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Sawmill Slough Conservation Club reboots with an environmental fury

By: Zach Singer, Contributing Writer


Manatees, canoes and tents: it sounds like an environmentalist’s dream or a typical weekend for the members of the UNF Sawmill Slough Conservation Club. The club broke out of a recent hiatus and is back in full force, saving animals and protecting our ecosystems one day at a time.

(Photo by Jolie Schlieper)

The conservation club is the oldest club on campus, even older than the UNF Club Alliance. It is named after the large swamp that runs through the western half of campus.


The club, which is as old as UNF, saw a recent hiatus when there were no remaining members left on the roster. That was until Jolie Schlieper, a UNF biology sophomore, resurrected it after stumbling upon an old Web page.


Schlieper, the club’s president, hopes to carry on all of the past outdoor traditions of the club.


“The club, to me, is a means of spreading ideas concerning conservation and a way to gather people for a common goal, whether that goal is to have a fun camping trip or to protest an issue,” she said.


The club recently volunteered at CJ Acres, a Keystone Heights nonprofit farm that rescues and rehabilitates animals suffering from abuse, abandonment, neglect or catastrophic disasters. The club encourages individuals to have respect for the natural world and maintain the health of the ecosystems and species within it.


Since its revival, the club has set up camping excursions to Crystal River and Cumberland Island, Schlieper said. Participants were given the opportunity to swim with manatees, go on canoe trips and maintain a plot at the UNF Organic Garden.


Past endeavors of the club include numerous protests, camping and canoe trips, maintenance of the nature trails and a lawsuit against UNF and former UNF President Adam Herbert about the loop road around campus.


UNF Philosophy Professor Dr. Robert “Doc” Loftin founded the club in 1973. Loftin served as the club’s faculty advisor for 10 nonconsecutive years.


Today, Loftin’s impact remains on campus and is remembered with his namesake nature trails. There are also two books written about the club and Loftin’s drive to create a conservation-minded student group.


To James Taylor, a UNF sociology major, the club signifies what a student organization should be. He said the group focuses on issues regarding the Sawmill Slough and a broader emphasis on protecting and enjoying nature.


“It is a really great way to meet like-minded people who enjoy nature and enjoy outdoor activities,” Taylor said.


Taylor heard about the club while working at the UNF Environmental Center a couple years ago, but, at the time, the club was obsolete and had no members.


He said Schlieper has brought the Sawmill Slough Conservation Club back to an amazing place, and he helps her with organizing meetings and events.


As March approaches, the club is working with Girls Gone Green, a Jacksonville nonprofit devoted to heightening awareness of ways in which to improve overall quality of life by improving the surrounding world.


The organizations have teamed up to promote No Meat March, a month-long pledge for people to give up eating meat.


No Meat March, created by Keith Marks, a UNF English Language Program instructor, encourages individuals to experiment with a healthier diet that has less impact on the planet. Marks is a former president of the Conservation Club.


Dr. David Fenner, the associate dean of the College of Arts and Science, introduced Marks to the club while Marks was still a student. At the time, Marks knew little about conservation and nature, and the club membership was dwindling, Marks said.


Marks, along with the group’s six other members, put their organizational skills to work and grew the group to over 90 members in one semester.


And those club members still remain close. Marks said a core group of them reassemble every few years.


“Due to our effect on one another,” he said, “we all view this group as family.”


Email Zach Singer at [email protected].


For more information about the club, contact Jolie Schlieper at [email protected] or stop by the UNF Environmental Center, and pick up a free copy of its book.


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