Friends of Myakka River
Through programs like UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County's impactful "Learning in Florida's Environment" (LIFE) Program, Myakka's Florida Park Service team regularly helps share Myakka's Magic with 4th and 5th grade students. Through collaborations with community educators, students become wildlife biologists, entomologists, marine scientists, and horticulturalists for the day. And importantly, such nature connection programs help build the foundation not only for appreciation of our precious Myakka, but for future stewardship of our public lands too.
Unfortunately, some children don’t experience this opportunity to meaningfully connect with Myakka’s Magic, as their schools can't afford the cost of busing to the park. Also, these programs can result in prohibitive equipment costs to Myakka River State Park.
Thanks to funding from Friends of Myakka River, nearly 500 students from Sarasota County Title 1 schools will participate in field trips to Myakka River State Park in the 2023-24 school year. Two of the three schools attending have never been to Myakka River State Park before. Friends of Myakka River also funded additional microscopes and plankton nets needed for the program.
"In a world where natural resources and time spent outdoors is increasingly limited, and screen time and physical and mental health issues are a continued challenge, LIFE provides a critical opportunity for children to have an enjoyable, hands-on educational experience in nature." said Dr. Katherine Clements of UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County, who developed and leads the program. "We're extremely thankful to Friends of Myakka River for removing cost as a barrier for access to this important opportunity."
“Actively helping our youth build meaningful connections with Myakka River State Park is critical for the future protection of this important natural gem.” said Friends of Myakka River Executive Director Miri Hardy, PhD. “We are thankful to Dr. Katherine for her important work and honored to be able to support this impactful program at Myakka River State Park, to the benefit of our youth, future generations and our own.”
To support impactful Friends of Myakka River funding initiatives such as this one, please donate to our Giving Tuesday and Year End Appeal HERE. We thank you in advance for your gift!
For more information on Friends of Myakka River funding initiatives, please contact Miri Hardy.
Photo: Miri Hardy
With over 37,000 acres of unique Wild Florida landscapes, waterscapes, flora and fauna, Myakka River State Park is one of Florida's oldest and largest state parks. A seven mile paved road provides access to park amenities for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The majority of this well-loved local gem, however, lies beyond paved roads, in Myakka’s extensive backcountry.
Exploring Myakka’s backcountry helps cultivate a sense of nature appreciation, wonder, independence and responsibility for nature stewardship. It also helps better appreciate the increasing challenges Myakka’s fragile ecosystems and park staff face, especially in light of encroaching development. But unfortunately, most park visitors do not venture into the backcountry, largely due to a lack of clear wayfinding and trail markers.
The lack of markers and trailhead maps represents an accessibility barrier for many visitors, who don’t feel safe, empowered or encouraged to explore the backcountry. And, some who venture out to the backcountry do indeed get lost. This results in a negative and potentially dangerous experience for visitors and creates a substantial drain on park resources. Restricted by both human resource capacity and cost, the park has not been able to take on this large but desired project.
Thankfully, wayfinding improvements in Myakka’s backcountry are coming soon, as Friends of Myakka River, a nonprofit organization that supports Myakka River State Park and the Wild and Scenic Myakka River, was recently chosen to receive a Two for the Trails grant from Athletic Brewing Company. Named after Co-Founder and CEO Bill Shufelt's family tradition of taking two brews to toast post-trail adventures, this program donates up to $2 million annually to nonprofits working to protect protect and restore local trails, waterways, and urban greenspaces around the world.
“Since 2018, we’ve provided essential funding to projects across 43 states, the United Kingdom, and Canada." said Athletic Brewing Brand Manager, B Corp & Two For The Trails, Cara Wilson. "The Two For The Trails program allows us to enhance and protect the quality of outdoor spaces in the communities where our customers live, work, and adventure.”
The $24,540 grant will be used by Friends of Myakka River to purchase and place custom trail markers in Myakka’s backcountry, as well as wayfinding trailhead kiosks. Approximately 200 trail markers and 4 trailhead kiosks will be installed in Myakka’s backcountry as part of this impactful project, greatly enhancing accessibility to these off the beaten path areas. And by empowering and encouraging park visitors to explore, enjoy and learn about Myakka’s magnificent and environmentally significant backcountry, this exciting project will add substantial value to our community and our environment for years to come.
“Myakka’s backcountry offers an unparalleled and increasingly rare opportunity to experience expansive Wild Florida ecosystems” said Friends of Myakka River's Executive Director Miri Hardy. “With our newly-formed dedicated workforce of members we call 'Super Friends', who are allowing us to dream bigger and accomplish more, and Athletic Brewing’s very generous support, we’re excited to be able to take on this large and highly desired project on behalf of the park.”
For more information about Friends of Myakka River, and to learn how you can support Myakka River State Park through service projects or in other ways, please visit friendsofmyakkariver.org or contact Miri Hardy.
In a recent service project, dedicated members of Friends of Myakka River supported Myakka River State Park by salvaging boards and screws from a portion of the Birdwalk damaged by Hurricane Ian. In 2024, thanks to funds from Athletic Brewing Company and our Super Friends workforce, we'll be enhancing wayfinding in Myakka's Backcountry!
Photo: Miri Hardy
Friends of Myakka River, a nonprofit organization that supports Myakka River State Park and the Wild and Scenic Myakka River, was selected by REI Sarasota as their local nonprofit partner for the store's grand opening celebration morning festivities on November 10-12, 2023 at 161 N Cattlemen Road, Sarasota.
"REI Sarasota is thrilled to partner with Friends of Myakka River for our grand opening celebration." said REI Sarasota Store Manager Lisa Hofmeister. "They do such incredible work to protect the magic of Myakka for our local community through outreach and inspiring environmental education programs." She added "Myakka River State Park is cherished by locals and visitors alike, and we're proud to help preserve it for current and future generations to enjoy!"
During the grand opening celebration REI’s doors will open at 10 a.m. on Friday, 9 a.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. on Sunday. Giveaways will be available while supplies last. Community members who join the morning festivities, which begin an hour before the store opens, will enjoy complimentary coffee and receive an exclusive camp mug with a donation to Friends of the Myakka River.
Special giveaways will be available in-store once doors open at 10 a.m. on Friday, 9 a.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. on Sunday, while supplies last.
"REI invests millions annually in hundreds of local and national nonprofits that create access to—and steward—the outdoor places that inspire us all" said Friends of Myakka River Executive Director Miri Hardy. "We're thankful to be one of them and are gratified that our new programming resonates with our partners at REI Sarasota".
For more information about the morning festivities, see HERE.
On Saturday, August 14, eight dedicated Friends of Myakka River members (aka "Super Friends") supported Myakka River State Park by digging holes and placing 32 posts to mark 8 of the many culverts on Main and North Park Drive. The culvert marking process has been ongoing at the park. Our concentrated volunteer effort was designed to help our Myakka team by taking this job off their already busy schedules.
Culverts are underground structures put in place to channel water under the road but can pose a potential hazard for park visitors who pull over to the side of the road without realizing that there is a culvert there. And by marking each culvert with a unique number, our work will also allow park staff, volunteers and visitors to reference a clearly identifiable landmark when needed.
As a "Bike Myakka for Good" project, in the spirit of sustainability, and to add some fun to this project, our group traveled from culvert to culvert on bikes. Ranger Zack Westmark supported the team's efforts with expert post hole digging and placement training, and by transporting the tools from culvert to culvert.
If you’re a member who is Interested in supporting future special service projects like this one, please email our Executive Director Miri Hardy.
Not a member yet? Join us NOW.
Photo: Ed Alaniz
On September 23, 2023, we celebrated National Public Lands Day and Bike Your Park Day at Myakka River State Park with our award winning program Bike Myakka for Biodiversity.
During the event, we shared Myakka's Magic and protected it too. In addition to a fun and educational bike ride, focused on biodiversity of course, the events 30 participants supported the park with a service project during which they removed highly invasive plants, such as air potato vine and Caesar's weed. And thanks to a generous grant from Extreme Terrain's Clean Trail Initiative Program, we had ample new tools for our participants, that helped us get the job done!
Having built up quite the appetite, we enjoyed lunch together, sponsored by Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, and refreshing NA brews from Athletic Brewing.
We're thankful to our sponsors - we greatly appreciate your support! And we're grateful to everyone who joined us for what was an extremely fun, scenic, informative and meaningful day in the park. Finally, a very special welcome goes out to our 8 new members, who joined us as result of this event.
See you in the park!
On July 15, 2023 and August 12, 2023, dedicated Friends of Myakka River members supported Myakka River State Park by dismantling a large section of the Birdwalk, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Ian and had to be removed.
Thanks to our "Super Friends", an impressive bounty of usable boards and screws were recovered, in what was an extremely satisfying and meaningful team effort.
Watch the video below to see images from our July 15th Friends of Myakka River Members Birdwalk Dismantling Service Project.
Interested in being notified about future “Members Only” volunteer opportunities to support Myakka River State Park? Please email Miri Hardy.
Not a Member yet? Join us NOW.
We are pleased to announce the appointment of two new members to the Friends of Myakka River Board of Directors. Their appointments reflect the board's continued commitment to growing Friends of Myakka River's impact in our community, while increasing our financial support of Myakka River State Park.
Sandy Plette (Treasurer):
Having retired to Florida from Maine, where she and her husband Andre’ (who also volunteers in the Park) continue to spend their summer months, Sandy Plette’s professional career included tenures as an insurance company executive specializing in investments and finance as well as a practice administrator for a group of physicians. In addition, she served in various positions on several boards of directors for charitable organizations in Maine.
Her passions for both being in nature and of service to others led Sandy to support various visitor service and administrative roles within Myakka River State Park over the past 5 years. A lifetime member of Friends of Myakka River, she also served as a valued advisor to our Board of Directors.
“Sandy’s deep understanding of both the Park and our organization, as well as her keen financial insights, have greatly benefited Friends of Myakka River over the past few years” said Bob Frank, President of Friends of Myakka River. “As we continue to grow our fundraising efforts in support of the Park, Sandy’s new leadership role as an officer of our organization will greatly benefit of our beloved Myakka.”
At Myakka River State Park, Sandy enjoys walking the trails, gazing at the alligators and birds, encountering occasional deer along her way and myriad sights, sounds, and smells of nature. She looks forward to supporting our efforts to wisely deploy the funds with which our donors entrust us.
Stacey Mazza- Gilkison (Board Member):
A Sarasota native, Stacey Mazza-Gilkison has been visiting Myakka River State Park for over 47 years. She fondly recalls visiting the park as a child with her oldest sister on a school project, observing and documenting the foraging habits of ibises and egrets. Stacey and her husband Mike became members in 2021 at our inaugural Bike Myakka event. They live and operate a small business in Myakka City, where they also foster senior dogs and add them to their growing dachshund pack.
Driven by her strong desire to preserve our park while helping others understand the importance of protecting our fragile environment, Stacey, who is an avid animal rights activist, has actively supported our new Outreach and Environmental Education Program since its inception. As a board member, she strives to further advance our strategic priorities, especially as they relate to direct partnerships with our community at large.
“Stacey’s enthusiastic support of our new initiatives has greatly enhanced our organization’s impact and growth over the past two years” noted Bob Frank, President of Friends of Myakka River. “We are thrilled to add her energy, creativity, idealism and local and environmental insights to our board, and look forward to working together to continue to protect and share Myakka’s Magic”.
In her spare time, Stacey enjoys running & biking, volunteering for various environmental & animal rights organizations, being out in nature, and relaxing with her husband and their dogs.
Want to Help us Protect and Share Myakka's Magic? Join us as a Board Member!
Becoming a member of the Friends of Myakka River’s Board of Directors can be a rewarding, high impact way to get involved with a community of like-minded individuals, who are helping support and grow one of Florida's oldest, and largest state parks.
It is also a meaningful way to apply your passion for Wild Florida, experience and expertise to help the Friends advance our mission to support Myakka River State Park and the Wild and Scenic Myakka River.
Please contact Miri Hardy.
Friends of Myakka River recently purchased two storage containers for Myakka River State Park to support resource management needs. The non-profit organization, which exists to support the park, and the Wild and Scenic Myakka River, then covered the costs of supplies needed to paint the containers, as well as two others recently acquired by the park, and also a number of additional upgrades that will increase their safety, sustainability and usability.
And, thanks to 13 dedicated and hard working members, Friends of Myakka River provided the workforce needed to paint these essential storage solutions in what was a fun, fulfilling and very satisfying service project!
Watch the video below to see images from our recent Friends of Myakka River Container Painting Service Project. And if you're interested in being notified about future “Members Only” volunteer opportunities to support Myakka River State Park, please email Miri Hardy.
Not a member yet? Join us HERE.
Myakka River State Park is a well-loved local natural gem. To help our community better understand the increasing challenges its fragile ecosystems face, Friends of Myakka River, a local non-profit organization that supports the park, recently expanded its outreach and education efforts. “We were inspired by Sir David Attenborough, who noted that ‘no one will protect what they don’t care about and no one will care about what they’ve never experienced',” said Executive Director Miri Hardy, who joined the non-profit citizen support organization last year. “So we started actively sharing Myakka’s Magic.”
The organization leveraged social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, and created a monthly print feature called “Wild Florida”, which addresses important environmental topics in a colloquial manner. They also launched an award-winning service program called Bike Myakka for Good, which offers the community an opportunity to give back to the park while learning about Myakka's natural communities and history in the friendly company of like-minded individuals.
Under Hardy’s leadership, the new programming has allowed hundreds of thousands to personally experience Myakka while increasing their commitment to protecting this environmentally significant place. And, as most individuals were experiencing Myakka’s Magic remotely, potential negative impact on Myakka’s sensitive ecosystems was minimized by design. The organization has substantially increased financial support for the park's conservation mission while growing its membership.
Thanks to capacity building support from Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, the nonprofit will be able to further increase its education efforts, outreach, and impact by retaining Hardy as its first full-time executive director. “I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity, which will allow us to continue to reach our community through our new Protecting and Sharing Myakka’s Magic roadshow, and create additional programs that will build meaningful and lasting connections with our beloved Myakka, to the benefit of this important natural resource, and our own.” said Hardy.
“Friends of Myakka River is strongly committed to preserving this rich piece of our local ecosystem and Sarasota County history,” commented Barancik President | CEO Teri A Hansen. “We are excited to see how the organization grows and continues to be strengthened through Dr. Hardy’s leadership as the nonprofit’s first full-time Executive Director.”
“Building on the superb foundation created by our Executive Director Miri Hardy, we look forward to growing our educational impact,” said President Bob Frank. “And we’re thrilled to be able to better serve Myakka River State Park by having the capacity to raise funds for upcoming capital projects that will enhance our community’s enjoyment and appreciation of Myakka. The next several years will be very exciting!”.
For more information about Friends of Myakka River, click HERE and for more details about scheduling a roadshow speaking engagement at your interest club, faith-based organization or community meeting, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friends of Myakka River's award winning new program, Bike Myakka for Good, supports Myakka River State Park through service projects, environmental education and outreach. Photo: Miri Hardy
Friends of Myakka River is one of 10 Florida State Parks Citizen Support Organizations (CSOs or “Friends” groups) selected to receive the Florida State Parks Foundation’s small grant award for 2023. The $5,000 grant will fund two cargo bikes that will support the organization's impactful “Bike Myakka for Good” program.
The Foundation each year allocates $50,000 to its small grants program, which awards $5,000 to CSOs or parks without a CSO to advocate for their affiliated state parks and provide direct park operations assistance. The grants are used to enhance visitor experiences, accessibility features and park improvement efforts.
"Since the program’s inception, we’ve been making efforts to further increase Bike Myakka for Good's sustainability. " Said Executive Director Miri Hardy, PhD. "And thanks to the generous support of Florida State Parks Foundation, we're looking forward to Going Even Greener at Myakka River State Park with our new Bike Myakka for Good Cargo Bikes, which will replace two fossil fuel-based vehicles "
“We congratulate Friends of Myakka River for being a 2023 small grants award recipient,” said Tammy Gustafson, president of the Florida State Parks Foundation. “Our small grants program has funded a wide array of projects that make a positive impact at dozens of state parks and helped to ensure the continued award-winning experiences visitors know and love at Florida State Parks.”
The Florida State Parks Foundation, founded in 1993 as Friends of Florida State Parks and renamed in 2018, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation whose mission is to support and help sustain the Florida Park Service, its 175 award-winning parks and trails, local Friends groups and more than 20,000 park volunteers.
It does this through programs that preserve and protect state parks, educate visitors about the value of state parks, encourage community engagement and active use of state parks, and advocacy. These grants are through the Florida State Parks Foundation Services LLC, which is a limited liability company affiliate of the Foundation.
The Friends of Myakka River (FOMR) is a non-profit organization that exists to support Myakka River State Park, and the Wild and Scenic Myakka River.
FOMR was founded in 1994 by Dr. Mary Jelks, a prominent, well-loved Sarasota pediatrician and philanthropist, with a great passion for environmental conservation. As a Citizen Support Organization for Myakka River State Park, FOMR continues to work in partnership with the Florida Park Service staff, providing financial support for crucial initiatives and infrastructure, as well as augmenting the park's environmental education programming and community outreach. Together, we're protecting and sharing Myakka's Magic, to the benefit of future generations, and our own.