Nature Preserve benefits from student volunteers

Katya Maruri/ Contributing Writer

With over 400 different plants and animals, 13 endangered plants and 17 threatened, the University’s Nature Preserve is sustained through the help of many students who volunteer year-round.

A historical landmark, the 16-acre Nature Preserve represents how the  Everglades once dominated South Florida before its waters were drained by the Tamiami Canal.

For over 35 years, students and faculty from the University along with community members, have visited the preserve to learn about ecosystems and organisms, and how to conserve it.

Alexandra Dutton, assistant director of the Office of Sustainability, said the preserve is a piece of historic Florida. With so many different habitats and plant and animal species to oversee, the University’s Office of Sustainability offers volunteering sessions throughout the year.

“It creates a really good learning opportunity for students to come right here on campus and learn about these environments,” Dutton said.

The preserve consists of three different ecosystems. The first is the Pine Rockland which has a dense shrub layer and a diverse vegetation of wildflowers, grasses, and herbs.

The second, the Tropical Hardwood Hammocks, consists of broad-leafed trees and densely vegetated shrub. Finally, the Freshwater Wetlands is a vast and complex wetland.

Dutton said that both the preserve and students benefit from their interaction. “[Students] learn about South Florida ecology and all the different wildlife that resides in the preserve,” she said. “[It] helps them connect to the nature that surrounds them.”

On the other hand, Dutton said the preserve benefits from their visits because it increases the likelihood of students to try to conserve it. “The students help us preserve the Nature Preserve,” she said.

According to the Office of Sustainability website, over 1,000 people from University to local community members volunteer each year.

Rain or shine, volunteers work on trail maintenance, tree planting, ecological restoration, and invasive species work. Invasive species are plants and animals that are not native to an area that cause damage to the environment.

Janine Valera, a senior nursing major, said it is important to volunteer and learn about the importance of sustaining the environment.

“It is important to do so because once it’s gone, it’s irreplaceable,” said Valera.

According to the website, 10,000 visitors come each year to hike, exercise, picnic, take pictures, draw landscapes, and do yoga.

The preserve is also surrounded by a 0.6 of a mile jogging path that was completed last November. In addition, it  has an organic garden that contains nine areas for research and education — a shadehouse, an herb garden, a fruit grove, a meditation garden, and an aquaponics system, for example.

“The Nature Preserve is such a beautiful place. It’s a retreat away from the busy campus, and I enjoy walking through it every time I go for my runs,” said Valera.

Khari McIntosh, a junior advertising major, agrees. He said the Nature Preserve is a getaway at the University.

“It adds a certain ambiance to the campus — sort of a getaway from all the surrounding buildings,” said McIntosh.

Four volunteering sessions remain this fall semester – Thursday, Nov. 13, Saturday, Nov. 29, Monday, Dec. 1, and Friday, Dec. 5. Pre-registration is not required. More information can be found at

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