Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Honors Volunteers at Annual Appreciation Dinner

Volunteers of the Year are recognized in service areas and for special service, and others are honored for achieving service-hour plateaus.

Leslie Burgess was honored for her special service in 2018 and seven others received Volunteer of the Year awards in different service areas during Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary's annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner. 

In addition, 16 volunteers were recognized for surpassing certain levels of career service hours. 

The ceremonies took place March 21, 2019, in Corkscrew's Blair Audubon Visitor Center. Mac Stone, an internationally acclaimed conservation photographer, was the keynote speaker.
Among the awards and honors:

Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary 2018 Volunteers of the Year:
Resource ManagementJoelvis Espinaco
Research George Wilder
Facilities – Ron Holden
Visitor Center – Kari Rountree
Youth Programs – Arnie Collens
Public Programs – Art Blatt
Boardwalk Naturalists – Keith Johnson

Special ServiceLeslie Burgess

Burgess, who studied fine art at the University of Urbana-Champaign, received the Special Service Award for an artistic project that was a huge fund-raiser for the Sanctuary. Shortly after Hurricane Irma, she approached staff members and suggested that she could paint images of birds and animals on small pieces of the broken boardwalk. These artistic momentos were available in the Nature Store for a $50 minimum donation that was dedicated to boardwalk repairs.  The total raised through the boardwalk paintings was about $8,000 and none are currently available.

Burgess also drew the honey bee image that appears on the small metal pins that were given to volunteers at the dinner. For the past several years, she has designed the pins that have adorned the hats and shirts of volunteers since 1991. She also designed and made the Green Tree Frog costume for the mascot that appears at many children's events at Corkscrew. 

Burgess, who serves as a boardwalk naturalist on Wednesdays and frequently helps with After Hours events, started as a volunteer at Corkscrew in November 1998.

The seven volunteers who received service area awards are a mix of veterans and relative newcomers. Art Blatt joined as a volunteer in January 2004. Arnie Collins and Keith Johnson both started in January 2010. In contrast, Joelvis Espinaco, Kari Rountree and Ron Holden started in 2018.

George Wilder, who was named Research Volunteer of the Year, isn't a "traditional" volunteer. Wilder, a retired biology professor, is currently Botanist and Herbarium Curator at Naples Botanical Garden. He was honored for a floristic inventory he conducted, along with volunteer Jean McCollom, at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary over a two-year period. They made 160 field trips through every reachable corner of the Sanctuary, documenting more than 750 plant species, including about 200 that had not been known to grow there. Incredibly, they found three that had been classified as "extirpated."

"With our limited capacity of staff and expertise," said Research Director Dr. Shawn Clem, "visiting researchers like George are critical to our conservation mission."

Growth in the number of volunteers

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was founded in 1954 to protect the largest remaining strand of old-growth Bald Cypress forest from logging, and now comprises 13,000 acres in the Western Everglades. The non-profit only began utilizing the help of volunteers on a large-scale basis in the early 1980s, according to Director Emeritus Ed Carlson, who has been with Corkscrew in one capacity or another for all but 14 of its 65 years.

Today, the Sanctuary relies heavily on volunteers. Corkscrew had 146 active volunteers in 2018, up from 130 the year before. Of those 146 active volunteers, 116 were boardwalk naturalists, up from 104 in 2017. 

In addition to the regular volunteers, eight RV campers, three student interns, 22 Florida Gulf Coast University students, and seven service organizations combined for 25,974 service hours in 2018. That’s up from 21,661 volunteer hours in 2017. 

“Those numbers show just how invaluable volunteers are to our vital mission of preserving the Sanctuary and ensuring healthy ecosystems in Southwest Florida,” said Steve Parker, Communications and Volunteer Engagement Coordinator.  “The numbers don’t show the quality experience volunteers provide for each visitor to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary – and we’re on track to have 100,000 visitors again this year.”

Click here for Information on volunteering at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary or email

Service hour milestones reached in 2018

Volunteers who surpass 500 hours of career service at Corkscrew get their name engraved on a large plaque in the Blair Audubon Visitor Center. At 1,000 career hours, a star is added to their plaque. At 2,500 hours, two stars appear. At 5,000 hours, three stars, and at 10,000 career hours, four stars.

The following volunteers surpassed 500 hours of service by the end of 2018: 
Teri Bradel
Michelle Caffrey
Christine Cook
Brian Hampton
Jerry Jackson
Tom Maish
Yvette Powell
Wes Powell
Tom Wilson

The following volunteers surpassed 1,000 hours of service in 2018: 

Liz Hines

Jean McCollom

Russ Webster

The following volunteers surpassed 2,500 hours of service in 2018:
Alex Orr
John Orr
Amy Swanson

The following volunteer surpassed 5,000 hours of service in 2018:

Keith Johnson

Wider acclaim for two volunteers:

In 2018, two Corkscrew volunteers received Collier County and statewide recognition. The Paradise Coast Convention and Visitor Bureau named Jack Wheeler its 2018 Tourism Volunteer of the Year during the Tourism Star Awards in July. Audubon Florida recognized Jean McCollom as its 2018 Volunteer of the Year during the statewide Audubon Assembly in October in West Palm Beach.

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