The Biophilia Center promotes conservation and sustainability in Florida
Words by Mary Alayne B. Long
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love being out in nature. Spending time in God’s creation and taking in all of the beauty He has created brings me great joy. I especially love learning about the many animals He has created and how they all work together to keep our earth healthy—at least that’s true when we stay out of their way and let them do their jobs.
The late Shelby M. C. Davis was a well-known philanthropist, conservationist, and environmentalist who understood the importance of nature better than most. Over twenty years ago, he began assembling land for his environmental endeavors when he purchased over fifty-four thousand acres in the Florida Panhandle. He chose the name Nokuse Plantation for the property as a way to honor the Native American term for the black bear. By providing such a large refuge for the bears who make their home in this area, he was able to create a safe environment where they could thrive. In turn, the natural bear habitat created space for other animals to flourish. Mr. Davis also made efforts to restore growth of the longleaf pine and worked to oversee the planting of more than six million seedlings before his death.
Mr. Davis was also responsible for founding and funding the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center in Freeport, Florida. Named for two-time Pulitzer Prize winning biologist E. O Wilson, the center educates over 5,200 students annually. My neighbor Murphy Laird volunteers there and recently invited me for a visit along with a guided tour. Murphy, a Walton County middle school student, is only one of many volunteers who keep The Biophilia running smoothly and his knowledge of the animals and exhibits was exemplary. Let’s just say—- I was blown away during my visit. The space is amazing. The indoor and outdoor activities are engaging and the animals (who are all very well cared for and greatly loved) are a delight to see. My husband and I watched the Birds of Prey showcase, learned about foxes, bats, deer, bears, snapping turtles—you name it. We even had the opportunity to hold a few snakes! (Well, he held them—I watched.) Murphy also led us through the Florida Cracker House, which provides an incredibly realistic example of the way families lived many years ago—including two snakes residing inside for natural pest control. I walked through fairly quickly—trust me. I hate to admit I had no idea that such an amazing and educational place was hidden in the forest only ten minutes from my home. I couldn’t wait to share the story of this amazing place with all of you Good Grit readers.
This center continues to function as a nonprofit and provides hands-on environmental education for students from five neighboring counties. Their core mission focuses on the importance of biodiversity and preservation while promoting sustainability and encouraging conservation. On any given day during the school year, you will find students ranging from fourth through seventh grades taking part in their programs. It is not uncommon for over one hundred students to be learning there each day. And in the summer months, the center is open for locals and visitors alike to take advantage of all they have to offer. During that time they offer day camps, host field trips, and also provide activities for their neighbors at Camp Longleaf.
The hands-on science curriculum for local students is available during the regular school year and is set up to take place in either two- or four-day programs. The center proudly provides these lessons free of charge and is able to do so due to generous donations from the public. The five school districts surrounding The Biophilia think of it as an extension of their science classrooms where students can engage in activities that promote learning through inquiry and investigation.
The E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center and Nokuse Plantation have together become a living legacy preserving the memory of Shelby M.C. Davis and his love of nature. They now work together to preserve his goal of inspiring new generations to be environmentally responsible, and I for one can’t wait to go back. You can learn ways to contribute, volunteer, become a member, or even sponsor an animal, by visiting eowilsoncenter.org.