Title: 2010 Ag-Environmental: Saturiwa Conservation Area
Type: Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award
Long before timber and turpentine companies tapped into its virgin pine forests, before naturalist William Bartram explored its waters, even before Ponce de Leon landed near St. Augustine, this was the land of the Timucua.
For centuries the Timucua Indians fished and traded along the St. Johns River.
They paddled in dugout canoes carved out of huge cypress trees.
They hunted throughout the hardwood swamp at the river’s edge, and among the bay and longleaf pine forests further upland.
The Timucua were spread across the region in over 30 villages.
At the time of first contact with the Europeans, one sovereign leader ruled over these villages and their chiefs: Saturiwa.
It was in honor of this powerful chief that conservationist and landowner Mike Adams named his homestead and property the Saturiwa Conservation Area.
From early on Mike Adams has been observant of the world around him, fascinated with how it works together.
He earned a BS in biology and a master’s in environmental management.
Combining his education with his natural curiosity, Mike founded ADAMScience in 1988, an environmental resource consulting company whose projects range from environmental permitting and eco-tourism to wildlife and ecological surveys.
During the late 1980s, Adams was looking to purchase 10 acres of land for a home with a little privacy when he came across this property.
At the time, the land was owned by a timber company, which used a portion of it as a tree farm.
While the remaining acreage, mostly wetlands, was deemed unusable for timber production, Adams saw the whole property as a diamond in the rough.
Mike Adams: “I’m able to see features in a piece of land or in a resource that may not be too special to anybody else but I see that it has value in its own right, with some vision and fore thought and some patience, we’ve been able to grow quite a healthy productive forest here.”
In 1989, after two years of negotiation with the timber company, Mike Adams bought a 94-acre parcel featuring a half-mile of pristine shoreline along the St. Johns River.
Recognizing the ecological, aesthetic and historic potential of the property, Adams sought to manage the property beyond just growing pine for timber.
In 1995, Mike joined the Florida Forest Stewardship Program which focuses on multi-use land management.
The partnership was a perfect fit.
Mike Adams: “We’re managing more than just the pine forest, were managing it for water resources, for wildlife resources. There’s a historical element as well and I’m trying to incorporate all of that holistically if you will to get a conservation happening on a piece of land that people can come and visit and learn about it and maybe carry a message back to them.”
Mike’s goal is to restore the slash pine plantation back to the long leaf pine forest Chief Saturiwa would have known.
Once common to the southeast, large areas of this particular ecosystem have not been seen in this part of Florida for over a half century.
Mike, with Florida’s Division of Forestry, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Resource Conservation Service, worked together to prepare a plan.
It was completed and signed in 1995 and he immediately began a regimen of prescribed burning, selective timber harvesting, and wildlife management.
Mike Adams: “When property owners and land managers talk about managing their land for the ecosystems one of the best tools that we can use is prescribed burning. That’s one of the major tools that I use here and we’ve done probably a half-dozen prescribed burns in the last 21 years. They’ve all been quite successful and it’s eventually converting over to the types of ecosystems that we want to be here.”
Gregg Dunn: “He’s incorporating prescribed burning which is helping the wildlife, helping the ecosystem that he has on his property. It also helps with the aesthetics because you’re removing the fuels from 6,8,10 feet high down to ground level. It also helps w/ the recreation so you can walk thru these areas.”
The dense pine plantation, once overcrowded with excessive underbrush is now open forest with a great diversity of plants and wildlife.
Greg Dunn: “Mike’s doing all the right things on his property for those; wildlife, wood duck boxes, bat boxes, trying to bring in more wildlife into his property.”
Hard work and vision has made the dream of Saturiwa Conservation Area a reality, and in 2009 Adams was named Forest Stewardship Landowner of the Year.
To encourage others to achieve similar goals, Mike invites other forest landowners out to share with them what their properties can one day become.
But there’s another group he particularly wants to reach.
Mike Adams: “I do tours for all ages but I really focus on the young people, school age children, because they’ll make a difference as they grow older and resources become more scarce. They leave here having an opportunity to have walked in some areas that some have never seen before: the edge of the river, a cypress pond or edge of a swamp, and see things like a gopher tortoise burrow or animal tracks. Things like that can make a positive impression on them and maybe they take a conservation message away from their visit at Saturiwa.”
It’s here too that visitors have the opportunity to see rare and protected plants and animals like the Hooded Pitcher Plant, black bear, bald eagle, gopher tortoise or endangered manatee.
Saturiwa is also a release site for displaced or rehabilitated wildlife including turtles, owls and hawks.
Tours of the conservation area conclude at the Roadkill Museum. Located in the Adams’ home, it houses a collection of artifacts found on the property, and a variety of mounted animals that live in the area, that further tell Saturiwa’s unique story.
Mike’s is committed to volunteerism.
As diverse as his professional skills are his personal interests are just as wide ranging.
He’s been president of the local Audubon Society and serves on the St. Johns County’s land acquisition management program.
He coaches youth football, soccer and lacrosse and is the announcer for Flagler College’s Basketball team as well as a high school football team.
Today, Mike and his son, Thomas, monitor the water quality near his dock.
Every month since starting in 2001 Mike has diligently taken samples and monitored the water chemistry for the St. Johns River Water Management District’s Watershed Action Volunteer program.
Over the years he’s collected an enormous amount of data that has become invaluable when determining the health of the river.
Ultimately, Adams’ goal is to protect and conserve the property for future generations, and educate visitors about the importance of conservation and he’s taking steps to ensure that happens.
Mike Adams: “My plan is to put the place into a formal conservation easement so that no development can occur on the property other than what’s here with contingences that our family heirs could continue to reside here if they choose to.”
The importance of family and home is foremost in Mike’s thoughts and having a place with a sense of permanence, connection with nature and seclusion were what he, his wife, Carole, and son, Thomas, love about their home.
Mike and his father, Thomas, built the house themselves. It took four years to complete and it’s truly a labor of love.
Mike refers to it as eco-architecture and it’s based partially on the Cracker-style house of old Florida with a traditional metal roof that reflects the heat of the sun, and a wraparound porch shades the windows and walls.
It was also inspired by the lodges of the national parks he visited with his family as a child, with high ceilings to vent the interior heat, custom cypress, heart-of-pine and hickory woodwork, and exposed beams and wood floors from locally cut longleaf pine.
The nearly 25-foot-high central fireplace was accented with distinctive rocks collected throughout North America, and the same locally mined coquina rock used to construct the Castillo de San Marcos in nearby St. Augustine.
Mike is also a history enthusiast and loves to bring it to life for people. He gives tours and lectures portraying 18th century explorer and naturalist William Bartram.
During the spring of 1774 Bartram sailed along and explored the banks of the St. Johns, describing nature through personal experience as well as scientific observation.
Bartram recorded his impressions in the notes and drawings that would eventually become the still popular book, “Travels of William Bartram,” originally published in 1791.
Much like Bartram, Adams has recorded his observations of nature on the St. Johns River.
For over 20 years he’s chronicled weather patterns, the behavior of the local animal species from month to month and identified the trees and flowers in bloom at any given time of year.
Adams, with the help of his wife Carole’s photography, has compiled all this data into an ecological Field Guide for Saturiwa and all of Northeast Florida, another tool to help others understand the value of natural systems that make up the real Florida.
Mike Adams: “That conservation message that I’m trying to get out to people particularly visitors here, I’m passionate about it and I think that come across when they visit here. When I take them around and show them some of the resources here I think it’s almost catchy. So I hope they go home with a message that conservation is a good thing and it’s sensible, and it’s economic, and it’s not as stressful or as challenging as, maybe in the past, it may have seemed. And that’s what I hope to accomplish here.”