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Restoration completed at Pond Apple Park, Paulsen Preserve

By Staff | Aug 31, 2011

Environmental biologist James Evans stands next to an information kiosk at Sanibel's Pond Apple Park, where the city recently completed a Pine Flatwoods Restoration Project.

On Monday, the City of Sanibel announced the completion of the Pond Apple Park and Paulsen Preserve Pine Flatwoods Restoration Project. The project, which began last summer, was fully grant funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009-2011 Forest Health Improvement Initiative Grant Program.

According to James Evans, environmental biologist for the City of Sanibel’s Department of Natural Resources, an $18,020 grant was provided to the city to establish four separate stands of native South Florida slash pine on city-owned lands known as Pond Apple Park and Paulsen Preserve.

In addition to pine trees, a variety of other native shade trees – including wild tamarind, Jamaican dogwood, strangler figs and both cabbage and sable palms – were planted along the trail at Pond Apple Park to provide shade for park visitors. In total, 487 trees were planted as a result of the project.

“The motivation behind this project was to establish pine flatwoods at two city parks, to provide critical wildlife habitat and to attract visitors to the parks,” said Evans. “We also hoped to stimulate the local economy by providing work for local contractors using a competitive bid process. The timing for this was just right.”

On Tuesday, Evans proudly showed off some of the newly planted trees at Pond Apple Park. He explained that after Hurricane Charley passed over the island in 2004, much of the natural canopy on Sanibel – including wildlife habitat critical for nesting American bald eagle populations – was lost.

Three young slash pines, planted recently at Pond Apple Park.

Now, thanks to the Forest Health and Improvement Initiative Grant and 13 months of dedicated work at both sites, which together encompass more than seven acres, the recovery of Sanibel’s stock of pine flatwoods is encouraging.

“These trees were planted randomly, to mimic how pines would be found naturally. They’re weren’t planted in rows because you don’t find that in nature,” said Evans. “Once these roots are established, they can grow pretty rapidly – a couple of feet per year. Within 10 years, we’re hoping to see a fairly dense forest here.”

Prior to planting, several exotic and invasive plant species were discovered at both sites. They were treated and/or removed.

“Now when people come here, they are going to see wildlife in a very natural setting,” he added. “Good parks are critical in getting people to visit Sanibel.”

But first and foremost, improving the island’s pine flatwood areas for the benefit of wildlife remains the top priority.

“Bald eagles need trees with a good vertical height for nesting, and after Charley knocked out most of the island’s Australian pine population, re-establishing a more dense canopy was our main goal,” Evans added. “These trees are essential for their nesting and foraging habitats.”

The Pond Apple Park trailhead is located in the southwest corner of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce parking lot, off Causeway Road. A 1.6-mile loop trail takes visitors through various habitats including tropical hardwood forest, pine flatwoods, wetland forest and open water habitats where they can observe wildlife in their native habitats. Among the species found there are bobcats, alligators, wading birds, migratory songbirds and bald eagles.

The Paulsen Preserve is located on the south side of Sanibel Community Park, off Periwinkle Way. While the park is accessible to the public, a formal walking trail has not yet been established. The city is currently developing plans to create a loop trail at the preserve, which is scheduled to open in 2012.