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Lyonia Preserve – Deltona, Florida

Posted on Monday, May 4, 2015 at 4:13 pm

AN AUDUBON FLORIDA SPECIAL PLACE
by Stephen Kintner

lyoniapreserveFor many years my family and I have celebrated special occasions and holidays by hiking at one of our special places, and this New Year’s Day is no different.  It is midday, we have eaten our vegetarian Hoppin’ John, and we are headed to Lyonia Preserve for our traditional family hike.

Lyonia is a 360-acre preserve that is part of an original 640-acre, Section 16 tract that was set aside for education in the mid-1800s.  Today, it is home to over 140 Florida Scrub-Jays.  The Preserve is located in the middle of Deltona, the largest city in Volusia County, and is now permanently protected from development.

Close to twenty years ago, it was a different story; a developer was proposing to build a shopping center in the middle of the site that would become present-day Lyonia Preserve.  With strong public support, the school board decided the land was more important for education.  Today, in addition to The Preserve, the original Section 16 contains three schools, a college, and a county library that has environmental learning as one of its main focuses. Adjacent to the library is the Lyonia Environmental Center (LEC), which houses a large exhibit gallery filled with hands-on exhibits providing information on scrub habitat, the Floridan Aquifer, manatees, and conservation.  The LEC houses a gift shop, café, two classrooms, and a 1,000-seat amphitheater.

On this cool day we hike the Blueberry Trail, one of three trails in the Preserve.   The Blueberry Trail has the most varied terrain, with an elevation that changes from a height of almost 80 feet above sea level to a low of 11 feet next to the ancient ephemeral wetland in the bottom of a sink hole.  The Preserve is an example of ancient sand dunes with white sugar sand from a time when the oceans were much higher than they are today.  The sand ridges were islands that were separated from the main continent.  This isolation allowed the development of many plants and animals that are unique to Florida Scrub.

The change in elevation in The Preserve is due to the Karst geology of the area.  Karst is characterized by sink holes, caves and springs with little or no surface water drainage.  The rain that falls on Karst areas like Lyonia rapidly recharges the Floridan aquifer that underlies The Preserve and, ultimately, the rainwater makes its way to Blue Spring, over 6 miles away.

As we walk along the trail, one of the unique species, the Florida Scrub-Jay is very curious about the human visitors encroaching on his home territory.  The first sign that we have entered a scrub-jay family’s territory is a sentinel bird perched precariously at the top of a low growing Myrtle Oak (dwarf oaks are typical of Central Florida Scrub).  Once the sentinel determines that we are not a threat, he signals the rest of the family and we are soon surrounded by six birds making soft vocalizations.  One of the jays lands on our son’s ball cap and begins to pound away at the button on the cap. Another quickly lands next to the first and tries to gain control of the hat.  Ultimately, the jay family loses interest in us, and we head on down the trail.

Twenty years ago the County’s Land Management program took over management of The Preserve.  At that time The Preserve was heavily overgrown sand pine scrub that was not suitable for scrub-jays or other scrub species.  These species prefer low, open habitat.  Restoration by the County’s Land Management staff has returned the scrub to almost ideal habitat.   Since restoration, and with ongoing management, the number of scrub-jays has grown to more than 140 birds.  Audubon’s Florida Jay Watch program monitors the number of jays in The Preserve yearly.

Over 20,000 people a year visit The Preserve and environmental center.  Many of the visitors are return guests that bring their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends to hike the trail.  One of our favorite friends is three-year old Olivia, who is a third generation fan of Lyonia Preserve.  In addition to our many guests, over 3,500 students—including many homeschooled students—attend classes at the environmental center each year.

As the light fades, we head back to the parking lot with lots of photos memorializing the end of another pleasant family day spent together in our special place.

This column is one of a series from AUDUBON FLORIDA.  Stephen Kintner, Conservation Chair and Vice President for West Volusia Audubon coordinates the Friends of Lyonia Environmental Center project for the chapter.   For more information about Lyonia Environmental Center and Preserve see http://www.lyoniaPreserve.org/ and Https://www.facebook.com/FRIENDSofLEC . For more about AUDUBON FLORIDA and its “Special Places” program visit www.FloridasSpecialPlaces.org  All rights reserved by Florida Audubon Society, Inc.

How to get there and what to expect

2150 Eustace Ave. Deltona, FL 32725
Phone: 386-789-7207
Hours of operation
9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday
For additional information,
please contact Sandy Falcon at sfalcon@volusia.org
or 386-789-7207, ext. 21025.