Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Purpose of the Boardwalk

The purpose of the 1.75-mile boardwalk at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest is to provide safe access to the old-growth forest for people of all physical means as well as to protect the habitat and its wildlife from the loving presence of over 11,000 yearly visitors.

In the past, we have found piled around a sunning Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) coins and trash that were obviously thrown to provoke the snake into moving and proving that it was alive. At other times we have had to physically stand between a visitor holding a recently removed branch and the snake that he "just wanted to poke." Therefore, it was distrubing to stumble across a visitor's Wildlife Journal in which he describe how he repeatedly left the boardwalk to chase and catch animals as did his role model Steve Irwin. Below are some excerpts (color added for emphasis, red for danger or harassment and green for the animal's reaction):

"...we spotted a decent sized Southern Watersnake, but because of the high boardwalk and my mom, I was unable to jump off to get him (so no pic). "

"I looked over the edge of the boardwalk and saw the distinctive shape of a small turtle's shell in the mud. I quickly stepped off the path onto a log in the water and reached down to pull up my first Mud Turtle...but he wasn't nearly as happy to see me. He actually got a good bite on me while I was trying to photograph him."

"...we walked over to the other overlook. Something was oddly different about this one, and I could tell right away. It could have been the giant snake laying right in the middle of the boardwalk or it could have been that the sun was just hitting it differently...I'm gonna go with the snake theory. I made a dash at the huge Brown Watersnake, but he quickly slid off over the steps and into the water. If I hadn't been blocked from the steps by a huge gate I could have caught him, but as my hand reached under the gate after the huge tail that was quickly disapearing into the water I noticed something else. Right under my arm, on the first step, was a smaller Brown Watersnake that I was able to easily grab."

"... I noticed a big snake moving through the shallows. I watched it and quickly realized that it was a Mudsnake, and probably was around 5ft long. Since it was so far from the boardwalk I knew I could not catch it, but it was fun to watch it swim around ..."

"Either way, the people here called them "Greenish" Ratsnakes, and they were rather greenish. Once again, the boardwalk prevented me from capturing it."

"We went over to the Brown Watersnake spot, but none were on the boardwalk. Upon looking over the gate to the steps that led to the lake I noticed the huge water snake was sitting on the last step. I really wanted to catch him so I climbed over the gate and slowly made my way towards him. Either I was sneakier than I thought or he was really enjoying the sun, because I was able to get all the way down to him and slowly place my hand above his tail. I even had enough time to contemplate how he would react to what I was about to do and just as I expected, he didn't like being grabbed by the tail. After releasing that, slightly aggitated, snake we began to head back."

On several occasions, the gentleman climbed off the boardwalk endangering himself and the wildlife he was pursuing as well as damaging the habitat that we are trying to protect. Not only would this be devastating if every visitor thought nothing of traipsing about off the boardwalk, but the experience is diminished for later visitors when even a few leave their mark in the swamp. In the instances when the gentleman did not leave the boardwalk, it was due to the presence of a responsible adult (Mom) or the structure itself ("high," "huge gate") and not in the interest of the wildlife or their habitat. Although three attempts to capture wildlife were thwarted, three were successful. In all cases, the gentleman noted that the wildlife did not enjoy the harassment.

We welcome all visitors to the sanctuary, which is by definition "A reserved area in which birds and other animals, especially wild animals, are protected from hunting or molestation." Come walk on the boardwalk, watch the wildlife, enjoy the scenery, but please take nothing but pictures.

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