GUEST EDITORIAL: LBC announces opening of Lemon Creek Wildflower Preserve

January 29, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

SUBMITTED BY THE LEMON BAY CONSERVANCY – As we celebrate our 50th Anniversary, Lemon Bay Conservancy (LBC) is delighted to announce the opening of our newly restored Lemon Creek Wildflower Preserve.

The preserve is located on the old Wildflower Golf Course property at 3120 Gasparilla Pines Boulevard, adjacent to Placida Road. The 80-acre property was operated as a golf course from 1971 to 2006. When the Conservancy bought the property in 2010, it was heavily overgrown with Brazilian pepper plants and other invasive species.

The golf course was built as part of a large, planned development project. Part of the design was that storm water flow from surrounding neighborhoods would feed into the golf course ponds. Those ponds, which are in the eastern and central portions of the property, flowed westward and connected into Lemon Creek on the west side of the property. Then, Lemon Creek connected under Placida Road into Lemon Bay.

After LBC acquired the property, we learned from water quality testing that the ponds had very high nutrient levels and we began discussions with the Southwest Florida Water Management District (the District) about how we could improve the water quality before that water flows out into Lemon Bay.

The habitat restoration project that developed out of those initial discussions led to $825,000 in funding from the District for restoration design and construction, along with the assignment of a professional project manager to lead the effort.  NOAA added funding of $422,500 as part of their Coastal Resiliency Grant program. In addition to the $750,000 LBC invested to purchase the property, our members and donors have added more than $200,000 to support the restoration work.

Here are some of the major elements of the restoration:

• In the eastern and central areas of the preserve, four of the old golf course ponds have been expanded and interconnected to allow for the placement of more than 60,000 wetland plants. The new plants will help filter stormwater that comes into the preserve to reduce the nutrient levels before it flows out into Lemon Bay.

• On the western side of the property, we’ve tripled the size of the estuarine wetlands that are part of Lemon Creek. Backwater creek areas like Lemon Creek are nurseries for a wide variety of marine species, including juvenile snook and tarpon. And, around Florida, many of these mangrove creek systems have been lost to development.

So, a project like this one that expands estuarine habitat is particularly important. LBC has been partnering with Florida Fish and Wildlife and Lemon Bay High School STEM students to study the juvenile tarpon population in the creek and we’ll be continuing to do so in the years ahead.

• Overall, the restoration project has improved 10 acres of wetlands and added 12 acres of new wetlands. The design was carefully crafted to provide both deeper areas and shallow marshes to benefit a wide variety of species. We are already seeing many types of wading and shorebirds taking advantage of the new habitats.

• The upland areas of the preserve have also seen remarkable changes. Brazilian pepper, castor bean, guinea grass and other invasive plant species that were choking out native plant species have been removed. More than 8,000 native trees, shrubs and clumping grasses have been planted, including 12 varieties of trees, nine types of shrubs and three types of grasses.

• While we’ve been restoring the preserve habitats, our LBC team has also been planning how to give preserve visitors access to the restored areas.  Our volunteers have set up over three miles of walking trails, and our donors provided funding for a new pedestrian bridge that has been constructed in the estuarine area to allow explorers to complete interesting loop trails around the western wetland habitats.

Moving forward, LBC will be responsible for ongoing preserve maintenance and improvements. This year, we anticipate $40,000 in costs to manage invasive species regrowth and we are seeking $50,000 to add additional upland native plantings.

We invite everyone to help us as we continue to maintain and improve this wonderful new preserve. Annual LBC memberships begin at $35. To sign up, visit LemonBayConservancy.org/member or call the office at (941) 830-8922.

The public is invited to visit the preserve for scheduled public events and activities. We have two public “open house” mornings scheduled in February – one on Tuesday, Feb. 9 and Saturday, Feb. 13. Visitors are invited to explore the preserve trails independently between 8 a.m. and noon, or to join a guided nature walk beginning at 9 a.m. Visitors are required to sign a liability waiver and to wear a mask for the group walks.