Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is celebrating its 65th birthday this year, and is kicking off the celebration by featuring someone who’s been there for all but 14 of those years.
Ed Carlson, director emeritus of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was the featured speaker at the recent After Hours event. His talk, “Ramblings of an Old Audubon Warden,” was accompanied by a series of historic photographs. Carlson previewed his presentation in verse:
I know every gator
I know every tree
Nobody knows that old swamp like me
I’ve got mud in my blood and stories to tell
Let’s get together and prime this old well.
Carlson started at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in 1968 the day after his high school graduation, when he was hired for a summer job to help extend the then-straight boardwalk into a loop. In May 1974, after graduating from the University of South Florida, he was hired full-time to assist with a research study. In fall 1983, he became the Sanctuary’s director and served in that role until June 2012. He remains active as director emeritus, serving on boards and committees and serving as a valuable historical resource.
“Audubon Wardens never really retire,” Carlson said. “I will be protecting Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary as long as I am breathing.”
Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was founded in 1954, after the National Audubon Society and a long list of organizations and individuals worked together to raise the support necessary to purchase the last expanse of virgin Bald Cypress left in the world and prevent it from being logged. The Sanctuary now encompasses 13,000 acres in the heart of the Corkscrew Watershed in Southwest Florida, part of the Western Everglades.
Audubon’s roots in the area actually date much earlier. In the early 1900s, Egret and Heron plumes were in high demand for use in the fashion industry. Plume hunters could make a fortune and were quickly devastating rookeries throughout Florida and in the Southeastern United States. The rookery at Corkscrew was among those targeted. Rhett Green was deputized and employed as a warden by the National Audubon Society to guard and protect the Corkscrew rookery. The combination of rookery protection and a campaign to stop the demand for the plumes was successful.
Corkscrew is Southwest Florida’s premier outdoor environmental learning center. It has been honored as a Ramsar Wetland of International significance, an Important Birding Area, a gateway to the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, and a U.S. National Natural Landmark.
Currently, the Sanctuary is involved in a massive marsh and prairie restoration project, vital to ensuring the health of Southwest Florida’s wetlands, waterways and water supply. More information is available at corkscrew.audubon.org/marshandprairie.