The Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network is growing, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), which launched the initiative.
Rae Waddell, FYCCN director, reported to Commissioners at the FWC meeting Wednesday in Naples that the network of youth conservation centers now includes eight Wild Outdoors Centers (the hubs) and 35 Near Outdoors Centers (the smaller, neighborhood locations).
“It’s no longer a dream; it’s a reality,” FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley said. “This is government going from one (facility) to 43. People see the success and now everyone wants to get on board,” Wiley said, marveling that “just about four years ago, you, Commissioners, said ‘Let’s do this.’ And we did.”
“Beau Turner provided the ‘boom’ factor,” Commissioner Brian Yablonski noted, by building the youth conservation center near Tallahassee.
“This is just a start,” Waddell said. “We intend to constantly reach out to form new partnerships, with the goal of steady expansion.”
Because many young Floridians have not had the opportunity to experience the outdoor opportunities Florida offers, the FWC is creating conservation centers all around the state, where kids can explore the many wildlife-related activities available to them, from bird-watching to fishing, archery, hunting, boating and horseback riding.
To maximize resources, the FWC and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida are forming partnerships. For example, Waddell noted the agency has formalized a partnership with the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Gulf Ridge Boy Scouts Council to create the Flying Eagle Youth Conservation Center in Inverness.
Brick-and-mortar progress is also being made, she said. Ocala Youth Conservation Center upgrades include new pavilions near the boat ramp, a pavilion in the shooting sports area and newly shingled roofs for all its wooden dormitories, bathhouses, offices and the existing pavilion.
Programs at these camps are expanding too, Waddell said. Ocala YCC added Fish Camp to its camp schedule this summer. The Everglades Youth Camp conducted its first Charlie Pierce Day, an overnight field trip experience with outdoor recreational activities as well as conservation education sessions. Teachers and administrators deemed this pilot program successful, and 10 Charlie Pierce days are being planned for this school year with the Palm Beach County school system. Charlie Pierce Day is a program that will be implemented at other Wild Outdoors centers.
Seven of FYCCN’s eight hubs hosted week-long conservation education camps this summer. Over 2,000 kids participated in comprehensive, hands-on programming that linked the benefits of conservation with the fun of nature-based recreation.
“We are just getting started,” Waddell said. “Programs will be enhanced at each of our partner sites, and we anticipate the number of youths reached with quality programming to soar in the coming years.”