Story and photos by BEN GRAFTON
The sponsor’s welcome for the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce (WACC) First Friday Breakfast meeting on May 3 in the Hammock Bay Lake Club clubhouse was presented by Nicole Scott, a new marketing specialist for Resort Quest by Wyndham, who maintained good humored composure while working around amusing troubles with the computer video projector equipment. Scott told the audience that over the next year the company will transition to feature only rental properties in its portfolio and she pointed out that Wyndham is a growing company as attested by its acquisition of properties in Gulf Shores, Ala. to add to its worldwide offerings.
Joe Wyatt, Hammock Bay Naturalist, followed Scott with a short presentation to invite people to participate the nature walks at Hammock Bay on the first Saturday of each month. It’s fun for all ages and the walks are geared to accommodate all skill levels. Walkers meet at 9 a.m. at the Lake Club clubhouse.
Chris Mitchell (having previously solved the problems with the video projector) presented a program about the Chautauqua Assembly. By a show of hands he learned that fewer than half of those present had attended a Chautauqua event. He noted that Chautauqua is an educational event and it attracts prominent speakers, including in past events, Carl Rowe; Naomi Tutu of South Africa; Celine Cousteau, Jacques Cousteau’s granddaughter; and most recently former first lady Rosalynn Carter. The Chautauqua Assembly in DeFuniak Springs is a four-day event. People come from all over the world to hear the speakers and then go into “breakup sessions” all over the town which is the campus. Then they get back together at night to enjoy dinner performances. All of this started in 1874 in Chautauqua, New York as an educational event for teachers who came primarily from the religious community. Since then Chautauqua Assemblies have cropped up across the United States and Canada. Some 15,000 people attended this year’s event in DeFuniak Springs. For more information visit the floridachautauquaassembly.org website.
The WACC program was concluded by a presentation by Paul Arthur, newly appointed as director of the E.O. Wilson Biophilia center. The center sits in the 51,000 acre Nokuse Plantation, a conservation easement where an effort is underway to bring back the longleaf pine ecosystem. To date, 7.6 million longleaf seedlings have been planted and the goal is to plant 10 million.
Arthur reported that the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center is an educational facility where, this year, the 21,000th student will attend classes. Fourth grade and seventh grade students come to the center. Every day during the school year there are more than 100 kids out there. The center is available to the surrounding counties of Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Washington and Holmes. Students coming to the center are not on a field trip – they are attending project based learning sessions. The center has written more than 700 pages of curriculum for these schools. Walton County children attend four day sessions at the center. Fourth grade and seventh grade students come out because in the fifth grade and the eighth grade these students have their FCAT tests and they benefit from the sessions at the center. There are 18 programs that can be taught. As examples, one of the programs presented is water quality testing on the water in Walker Branch. Another lesson is about ants and another is a birds of prey program and still another is the “World of Wonder” (WOW), a six-foot carbon fiber sphere projection screen for a computer controlled projection system that enables presentations of a large number of ecosystem subjects to the students.
Arthur closed his presentation by introducing the audience to Flower, a 1- year-old, de-scented skunk, a resident at the center, who was perfectly calm when handled by Arthur in front of the crowd.