Every volunteer is exceptional and each one of them deserves recognition but throughout the park service there are a few that merit a special mention. One of these is John Leaman, who volunteers at Wekiwa Springs State Park.
John started donating his time at the park in 1974 just three years after it opened so he has now accrued 45 years of volunteer service. I don’t know if that is a record, but I would love to hear about anyone else who has put in this amount of time or more.
In 1990, John was a co-founder of the Citizens for Wekiwa Springs State Park, the CSO group which later became Wekiva Wilderness Trust. He has served in every officer capacity on the board – and he still serves as a board director today. Despite ill-health he generously and cheerfully donates hundreds of hours every year acting as a docent at the nature center and attracting large crowds for his gator presentations.
John is also the inspiration behind the Serenity Garden – the ‘park within a park’ – that is being designed at Wekiwa Springs. John was on duty at the nature center one day and looked up at a disturbed area of the park that was ablaze with insects, humming birds and wild flowers. He thought that if this area was planned correctly it would be the perfect place for people, whatever their disabilities, to be able to enjoy the park experience in a safe environment.
That was how the Serenity Garden came about. The 1.2-acre Garden, the only one of its kind in the United States, will, hopefully, become the model for others not just in Florida’s state parks but in public spaces across the nation and overseas.
It is not just the dedication that is important when it comes to volunteering, it is the passion and inspiration that comes along with it.