By ALEXANDRA WHITE | Staff Writer
APSU students participating in the Alternative Spring Break departed on Friday, March 4, with 10 students and two staff for a 10 day service trip to Florida. After a nine hour drive, the group stopped for the night at Stephen Foster Cultural State Park in White Springs, Fla.
The Alternative Spring Break trip visited the state park last year and worked in the restoration area planting 2,000 native pine trees.
This year, students traveled back to check on their trees, note any growth that occurred and remove a half mile barbed wire fence within the area.
The restoration area is sponsored by a grant from Odwalla Juice Company. The students that went were able to make their way down to the bottom of Florida and spent two nights in the Everglades National Park.
Their service was shared by volunteer park rangers who educated and helped monitor students’ progress. Services the students provided while in the Everglades included making the park more accessible for visitors and birders to enjoy the park’s wildlife. Park rangers helped students to strategically remove tress blocking the view of bird habitats.
During the time the students were working, they were surprised by National Geographic photographers who stopped to take pictures and interview some students on their work in progress.
Students were also busy removing cattails from Mrazerk pond blocking the view for birders. Cattails are native to the Everglades, but grow in abundance and can take over the area if provided the opportunity.
Students also worked on the Nike Missile Base which is currently seeking historic register status. The missile base was the last line of defense for the USA during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early ’60s. The missiles stored in this facility were two times larger than those used to bomb Hiroshima.
The students removed brush and plants from around the facility for tours to open to the public. They were then able to take tours of the missile hangers and bunkers where the soldiers guarded these deadly weapons.
After days of service, students were able to enjoy an adventure day that allowed them to travel to Key Largo where they could observe a different type of ecosystem. Students took a glass bottom boat tour to a coral reef and then visited John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and went snorkeling.
While snorkeling, students were visited by two manatees and interacted with these large “elephants of the sea.” Biscayne National Park also hosted the students for two days while the students helped remove marine debris from the nesting ground of sea turtles.
The students also took a 45 minute boat ride to Elliot Key where they cleared an entire beach full of debris that deterred sea turtles from nesting and killed other marine wildlife.
Along with the 18 bags of trash collected, students also collected larger items such as chairs, shoes and several items from Asia. The students present on this trip worked alongside students from other colleges and universities across the country.
Those other universities included Florida State University, Xavier University, Michigan Technological University, Vanderbilt University and the University of Pennsylvania.
One of the students that participated in this event was sophomore HHP major Kelly Milam. According to Milam, she found out about the Alternative Spring Break through “The Gov Says” and later attended an informational meeting, applied for a spot and hoped for the best.
The hoping paid off and Milam was selected as one of the 10 students that went.
While it was Milam’s first time going on the service project, it proved to be a wonderful experience. “The experience was amazing. I never thought I would get to see the things I saw. We managed to sight 11 manatees on our trip in the ocean and saw beautiful sites. It is also rewarding to know that we were able to help out in Florida,” Milam said.
The trip in the end was a very rewarding experience for students who were selected to go and provided a new outlook to students on the gratification of service.
Milam said, “The trip was amazing in so many ways. Where else can you experience meeting new people, seeing new places and experiencing new things for only $60? It was well worth it.” TAS