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Blaze new trails in 2014

The Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve is home to a variety of flora and fauna.
The Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve is home to a variety of flora and fauna.Photo by Donna Kaluzniak

Enjoy incredible, local environmental opportunities this year. From science symposiums to nature hikes, lectures and manatee festivals—you can take advantage of multiple ways to appreciate nature on the Florida’s First Coast.

Science Symposium

On Friday, January 31 learn about the latest research related to the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve at the Timucuan Science and History Symposium. The event takes place at the Ribault Club on Fort George Island, with check-in between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. Registration costs $40 and can be completed online. In addition to learning about the ecology and culture of the area, you can meet with the researchers, connect with the National Park Service Rangers, and enjoy morning refreshments and lunch.

State of the Reserve

Learn about the creatures and vegetation of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM Reserve) at the State of the Reserve 2014: Changing Tides conference. Hosted at the GTM Reserve's Environmental Education Center, the event will be from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. on Friday, February 7. Presenters from the Smithsonian Institution, University of North Florida, GTM Reserve and Flagler College will discuss a variety of topics such as coastal restoration, invasive species, and biodiversity. For more information call 904-823-4500 or register online for the free event.

Hiking

Hike the trails at the University of North Florida Wildlife Sanctuary from 10:00 a.m. to noon on Saturday, January 11. Over the 4-mile hike, expect to see plenty of local wildlife, including gopher tortoises. RSVP and get additional information from Outing Leader Bill Armstrong at 904-880-7702 or armsfam@yahoo.com.

Guided hikes of the beaches and trails and other activities at the GTM Reserve are offered every Saturday from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. The Reserve also provides guided hikes at Marineland's River to Sea Preserve. For more information call (904) 823-4500.

Trailblazing

Get some fresh air, exercise and help the North Florida Land Trust maintain trails on their beautiful, protected lands. On Saturday, January 11 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. help clear the trail at the Air Garden in Clay County. Email info@northfloridalandtrust.org for more information.

Tai Chi on Talbot Island

On January 18 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., join friends at North Florida Land Trust's Talbot House to learn about Tai Chi in an awesome natural setting. To RSVP, visit their Facebook page.

Nature Photography

Want to learn more about getting great shots of our local flora and fauna? Call the Talbot Islands State Park Ranger Station at 904-251-2320 to register for a nature photography walk at the Ribault Club on Fort George Island on Saturday, January 18 at 10:00 a.m. Space is only available for 10 participants, so call early.

In addition, here are a couple events a little further to our south that you may be interested in:

Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival

Don't miss this premier event! Held at Eastern Florida State College in Titusville, the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival assembles renowned scientists, photographers, artists, writers, historians and nature lovers to enjoy presentations, field trips, and exhibits. The festival takes place January 22 - 26, 2014. Registration is $20 and you can register online.

Manatee Festival

Get some "face time" with gentle manatees and enjoy food, music, crafts and lots of kids' activities at the Blue Spring Manatee Festival at Valentine Park, Orange City. The festival takes place on January 25 and 26 and proceeds benefit "Friends of Blue Spring State Park." Admission is $8 for adults, $2 for kids ages 4-10, and kids 3 and under get in free. There will be a free shuttle bus to Blue Spring State Park to see the manatees.