Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition 2012
Off the Beaten Path
By Elam Stoltzfus, Film Producer
(In 2012, four explorers enter the Everglades and, 100 days later, reach the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia. The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition showed that the heart of Florida is still wild–and can still be saved.)
For me, a filmmaker, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition was a once in a-life-time opportunity to showcase the landscapes, wildlife habitats, winding waterways and conservation legacies of Florida. “The Wilds of Florida” was like an epic dream come true. I guess it is as Dr. E.O. Wilson says, “[our] love for nature [is an] innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world”, that piques my continual interest in exploring and experiencing an in-depth connection with nature.
Media introduced me to fascinating stories and characters across Florida. What I found in my journeys was a collection of true life stories, a trove of tall tales, dreamers for a better tomorrow, an active sportsman’s paradise and a diverse interaction with the natural world.
Some of my favorite moments during the expedition were early in the morning, especially on waterways with the morning fog rolling in. One particular moment I recall was when we were on a tree island in the Everglades, and misty shower greeted the morning, followed by the sun breaking through the rainy clouds with a rainbow appearing over the sawgrass horizon. In a moment’s notice, I quickly set up the camera. The composition was right there, five feet from the tent. Those were great moments of being immersed in a developing scene around you.
Another scene I recall was a flock of roseate spoonbills along the St. John’s River. It was shallow enough that I could move the kayak with my toes, and I moved slowly through the marsh, keeping the camera mounted on the kayak steady. Finally I was within a few yards of them and got that really cool shot… to be able to capture those images is a gift. And you cherish that time, that interaction between the camera and wildlife.
As a filmmaker, having the opportunity to listen to stories shared by the 90 on-camera video interviews with people, meeting with them in their area of comfort, and spending time with them was like having a front row seat in a college class. For many, this was an investment into the greater cause of the corridor concept. A number of them walked with us, some kayaked with the team, others rode horses along side with us and others supported us in their own way. With hours of interaction and recording time, these experts brought so much information to the story that was easily shared to the camera. And if there is a richness to the whole story, it’s what people gave and shared and invested into the expedition. I’m so honored because that’s what makes the richness of the story–it’s those people and their stories.
As our team finished the odyssey that was the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, a journalist asked me the question: “Can you give a sentence of your overview of the journey?”. My immediate reply was “into the wind, against the current, and off the beaten trail”. Certainly, our journey was an arduous one, with long days and grueling terrain. We followed spring weather from the southern tip of Florida in the Everglades all the way north to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. Over 100 days we traversed 1,000 miles of some of the most beautiful locales of Florida’s heartland. But this journey couldn’t have happened with just us. All throughout our journey, from the moment is was merely an idea, there have been people pushing it to reality. From trail angels to pastors, from professors to teachers, from commanders to generals, from bear biologists to park rangers, from corporations to small businesses, from kids to parents, from people of every walk of life, you have supported our journey.
As we traversed Florida’s landscape we collected a lot of pictures, video, and interviews. We discovered what brings us together, what we have in common. We all want to preserve the environment for current and future generations. We want to continue to see habitat restoration, endangered species protection, and cross-agency cooperation become a part of Florida’s landscape. During our expedition we experienced the real Florida. And this is what we have learned: Our journey is really just beginning. With your continued support we have the opportunity to bring this idea of the Florida Wildlife Corridor into reality. May our decibels increase as we express our concerns in a unified message. Like many journeys this will be one that is into the wind, against the current, and off the beaten trail.
As you celebrate Earth Day 2014, take time to reflect on some the greatest gifts we have been given, our wilds of Florida. Engage in the great outdoors, observe wildlife and most of all, renew your spirit with warmth of the sun, feel the wind in your hair and feel the soil in our toes.