July 2, 2008

Bird Island Park Camp Goes a Bit Wild The Park Will Be Near the Library; for Now It’s Just Great for Weeds.


They learned that ink was once made from pokeweed berries, and that the Declaration of Independence was written in pokeweed ink.

They learned that birds like to eat beauty berry seeds. That people like to make jelly from beauty berries. And that dollar weed, despite being considered a pesky weed, is delicious.

"The first week, you ate gator tails, last week you ate insects, so this week, we are going to feed you weeds," St. Johns County horticulturist Keith Fuller told Bird Island Park campers Friday at the Ponte Vedra Beach branch library.

In June, three Friday morning mini camps introduced children ages 7 to 11 to plants, bugs, birds and other creatures that can be found in Northeast Florida, including the area around the library.

The two hour-long sessions were presented by St. Johns County Cooperative Extension Services in conjunction with the board of Bird Island Park, which will soon be built behind the library at 101 Library Blvd.

On June 13, the kids met a live owl, made birdhouses and tasted cooked gator tail. The next week, they made butterfly pictures, learned about helpful and harmful insects and nibbled salt- and vinegar-covered crickets.

Friday, they gobbled dollar weed dip, weed balls made of Spanish greens and wild onions, and cookies dipped in wisteria blossom honey.

"If a plant was here before the 1500s, before Europeans colonized America, it's a native plant," said Fuller, who passed around samples of elderberry, wild grape, pokeweed, oak and Spanish needle and more.

Donations of $10 per child for each session went directly to support the park.

Now that about $780,000 of the needed $1.2 million to build the park has been raised, construction is slated to begin in the fall, organizer Mary Watson said.

Plans for the park began in 2002, when citizens joined to create an inter-generational environment for the community on county land behind the library.

Ponte Vedra Beach resident Bobby Weed, owner of Weed Golf Course Design, created and donated plans and drawings for the park, which will depict four area ecosystems and include native plants and wildflowers, a large sea turtle-shaped hedge maze, an interactive trail, children's storytelling area, gazebos, animal sculptures and a boardwalk circling the pond.

The park, funded by the county and donations from individuals, foundations and businesses, will be the first passive public park in Ponte Vedra Beach, said park board member Alyce Decker.

The county Parks and Recreation Department will solicit bids soon from engineering and park construction firms, Decker said.

Meanwhile, at the camp, the kids met a gopher tortoise, planted seeds, and were enthusiastic about learning about native plants through the sense of taste.

The cookies were popular, as were the weed balls, which look like vegetable meatballs.

"Do you know what's in this weed ball?" Fuller asked, holding one up.

Some campers shouted in unison, "Weeds!"Maggie FitzRoy can also be reached at (904) 249-4947, ext. 6320.

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