A unique and exciting relationship between the public and private sector exists in the southern portion of Martin County, Florida. Here, the Hobe Sound Nature Center, Inc. and the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge offer visitors, schools, and organizations the opportunity to explore and learn about Florida's natural areas.
The Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1969 when residents of Jupiter Island donated 229 acres to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Additional donations and acquisitions have brought the total to nearly over 1,000 acres today. The Fish and Wildlife Service manages the land to provide habitat and protection for a variety of wildlife and plants native to this coastal area.
The Refuge includes three and one-half miles of barrier island beach, sand dunes, and mangroves on the north end of Jupiter Island and a sand pine scrub forest on the mainland. The sand pine scrub habitat, preserved between the U.S. 1 corridor and the Indian River Lagoon, is Florida's oldest and most endangered habitat. It is home to many vanishing plant and animal species, including scrub jays, gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, four-petaled pawpaw and dancing lady orchids. The Refuge borders an estuarine area, where seagrass beds occur. The estuary provides food and shelter which are critical to the manatee, an endangered species. The beach is one of the most productive sea turtle nesting areas in the United States, with the endangered leatherback, green and threatened loggerhead sea turtle using the beach for their nesting. Other wildlife species inhabit this environment, including brown pelicans, ospreys, least terns and many shorebirds. Wading birds may also be found along the beach and the mangrove areas.
At the headquarters of the Refuge, you will find the office of the Hobe Sound Nature Center, Inc., a private, non-profit organization. This environmental learning facility was established in 1973 by Mr. Jackson Burke and Mrs. Elizabeth Kirby for the Jupiter Island Garden Club, Inc with a mission to educate people of all ages about Florida's fragile environment.The Center enjoys a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which allows it to conduct education and awareness programs on site, while the Service provides and maintains the facility. The Hobe Sound Community Chest, Jupiter Island Garden Club, Loblolly Community Foundation are among our major funding sources.
In 1982, a new staff was hired by the Nature Center Board of Directors and charged with the responsibility of expanding and improving existing programs. One of the first projects put into operation was "Friends of the Nature Center". Membership in this organization entitles "Friends" to receive the quarterly publication, Mangrove News, schedules of programs and activities and interpretive information about Florida's environment, while helping to fund various programs. The next step was to design and operate an Exhibit Hall geared to Refuge issues and open to the public. The Elizabeth W. Kirby Interpretive Center opened to the public in 1985 and features exhibits on the estuaries, sand pine scrub, manatees, sea turtles and much more.
After losing an entire building to the hurricanes of 2004, the Refuge headquarters and Hobe Sound Center moved into a new building during the summer of 2007. It houses an exhibit hall featuring live animals and nature-themed gift shop and exhibits as well as office for staff. The Education Center has seating for nearly 100 persons and both buildings are fully accessible. A Seminole Indian chickee is used for small group activities.
The Hobe Sound Nature Center, Inc. wishes to remain in the forefront of environmental education. Its programs have taught, trained, and influenced an entire generation of environmentally sensitive people. If we wish to continue enjoying our fragile Hobe Sound environment, we must continue to support the growth of the Hobe Sound Nature Center, Inc.