A #IgniteMedia article by Annie Carroll.
A few miles from the beaches in Jacksonville, bobcats dart through the woods. Gopher tortoises meander slowly in the underbrush while skittish red-bellied turtles drop into the water.
It all takes place at the University of North Florida’s nature trails with a company of wild actors that would rival any Broadway production.
The trails are open to UNF’s student body and the Jacksonville community and provide an escape from the city. Runners, hikers, nature seekers and others routinely use the system.
But with all this use, the boardwalk trails need attention.
Amy Costa, Jake FitzRoy and Vernon Payne, all from Jacksonville, created One Spark project No. 22301, UNF Nature Children’s Book, to generate $10,000 in funding to fix the trails and provide for student field trips. The book’s title is “A Home for Ozzie.”
UNF Nature Children’s Book is in the #EdSpark category located at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts.
This is UNF’s Nature Children’s Book’s second year at One Spark. In 2014, the team debuted story boards of what would become “A Home for Ozzie.” Last year the three raised enough donations to make the soft-back book they give out to visiting kids today.
Costa, the assistant director of Eco-Adventure at UNF and co-author of “A Home for Ozzie,” stressed that they wanted to really show children what these animals looked like. The book’s pen and ink drawings depict the lives of native animals.
In the book, Ozzie the osprey, UNF’s mascot, has just left his parent’s nest and is having trouble finding a home of his own.
The story is read to all young student field-trippers at UNF before they head out on the trails. The students then take the books on the trail with them and look for Rascal Raccoon, Becky the Bobcat, Gus the Gopher Tortoise and many
money from One Spark to manufacture a watercolor hardback copy of the softback prototype that will be available for purchase at the UNF bookstore, the Eco-Adventure Center and online at Amazon.com.
The profits from sales of the hardback book will go to mending the broken trails and funding field trips for underprivileged schools.
“Our boardwalks are 30 years old and are in horrible repair,” said Costa, adding that Eco Adventure employees do what they can to fix the most troublesome areas. She also stressed the trails are safe, but if work isn’t done now, it’s going to take a lot more money later.
FitzRoy, coordinator of environmental education programs at Eco-Adventure at UNF and a co-author of the book, is eager to see how the book inspires children to read and get outside.
“In previous years, I noticed that many of the families from these areas couldn’t afford the $5 fee to attend the trips,” FitzRoy said. “We made it a point to secure grant funding from the Duval County School’s STEAM program so they would be able to attend for free, and receive a book of their own.”
Payne is credited with the detailed illustrations for the book. Payne works as a graphic designer for UNF.
“He donated countless hours of his own time on the project,” Fitzroy said, “and enabled us to keep the creation of the book within the UNF family.”
To prepare for the project, Payne wandered out on the nature trails to take pictures. Costa and FitzRoy also sent him some of their own photos to ensure the drawings were as life-like as possible.
Payne was able to capture each stop Ozzie makes looking for a new home in his drawings, so that as the children walk along the trail, the books follows in sync.
Students don’t always catch glimpses of bobcats, but are guaranteed turtles, tortoises, birds and raccoons.
Costa recognizes One Spark as much as her team for the success of the book.
“I probably wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for One Spark having this event,” she said.
Amy Costa holding a copy of A Home for Ozzie. At the bamboo garden at UNF. Photo by Annie Carroll.
An illustration from the book done by Vernon Payne. Photo by Annie Carroll.