Like some sinister fairy tale, the Fort Zachary Taylor Australian pine trees have faced the most adverse conditions. From being slotted for destruction to bracing against brutal hurricane winds, these little pines have managed to stand the test of time for 50 years! But not without a fairy godmother. For more than a decade, the Save The Pines grassroots organization has stepped up and stopped the chainsaws and now, even today, helped handle the damage after Irma. It seems those pine trees somehow or another get themselves in trouble but thanks to the organization, there have been some happy endings. Save the Pines will be celebrating its continued operation with its annual fundraiser on Sunday, March 18, from 1 to 5 p.m., under the pines at Fort Zachary State Park and all are welcome.
Why are these spindly, bushy trees so important? Back in the ’60s, the pines were used to keep the fill intact. Their roots kept the fill from washing away, creating the fort as it is today. Now, full grown, they shade the crowds and soften the landscape.
“They shield the Fort from the incessant pounding of Mother Nature,” said Helen Harrison, who initially spearheaded the Save The Pines campaign. Back in 2007, the pines were labeled invasive by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and about 100 trees were put on the chopping block with more to follow, to make way for concrete pavilions. The Save the Pines activists rallied both public and political support to keep the fort in its natural state and the pines remain today.
But then came Irma in 2017. Fort Zachary looked like a war zone of sand and branches; the initial destruction looked devastating. While 30 to 40 trees were damaged , many were miraculously saved. Harrison again was on it and Save Our Pines did its best to provide support to the Park Service and Tom Domiano, of Arbortech.
“They worked tirelessly restoring the pine forest,” said Harrison. “The recovery after the storm was truly a team effort between the Park Service and Arbortech and there would have been no way to accomplish the job without everyone involved.” They managed to re-open the park a mere month after the storm.
The annual picnic raises funds to keep the Save The Pines active. It’s also a lot of fun. The public is encouraged to bring a dish while napkins, utensils, and water will be kindly provided by Blue Heaven and Salute! Highlights will include outdoor games, Rick Worth painting live, a raffle of items like a Rick Worth painting, a sunset sail on When and If, 5 classes for Yoga on the Beach and other goodies. More information is at www.saveourpines.com.