For the Friends of the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge located on the Gulf Coast in north Florida, the challenge became, “How do we bridge these obstacles? How can we get out of the ‘idle’ mode and move forward?” The task, coincidentally, meshed well with some musical research I was doing at the time. In a short video, guitarist Mark Knopfler was patiently describing playing a basic guitar chord. He positioned his hand carefully on the fretboard and said, “The chord just sits there; you have to practice it to get it to sing.” And, in essence, that’s kind of where we all were nationally. Our beautiful refuge properties were all just sitting there. As Friends, we had to get them to sing again.
Our Friends board put in place four primary virtual opportunities for the public to compensate for the changed availability of resources. The first obvious task was to create an online nature store because the store provides our Friends the greatest income for supporting the refuge. That happened through the genius of our store manager and board member Rita LeBlanc. Secondly, a WeatherStem camera was focused on the historic St. Marks Lighthouse. Weather conditions along the coastline could then be viewed on home computers as well as hand-held devices. Now, almost every morning or evening, social media users show views of beautiful sunrises and sunsets to their friends across the country. Our local television weathercasters often use the camera in their broadcasts. The WeatherStem camera is a wonderful, feel-good virtual trip to the refuge.