The sun sets over Sarasota’s Celery Fields, a water management project that has evolved into an ideal habitat for birds and other creatures. [ALLARD PPC / VICKI DEAN]

Some of the most dramatic changes bubble up from the grass roots as we saw when Sarasota County birders, environmental enthusiasts and concerned citizens stepped up to save land abutting the Celery Fields.

Rob Wright, conservation chair for the Sarasota Audubon Society, shepherded efforts to preserve Sarasota County-owned property around the Celery Fields that had been eyed for industrial uses. After 25 years, neighbors argued that such a drastic change would be disruptive to human, animal and avian visitors to the park. 

Wright enlisted the support of neighborhood groups nearby and environmental advocates who went before the County Commission arguing that rezoning the land and expanding the nearby industrial park would not be an appropriate use for the parcels on the northeast, southeast and southwest quadrants of the Celery Fields. 

The property attracts birders and tourists from all over the world. Enlisting the support of the Conservation Foundation, advocates were able to persuade county commissioners to unanimously approve preserving the land in perpetuity through a conservation easement on 30 acres that comprise three of the four “quads.”

It was a major victory, led by people who live near the park and organizations that encourage preservation. Wright said he hopes others follow the Celery Fields example.

“The reality is that the people who live here have first off have got to get involved with what’s going on from proposals like this,” said Wright, who is a Sarasota County native. “And then secondly, the thing that we have to do is push to start making sure that developments, if they’re going to go through, are basically environmentally friendly to the point of being built within nature not on top of it.”

Here at Allard PPC, we try to educate people about watershed protection and conservation. Our founder, Ross Allard, looks up to Wright as a mentor after working with him on several projects. The two were part of a team of passionate speakers who advocated on behalf of Sarasota County and wound up bringing home the All American Cities Award in 2006.

Another collaboration was through the county’s Neighborhood Environmental Stewardship Team when Ross was trying to shore up the shoreline of stormwater ponds in his Venice Waterford development and enhance their nutrient filtering capabilities. 

As he does with Allard PPC, the mission was to educate his neighbors on the importance of planting the proper vegetation near the shoreline which helps protect and clean the water. Follow Ross’ #coastalyomping adventures on Instagram to learn about more environmental stewardship and how you can get involved. #coastalyomper

“In working with Ross we were instrumental in starting a program basically to start educating the folks that it doesn’t have to be that way and that this grass to the water’s edge is not exactly the way nature does it,” Wright said. “It’s not really a way that can be maintained long term without having some kind of damage going on.”

The Celery Fields stand as a shining example first as a water management project. Decades ago, the county’s decision to plant the right type of vegetation helped convert the ponds into ideal filter marshes. Keeping the land in its natural state allowed birds and other wild creatures that had been displaced by development to move in and find a home. 

Efforts to preserve the land started with one person registering a complaint about a proposed rezoning of property surrounding the park that Sarasota Countians have grown to cherish.

“In our busy lives all of us read something in the newspaper or see something on TV or we live it, we go down to the beach and find red tide. We say, ‘God, somebody ought to do something about that,’ ” Wright said. “What we don’t realize is that somebody has got to be us. We’ve got to take the time to educate ourselves and make good decisions.”

At Allard PPC, we are proud to be part of the grass-roots movement that is working to defend our waters here in Florida. 

We salute Wright’s can-do attitude that shows how one person’s efforts can make a huge difference in our county for decades to come. Stewardship of our waters boils down to one simple truth.

“We’ve got to educate ourselves and start realizing that if you’re not happy with the world as it is you have to be one of those people that change it,” Wright said.

How are you telling your story? Contact us at Allard PPC.