RHE'ers recently visited Joe Budd Youth Conservation Center, which is in Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area (located in Gadsden County, about five miles south of Quincy). The Wildlife Management Area/Conservation Center offers a vast array of wildlife, hiking trails, fishing and hunting, and of course education on all of the above! Our visit focused on Joe Budd’s Pond, Aquatic Education Center, and Wetland Nature Trail.
Our trip began with a talk from the staff explaining the basics of fishing, along with Joe Budd’s rules. The kids would be fishing in Joe Budd Pond, which is a 20-acre impoundment that is the focal point for the Aquatic Education Center. The pond is stocked with channel catfish, sunshine bass, and native sunfish. After the talk, the kids were given fishing poles and worms, and spread out to see what they could catch. Parents and staff were always close at hand to ensure safety. This was a catch and release program, so while no fish were kept, no one left disappointed. Every child reeled in several “keepers” and I believe many personal best records were set that day. The children's excitement was definitely contagious; one couldn't help but smile at their enthusiasm when they felt a tug on their line. The unforgiving Florida sun eventually wore our anglers down and we moved on to a shaded activity.
The Wetland Nature Trail offered relief from the sun and an abundance of opportunities to spot wildlife and unique native plants. There were also life-sized artificial animals strategically positioned throughout the trail, which became a game for the children of who could spot them first. In addition to keeping the kids engaged, this gave the staff ample opportunity to educate the children on indigenous wildlife in their natural habitat. Soon after beginning the hike the kids were tasked with carefully locating and collecting insects in clear containers for observation and discussion. (Much like the fish, this was also a catch and release exercise.) And later, when our trail crossed a creek, the kids were asked to look for animal tracks, clams, and any other living thing they could find in the creek area. They fully embraced this task, and sadly, several pairs of shoes succumbed to the mud. But, it was arguably the kids’ favorite portion of the hike.
Eventually our trail led us back to where we began and it was time to experience the Aquatic Education Center, which thankfully, was air conditioned! In the Center the kids explored aquariums stocked with native fish, turtles, and snakes. There was also a stuffed black bear and several learning stations. As our trip concluded we were given some fun, take-home, educational materials for the children. We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the on-site pavilion and were all in agreement that Joe Budd makes for an excellent, hands-on field trip.
Until our next adventure,