When asked to finish the sentence, “My Florida is _____.” I initially struggled.
Is it an actual location? Is it an area? Am I restricted from claiming a certain place as “My Florida” because I was not originally born there? Can I only claim the Jacksonville area because that is my birthplace? Clearly the ending to that statement did not come as easy to me as I thought it would. I have thought about an answer to this question for a several weeks now.
My Florida is not white, sandy, freshly raked beaches with well-groomed palm trees.
It is dirt roads, river swamps, old oak hammocks, and coastlines that have more palmetto bushes and pine trees than sand.
It is the North Florida Deer Woods that are filled with the sweet sound of hounds during the Fall.
It is a little unknown sandbar in the Big Bend.
My Florida consists of the places that I would not have had the opportunity to discover if hunting and fishing were not part of my lifestyle.
Growing up outdoors, I have been fortunate enough to see the Florida that hides off the beaten path. It is not the state that most tourists spend a small fortune to see. As a child I enjoyed these places. Now, as an adult, I still enjoy them but, more importantly, I appreciate them.
The realization that I live in and get to actively enjoy a real paradise came a few years ago when heading out for a day offshore. The sky was painted by an early morning sunrise with its colors were reflected in the mirror of a smooth Gulf of Mexico for as far as I could see. It was in that moment that I realized my Florida was perfect. It was also in that moment that realized the importance of protecting it.
That desire to protect the Florida I love has driven me to get more involved in the Outdoor world I love and not just use it for the activities I love. I sought out membership in American Daughters of Conservation as my first step into being really involved in the Conservation world. My involvement with ADC has opened my eyes to how hard we all need to work to save the places we love. Participation in clean-ups, monofilament collection and recycling, collecting water samples to help monitor for red tide . . . All things I did not realize were needed as badly as they are until a few years ago.
Now that I do know, helping others realize how important it is to volunteer for these types of Conservation activities has become just as important as participating in them myself. Hosting clean-ups, organizing fundraisers to support projects, recruiting new women into the conservation world have all become my focus these past few years and I think I have found my happy place.
So now, when the question is asked again, I can quickly say that “my Florida is the Florida I want to protect.”
Elizabeth Bland is the President of the Florida Chapter of the American Daughters of Conservation; she’s also their National Membership Coordinator. She and her husband James operate Wild Child Charters out of Keaten Beach, FL, and can be found wherever the deer are running or the red snapper are biting. Or chasing their new yellow lab pup around! You can find more information on ADC here, and you can hear our full conversation with Elizabeth here!