Leslie Burgess starts with a small piece of the Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary boardwalk, broken off during Hurricane Irma. Carefully, skillfully, she paints colorful images of wildlife on the wood pieces, bringing new life to memories of a hurricane’s destruction that you can hold in your hand. Her work and creativity have earned Burgess this year’s Sanctuary’s Special Service Award.
Consistently one of Collier County’s top tourism attractions, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s historic boardwalk is the heart and soul of what draws 100,000 visitors annually. Burgess, volunteering at Corkscrew every Wednesday as a Naturalist, is keenly aware of the boardwalk’s importance. After Hurricane Irma destroyed whole sections of the raised walkway, forcing it to close completely for several weeks, Burgess came up with a creative way to help support boardwalk repairs that continue to this day (the boardwalk reopened within weeks of the hurricane but some areas are still being repaired).
Burgess, an artist, asked Corkscrew management if she could paint pictures of birds and other swamp creatures on small pieces of broken boardwalk and then offer them to the Nature Store where visitors could take them home in exchange for a donation. Her artwork sold out and raised more than $8,000 in donations for Corkscrew.
Because of her project, Burgess was named the top tourism volunteer in Collier County for 2019, winning the Paradise Coast Convention and Visitor Bureau Volunteer Star Award, on September 27. Through her dedication, Burgess has proved to be a true ambassador for Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Audubon’s vital mission. She was given the Sanctuary’s Special Services Award at Corkscrew’s Volunteer Appreciation Dinner in March 2019.