Drizzle, biting yellow flies, swarms of mosquitos and even angry wasps couldn’t stop a team of Gulf Power employees from fulfilling an ongoing volunteer stewardship commitment to The Nature Conservancy.

Aubrey Garrett, Plant Crist welder-mechanic, joins his team in taming the vegetation taking over a pubic access trail in the Perdido River Nature Preserve.

Plant Crist and Environmental Affairs employees spent a recent rainy morning trimming away vegetation encroaching on a public trail, mowing grass and weeds around a public parking lot and cleaning up a supply barn on the Betty and Crawford Rainwater Perdido River Nature Preserve near Beulah, Florida.

No one complained about the opportunity to get out and commune with nature, even though they had to work in a veil of bug repellant and slosh through soggy grass.

“They are real troopers because the weather was not cooperating,” said Brent Shaver, The Nature Conservancy Conservation Forestry project manager. “Gulf Power has been doing whatever we need done, a couple of times a year for several years. It’s important from our standpoint to get this extra help so we can get the projects done we need to complete. It’s been really great to have them come out here.”

The volunteers are used to working in adverse conditions during stewardship volunteer workdays, like when they wrangled heavy utility-sized poles they installed for a pole barn on the Preserve on a warm day last fall.

“Staci Stutts, the Plant Crist Environmental Stewardship coordinator, said the hardest part of installing those poles was digging the holes and having to bust through concrete. Everyone worked really hard that day,” said Kimberly Blair, Gulf Power spokesperson. “While someone else installed the barn’s roof, everyone was happy to see it completed at this year’s spring workday, and to continue cleanup work that allows The Nature Conservancy to use it to store important equipment and supplies.”

Kristi Mitchell, Environmental Affairs engineer, has volunteered for many stewardship workdays.

Many of the volunteers are regulars, but this was Ryan Cowart’s first volunteer workday since joining Gulf Power in December. Despite the bugs and rain, the Gulf Power Environmental Affairs Engineer, who works in the Corporate Office, pointed out that he enjoyed getting to know the Plant Crist employees, learning about the Preserve and supporting the worthwhile cause.

“These workdays also provide Gulf Power employees the opportunity to support the natural resources they enjoy recreating in and to preserve them for future generations,” Blair said. “With agencies such as The Nature Conservancy working on thinner and thinner budgets, they depend on volunteers to help with conservation projects.”

The needs of environmental agencies are so great, that Gulf Power is stepping up the number of volunteer stewardship workdays we participate in each year.

Volunteer workdays, Shaver explained, help build relationships with people in the community who learn about the value of conserving a slice of natural Florida, in a once rural area that’s quickly developing.

Ryan Cowart, Environmental Affairs engineer, left, and James Grafe, Environmental Affairs intern, right, had fun working their first volunteer stewardship workday, despite the rain and biting insects.

Located on the western edge of Gulf Power’s service footprint, bordering Alabama, the 2,300-acre Preserve consists of a freshwater and terrestrial habitat along the Perdido River, and is dotted with towering longleaf pine forests and savannahs and speckled with wildflowers, native grasses and sawgrass flats. It’s considered among the most highly biodiverse ecosystems in North America.

Gulf Power has been instrumental in providing grants and volunteers to restore areas used for timbering and cattle grazing to its natural ecosystem, and to provide public access with the parking lot, trail and boardwalk, Shaver pointed out.

“Our publicly accessible trail is located off of Hurst Hammock Road and is open 365-days a year,” Shaver said. “All of the public is invited to come out and see natural Florida.”

Learn more about the Gulf Power stewardship program in “Our Promise.”