The University of North Florida was established in 1969 by the Florida Legislature and opened its doors to students in 1972. Land owned by UNF now consists of ≈1,400 acres, of which ≈200 acres are developed. The remaining undeveloped area includes wetland habitat and conservation land. Historically, the land was used for logging and turpentine production by the Skinner family and was passed down from generation to generation. The Skinner family donated approximately 540-acres of the original 1,000-acre campus. Oftentimes, pieces of old Herty turpentine pots are still found on the property. Unfortunately, due to lack of data, much of the historical biodiversity of the land is presently unknown.
UNF’s founding president, Thomas Carpenter, had the entire campus declared as a “Bird Sanctuary” by the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission in 1970 in order to prevent hunting. The classification offered a segue for consideration of the campus as a “nature preserve.” Originally, members of the Sawmill Slough Conservation Club (SSCC), who called themselves “Swamp Stompers” and “Sloughies,” in close cooperation with UNF Physical Facilities, played an integral role in the management of the campus natural areas. The trail system was designated a National Recreational Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1978 through an application by UNF administrator, C. Ward Hancock. In 1986, SSCC faculty advisor, Dr. Ray Bowman, designed and led the implementation of a self-guided nature trail system based on the old timbering roads and paths cut by Physical Facilities. Later, plans for a campus “Loop Road” that would eliminate the nature trailhead sparked a strong protest by students and faculty. The protest was led by the charismatic founder of the SSCC, Dr. Robert W. Loftin, who was a persistent nature trail champion and to whom the nature trails are dedicated. An instrumental figure for the nature trails was John M. Golden, also a SSCC president and passionate UNF Ranger. Golden greatly influenced the spirit of the Sanctuary and maintained the nature trails for over 20 years. He was an inspiration to SSCC members and devoted to environmental education, conservation and keeping the philosophy of the Sanctuary alive.
Dr. Bowman later encouraged both Presidents Hopkins and Delaney to establish a preserve and became the founding director of the Environmental Center in 2004. It wasn’t until May 2006 that a 382-acre portion of the campus was officially designated “Sawmill Slough Preserve” by the UNF Board of Trustees at the urging of President John Delaney. The north portion of the Sawmill Slough Preserve is kept natural for the purposes of conservation and research. Within the north part exists the wildlife-friendly Eco-road, which was originally called the North-South road. In order to recognize both the Preserve mission and the transportation needs of the University, three wildlife crossings were installed underneath Eco-road (1 large-mammal, 2 small-mammal). These crossings have been documented to be consistently utilized by wildlife, and have significantly contributed towards a decrease of roadkill mortalities on campus. The south portion of the Preserve includes nature trails and is utilized for recreation. In 2008, the John M. Golden Environmental Education Pavilion was established adjacent to the nature trailhead and Lake Oneida. The Pavilion houses community events and educational programs conducted by Eco-Adventures, where students may also rent out camping and paddling gear. The Preserve is a unique natural asset with a rich diversity of habitats, flora, and fauna. It not only provides a living laboratory for students, faculty, staff, and community members, but it also helps protect biodiversity within an urban island environment.
Other important figures dedicated to the project were David Fenner, Michael Woodward, Rissi Cherie, Erin Wiggins, and Christopher Shaver. Throughout, several UNF administrators, in addition to Mr. Hancock, played strong supportive roles in the maintenance of the campus natural areas and preservation of the nature trails. Among them are the first director of Physical Facilities, Hilton Meadows (who was the first to envision campus nature trails), George Corrick, Larry Davis, Charlie Bear, Richard Crosby, and Chuck Hubbuch. The Preserve was mapped through the leadership of Dr. J. David Lambert and Robert Richardson. In addition to the support from Physical Facilities and the Environmental Center, efforts from Biology Department faculty such as Dr. Anthony Rossi and Dr. Kelly Smith helped shape the Sawmill Slough Preserve.
The ultimate mission of the Preserve is to encourage natural biodiversity. As stated in the official, designation, the purpose of the Preserve is to “assure that the Sawmill Slough Preserve will persist in a natural condition.” The Preserve Curator, Chuck Hubbuch, has taken upon the responsibility of managing the Preserve, which includes practices such as prescribed burns and pest plant control. As a personal interest, Mr. Hubbuch created species inventory lists for the Preserve, with a particular focus on plants. The inventory lists of flora and fauna have grown into continuing research, the Campus Natural Assets Inventory (CNAI), and contributed 36 new plant vouchers for Duval County. The lists not only act as historical benchmarks but also as guidance for future research and investigations. In collaboration with Mr. Hubbuch, several Environmental Center staff, biology students and faculty have contributed to the inventories and plant vouchers. Furthermore, the Environmental Center Ecologist, Justin Lemmons, has been a major contributor to the inventories and assisted with restoration and research efforts. However, due to loss of habitat from past land management practices, such as logging and lack of fire, some species diversity may have been lost. Further research is needed to monitor ecosystem health and biodiversity, and assess suitable candidates for reintroduction.
Compiled by Justin Lemmons (Environmental Center Ecologist) with significant contributions from Dr. Ray Bowman and Chuck Hubbuch. Special thanks to Dr. Ray Bowman for sharing his time, stories and information pertinent to this composition. Many thanks to Chuck Hubbuch for all his time and hard work, teachings, and keeping the Preserve alive. Thanks to Dr. Stuart Chalk for setting up this digital archive. Thanks to Environmental Center staff, Jason McGregor, Will Seemer, Gina Alvarez, Adam Bauernfeind, Ashley Sever, and volunteers, Matt Groth, Kyle Reeves, Kacie Smith, Hallie Leager, for their support, helping with the inventories, digital archive and field work. Thanks to the Biology Department faculty and staff for their strong support and inventory contributions. Thanks to Eco-Adventures staff for helping with inventories and educating our younger generations about the environment. Thanks to all who have been involved in the process of establishing and maintaining the Sawmill Slough Preserve, and helping to conserve our natural biodiversity for the enjoyment of future generations.
- Woodward, M.W. 1993. Fight On! A Twenty-Year History of the Sawmill Slough Conservation Club. Michael Woodward: Jacksonville, FL.
- Woodward, M.W. and E.B. Wiggins. 2003. Fight On! A Thirty-Year History of the Sawmill Slough Conservation Club. Michael Woodward and Erin Wiggins: Jacksonville, FL.