By Heather Bennett
All of us in Walton County know that it is one of the most beautiful places to live. Not only is it beautiful, the environment is very unique. The coastal dune lakes in South Walton are rare. Only a few areas in the world have them including Madagascar, New Zealand, Australia and Oregon. North Walton is home to the Longleaf Pine ecosystem, which is considered the sixth most biodiverse area in the continental United States.
Our Longleaf Pine ecosystem is protected within the Nokuse Plantation, made up of 54,000 acres purchased by conservationist M.C. Davis for preservation. Nokuse is the Muscogee word for Black Bear, which is an important and protected species in Florida, and an umbrella species in our local ecosystem, whose habitat supports other plants and animals, including the gopher tortoise. Every year fourth and seventh graders from surrounding counties visit the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center at Nokuse Plantation to learn more about the biodiversity of the Longleaf Pine ecosystem and the animals that call it home.
M.C. Davis named the center after Dr. Edward O. Wilson, whose mission in life was to educate people on the importance of conserving biodiverse environments, and his work and writing influenced Mr. Davis in his activism. Dr. Wilson passed away recently on December 26, 2021 at the age of 92. He was recognized as one of the most important scientists and influential people, and known as the “father of biodiversity.” He coined the term “biophilia,” which means, “the love of all living things.” The center supports and continues his mission by educating people on the importance of biodiversity, promoting sustainability, and encouraging conservation, preservation and restoration of ecosystems.
The center is one of a kind, and is educational for children and adults alike, teaching people about the native animals and plants that make up this special ecosystem and how they are important to making the forest flourish. The center has an interactive exhibit hall, state-of-the-art theater, an outdoor camp and nature trails. During the school year, the center hosts an average of 100 students a day. During the summer, the center offers public museum days, animal encounters, summer day camps and overnight camps, and guided trail hikes. The experiences enhance learning, making it more memorable, in a way that reading books in a classroom cannot.
If you have not made a visit to the center yet, I encourage you to do so, to be inspired by the beauty and awe of our unique environment and the importance of conservation, something M.C Davis and Dr. Wilson were passionate about and dedicated their lives to.
The E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center is a 501(c)(3) environmental education center located 6 miles west of 81 in Bruce and 4 miles east of 331 in Freeport on Hwy 20. Please visit their Website www.eowilsoncenter.org for more information.
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