plum Creek before the merger in 2009 and then a second purchase was made in 2015 for 325 acres. Most of the land falls under the category of “Mesic Flatwoods”.
(If you would like a definition of Mesic flatwoods follow this link https://preserve.unf.edu/files/pdf/Slough_Natural_Communities.pdf)
The areas that are considered Creek Swamps or Sand Hill, and have different soil flora and fauna to some extent, are mostly held outside of the forestry envelope. This means that barring any natural calamity these areas are not harvested or disturbed in any way. Sections of the Flatwoods that are suitable are being reforested with longleaf pine and the rest of the planted pine stands that are being harvested are managed under a “long rotation” management regime. Long rotation management means that we let the trees stand (as long as they are healthy) past the optimum economic harvest age, with the exception of thinning. This practice adds non-timber value including wildlife habitat, better carbon storage and the ability to create habitat for old growth dependent species such as the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker.
If you come out to visit us you will get the chance to see touch hear and maybe even taste (if the wild berries are in season!) some of the plants and animals that make Wetland Preserve their home. Here is a list of a few that you are likely to spot!
- White Tailed Deer
- Long Leaf Pine
- Gopher Tortoise
- Pygmy Rattlesnake
- Carnivorous plants – Sundew and Pitcher Plant
- Bobwhite Quail
Just to name a few !
Into the Past …
Look at the map and imagine the enormity of the forest depicted. A forest extending from costal Virginia, south to central Florida and then west to Texas with it’s northern edged being the Appalachian Mountains. Now imagine that forest being comprised to the greatest extent of giant trees, many hundreds of years old. These trees were spaced , not as we see our Southern Forests today, tightly packed and with dense vegetation surrounding them, but rather spread out such that they looked like more park-like then anything else.
If you can imagine that then you have some idea of what William Bartram saw and described as he wandered the south 200+ years ago.
Are you ready to learn more about native Florida and how a tree farming operation functions? Here’s some information on what to expect when you come out for a tour.
We Like to schedule tours for the morning and in the early spring and late fall. This gives us a better chance of avoiding the majority of the biting insects and the weather is generally more enjoyable then as well. We also love to show off the beautiful spring and fall wildflower blooms!
Tours can be tailored to fit your group. We have taken out homeschool groups, birding groups and naturalist classes for adults and kids.
What to expect
We can tailor tours somewhat to fit the group but generally you can expect 2/3 hours of time in the field. We will start out at the cabin which is also our home that we live in. There is a guest bathroom and changing area available. We also have a large covered patio space that is a good spot to enjoy a packed lunch or snacks. You are also welcome to leave a cooler in the shade there if you plan to eat lunch while visiting.
The tour will depart form the cabin and you can leave your car there. We will all hop on open air buggies. The roads are all well maintained but they are dirt and bumpy so be aware of that. At this point we will have previously discussed via email what the main focus points of your tour will be and already established 3/4 stopping points. Some of them might require a short hike and possibly the chance to do some photography or wildlife viewing.
Things to Bring
- reusable water bottle or camel back
- Bug repellent
- Whistle 1 per person (in case you wander off the trail)
- Bug bite ointment (just in case the bug repellent fails you!)
- Sunscreen / lip balm
- A first aid kit (we will have one too)
- A small collection jar in case you find anything interesting that is okay in taking home!
- Any medical items you may need while out such as an EpiPen or diabetic supplies
What to wear
Long sleeved T-shirt. Long sleeved is imports because it gives you extra protection against biting insects and an extra barrier to protect you in case you inadvertently bump up against some poisin ivy or other irritating plant.
- Long pants – blue jeans or hiking pants
- Tall socks that you can tuck your pants into (for tick protection)
- Sun glasses
- If you have hiking boots bring them if not closed toed shoes will work fine
- I usually recommend a change of clothes for the ride home but it’s not really necessary
If you are coming on a tour of Wetland preserve LLC please review the Florida Statues pertaining to Florida agritourism operations, including the original 2013 definition (F.S. 570.96) and clarifications passed in 2016 (F.S. 570.85-89).
You may find this link helpful as well.
Our schedule mostly revolves around what needs doing on the farm, taking people out to see the operation and explore the woods is something we can only do when we have free time. Please understand we may not be able to accommodate every group that applies to come visit because this is a working farm. Weeks we have open tend to fill quickly and book up months in advance. Please email email@example.com to ask about booking.
We do not take payment for these tours. We do however ask that you make a donation in Wetland Preserves name to The North Florida Land Trust. The suggested donation is $100 for groups larger than 5 individuals.
We are working to restore, at least in some measure, the benefits of natural fire with a prescribed burn program. Historically the natural fire return interval would have been something on the order of 1 to 5 years for most of our land, with the majority of those events having occurred during the april/may/june growing season.
At this time we are applying a program of dormant season burns (winter/early spring) to reduce the build up of fuel within our pine stands. In a natural environment these fuels would not have had a chance to accumulate to the extent they have. Unfortunately the misguided fire suppression regimen that was in place for so long in Florida, actually in most of the us! has left us with fuel loadings such that wildfires could be very dangerous.
Once the fuel reduction burns have been applied sufficiently to reduce this build up we will be using growing season burns to mimic the natural fire cycle. Worth noting is that these “fuel reduction burns” kill very little of the undergrowth. Rather they knock it back some and clean up the already dead accumulation on the forest floor. It is the“growing season” burns that will actually kill a fair portion of the undergrowth with the result being that the natural grasses and forbs can flourish among the pines as they should.
For a much fuller understanding of the value of prescribed fire visit the University of Florida Website by clicking the first link or check out and article from The Florida Department of Agriculture at the second link –