|The President’s Hoot|
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
A few visionary folks at Grand Harbor Golf and Beach Club are real-life pioneers in the state and certainly our own county in establishing the first local PIAS affiliated chapter. Many other communities in our county could follow their example and establish their own chapters too. Started almost three years ago, the Grand Harbor affiliate with just a half-dozen initial members of a task force, they have developed a great organization in a community concerned about good stewardship of the natural environment where people live and work. Neil Stalter was elected the group’s first president and then joined the PIAS board as an appointed member.
Originally, when Grand Harbor was in the planning stages in the 1990s, I must admit that I was a skeptic when I heard about Grand Harbor, another of the some 27 golf courses in Indian River County. I was on a panel that reviewed the plans of Ron Andrews, one of its creators, who impressed me that indeed that this was going to be a different planned community that practiced responsible management. They were going to use native plants and recreate some wetlands to repair some of the damage done earlier along the Indian River Lagoon. But Grand Harbor is not just about golf. This is when I learned about Audubon International (not affiliated or to be confused with our National Audubon Society) that has a focus on establishing environmentally sensitive golf courses, taking care to try to encourage resource management practices. Audubon International certifies golf communities that have followed their guidelines.
Simultaneously, bird walks led by Pat and Neil Stalter had been going on for some years already when a group of six somewhat halting visionaries was brought together to pursue a wider mission, and the quickest, cleanest way to set things into motion was to link up with Pelican Island Audubon Society and become an affiliate. Deb Fletcher and Vicky Tulloch who became members of the initial board had been looking for ways to strengthen their annual golf event and also to appeal for funds to build birdhouses and osprey platforms within the sanctuary. They joined with Neil Stalter and then Jim Bercaw, Bette Nielsen and Glenn Rose to start a new organization – that would provide an annual series of programs and presentations to the delight of Grand Harbor and nearby Oak Harbor residents.
“We enjoyed great support from the club management including General Manager Jason Frandsen, Course Superintendent Bobby Wallace and Head Pro Frank Mintzer,” recalls Stalter. “We set our sights on getting maybe 50 dues-paying members.” They now have an active membership of over 180!! The attraction seems to be the activities. In addition to bird walks, there are educational interpretive panels in the development, live snake and reptile demos, and field trips to interesting places like Blue Cypress Lake, Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp, and the Ding Darling Wildlife Sanctuary.
Deb Fletcher in 2008 began to see the opportunity to add a new dimension for Grand Harbor Audubon. She talked up the values of a nature garden to attract more birds and butterflies by planting a small garden of mostly native plants. Soon, she recruited Don Morris and Joan Klimm to join their board and spearhead the effort to turn this dream into a first-class reality. Today, it ranks among the group’s brightest achievements with benches and an information guide box for the plants and butterflies. The garden lies between two water reuse retention ponds that supply water for the golf course and that water is used on the plants during dry times.
Many volunteers helped shape a large unsightly plot into a butterfly garden just a short walk away from the clubhouse. The 300 ft path meanders through golden dewdrop, coral beans, fire bush, coral honeysuckle, passion vine, milkweed, peacock flower, false tamarind and more. Visitors have noted twenty species of butterflies. The littoral areas around the ponds have Spartina patens and cover for the birds. I was impressed with the number of bird species and numbers of white pelicans, wood stocks, spoonbills, and all the other common wadding birds I saw on a recent visit.
Grand Harbor Audubon Society is also providing residents important environmental education about watersheds, value of more natural pond wetland habitats, and water quality issues such as the use of fertilizers in their own backyards. For those clubs and communities in Indian River County, who would like to model an affiliate program after that of Grand Harbor, let us know. They are willing to arrange for tours, plenty of exposure and mentoring to follow this thriving model.