By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator
Since 1997 the NANPA Foundation has been funding the construction of photo blinds on public land through grants. To date, 47 blinds have been built in 29 states. As photographers, we tend to think of blinds as safe, ethical, and responsible places to observe and photograph wildlife. The animals are not disturbed by humans in the blinds and are more likely to engage in their natural behaviors. All good for the nature photographer! But there’s a lot more to blinds than just photography.
In 2020, the NANPA Foundation awarded a grant to the Alachua Conservation Trust to build a blind at their Prairie Creek Preserve near Gainesville, Florida. Delayed by pandemic closures and restrictions, the blind was completed on May 31, 2021. We recently spoke with Heather Obara, Associate Director of the Alachua Conservation Trust, Inc. about the blind project.
About Alachua Conservation Trust
The Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT) was incorporated in 1988 to protect the natural, scenic, historic, and recreational resources in and around North Central Florida and has helped preserve more than 54,000 acres of land in 16 counties. ACT actively manages and works to restore the lands at more than a dozen sites. The Trust also provides educational programming on conservation, resource management, and ecology to residents of nearby communities.
The new photo blind is located in Prairie Creek Preserve, a 606-acre site that includes various habitats the represent many different aspects of Florida’s landscape and wildlife. According to Obara, “the blind is near one of the largest wetlands in the preserve and has views of an open water marsh with lots of wildlife and wading birds. There are also opportunities to see alligators, bobcats, deer, and more.” The wetland areas include cypress swamps, marshes, and streams, and the preserve is on an important flyway for migratory birds.
There are enough birds in the area that the ACT, in collaboration with the Alachua Audubon Society, has a bird-banding station at the preserve, a partnership that led to the Society providing a matching grant for the blind.
In addition, “a high school student approached ACT wanting to do volunteer work here as part of his senior project,” Obara said. “He was pretty handy and was interested in building things with his hands.” He did a lot of the construction work on the blind. It was a perfect match, and a great example of how foundations and nonprofit organizations like ACT leverage relationships, partnerships, and volunteers to dramatically increase the impact of grants and other limited resources.
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Popular and accessible
“The blind is in an area of the preserve that gets the heaviest visitor traffic, and it’s near a popular trail (the Yellow Trail), so it’s accessible for more people” Obara noted. “And an ADA-accessible boardwalk leads from the trail to the blind.”
Accessibility is something the Trust takes seriously. A nearby trail nearby was named in honor of Dr. Kathleen “Kathy” Cantwell, a pediatrician who was also an environmental and conservation activist and advocate. Cantwell spent the last 20 years of her life in a wheelchair after being injured in an accident. Accessibility to nature helps all people to explore, experience, and appreciate wild places.
“The Alachua Conservation Trust is working actively to get people out to places like Prairie Creek Preserve to observe and experience nature,” said Obara. “If they can see it, they’ll want to save it.”
“The trail and the blind give everyone the opportunity to see things safely and comfortably,” Obara continued. “The blind allows our human visitors to interact passively with nature, without impacting wildlife. Photographers and the general public can observe without stressing or harming the animals.”
The Trust’s belief in providing habitat for wildlife and recreational activities without impacting the land or wildlife almost perfectly match NANPA’s Principles for Ethical Field Practices.
“I want to express our gratitude to the NANPA Foundation,” Obara said. “We couldn’t do the work we do without the support of donors. That money goes to a good cause—protecting some very special parts of Florida from the pressures of development, and allowing current and future generations to enjoy them.”
If you’re in North Central Florida photographing birds and other wildlife, drop by the newest photo blind funded by the NANPA Foundation. And take a look at the other parks, preserves, and conservation projects of the Alachua Conservation Trust.
Frank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photograph services to nonprofit organizations. He manages NANPA’s blog.