UNF Digs: Early roots of the nature trails

Danae Leake

Graphic by Ben Cross

Graphic by Ben Cross

UNF Digs is a weekly column that delves into UNF’s archives to find treasures worth sharing. This column would be more of a snapshot of UNF’s history than an excerpt from a history textbook. But let us do the digging and brush up on your university history with UNF Digs.

This week: Early roots of the nature trails

Construction of Red Maple Boardwalk, 1975. Photo courtesy UNF Digital Commons
Construction of Red Maple Boardwalk, 1975. Photo courtesy UNF Digital Commons

June 20 is the official first day of summer, but Florida weather makes it feel like the season has already arrived. The summer months, at least for some students, are a time to work more hours, take classes, and for squeezing in beach day or two (or more!). When we’re lucky to have a below-85 day, the UNF Nature Trails are a picture-perfect get away. A natural paradise submerged in suburbia. But do you know the history of the trails? Maybe? Well, here’s a refresher.

Before the establishment of the university, the land was used for logging and turpentine production by the Skinner family, who would later donate about 540 acres of the original 1,000-acre campus, according to information from the Environmental Center. As a way to prevent hunting, UNF’s founding president, Thomas Carpenter, declared the campus as a “Bird Sanctuary” by the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission in 1970. The classification transitioned the campus into being considered as a “nature preserve.” At the time, “Swamp Stompers” and “Sloughies,” (members of the Sawmill Slough Conservation Club, or SSCC), often managed the campus’ natural areas.

The origin of the trails was aided by SSCC faculty advisor, Dr. Ray Bowman. In 1986, he designed and implemented the self-guided nature trail system, which is based on the old timbering roads and paths. Another influential person for the nature trails was John M. Golden, a SSCC president and long-time UNF Ranger. Golden maintained the nature trails for over 20 years and devoted his time to environmental education and often led field trip programs.

Ranger John Golden with school children at Lake Oneida, April 1999. Photo courtesy UNF Digital Commons
Ranger John Golden with school children at Lake Oneida, April 1999. Photo courtesy UNF Digital Commons

Now, flash forward to May 2006, to the year when the nature trail finally earned its official title: Sawmill Slough Preserve. In 2008, the John M. Golden Environmental Education Pavilion was built adjacent to the nature trailhead and Lake Oneida. The pavilion shelters many of the events that you’ve probably seen while you were checking out a kayak or paddle board.

So the next time you take a morning jog or kayak on Lake Oneida, think about the roots that have led the university to maintain this gem of Florida’s natural beauty.

To learn more about the trails and check out more archival photos of the preserve, visit UNF’s Digital Commons webpage.

 

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