Tallahassee Democrat, June 26th, 1998
Joe Budd wormed its way into kids' hearts
"The bright morning sun reflected off the pond. Winged termites swarmed up from the ground like a fluttering cloud. Sitting with my fishing pole away from everyone else was so peaceful. Only the sounds of the fish jumping from the water, bull frogs croaking, and birds singing. It was so beautiful. I've got to bring my parents here."
Sixth grader Patrick Roy recently discovered this slice of serenity only 25 minutes from downtown Tallahassee.
Yes, I'm about to divulge one of my most conveniently located, inexpensive (the price of a can of worms), and well-kept secrets. The Joe Budd Aquatic Education Center is located in the middle of the Joe Budd Wildlife Management area, just west of Tallahassee near Midway.
Shortly after our yellow school bus turned off Hwy. 90, a long, bumpy dirt road transported students back in time to Gadsden County tobacco farmer, Joe Budd's old hunting camp.
They took a few minutes to explore the wonderful freshwater aquariums and interactive exhibits inside the log cabin, but once they saw the sparkling 15-acre pond beyond the back porch, I was overwhelmed by the energy of 20 simultaneous pleas of "Can we go fishing now?"
When Mike Spelman, Education Specialist with the Game & Fresh Water Fish Commission's Division of Fisheries opened a case of a hundred rods and reels, their eyes opened wide and it was Christmas morning all over again. The students listened attentively as he explained the finer points of how to twist wriggly worms onto hooks, cast, and wait.
"Just one jerk waiting for another," he said.
Students grabbed rods and worms and fanned out over the docks and banks.
"Worms are strong little things," said Gaia Abell, as she struggled with one for the first time.
"When the metal fish feeders in the middle of the pond spewed out food, the fish went into a feeding frenzy and practically jumped on my hook!" said Kevin Geiger.
Education Coordinator, Rae Waddell and her assistant, college student Maggie Davis moved among the students giving them pointers and helping unhook caught fish and return them to the pond. I ran around snapping pictures of all the proud fisherpersons.
Like a mini-Wakulla Springs, where the birds have acclimated to human activity, the pond is also a wonderful spot for bird watching. While students waited for a tug at their lines, they quietly watched an osprey family dive for fish, a bald eagle and several wood storks sail overhead, and a particularly bold little blue heron stalk minnows in nearby rushes.
When some closed their eyes to concentrate on pond sounds, great-crested flycatchers, chatty fish crows, screaming red-shouldered hawks, and a frog chorus poured in.
"This was a very cool place. We got to go fishing with live worms, which I loved. But what really ruled was that we got to dissect one of our fish!" said Thomas Hartsfield.
"I threw back all of my fish except one. We dissected it and learned all about its anatomy. We found the heart, liver, vertebrae, gills, intestines, stomach, and even the brain! It was one of the most exciting and hands-on field trips I have ever experienced!" said Karima Anderson.
While some students became fish surgeons, others sat at the water's edge with Waddell who taught them how to identify aquatic plants. Water fern, cattails, bladderwort, lizard's tail all became part of the children's vocabulary.
"The aquatic plants challenged us to be creative," said Lane Forsman. "Some of them didn't have flowers, so to identify them you had to notice small details."
Other students scooped up pond scum and algae with Davis then examined tiny spiders, tadpoles, mites, and water fleas under stereoscopes.
"I never knew so many things could live together in one place," said an excited Allie Hunter.
This weekend, Patrick Roy will get a chance to share his new fishing hole with his parents. On weekends, from dawn to dusk, May 2nd through Labor Day, Joe Budd's fishing area and nature trails will be open to the general public. There will be no fee.
Joe Budd will also participate in the "National Free Fishing Weekend." On June 6th and 7th, anyone is invited to fish without a license. At other times, licenses are required for people 16 and older.
There are no facilities or food concessions at Joe Budd.
"This is an excellent place for families to go fishing and learn about nature," Waddell said. We expect a lot of people this summer because of the the Lake Talquin draw down."
For more information or directions, phone them at (850) 933-4322.