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Union Volunteers, Partners Propel Suncoast Youth Conservation Center Project Forward

April 17, 2019 in Conservation News, Press Release, Work Boots On The Ground

A concerted effort by 65 skilled union volunteers on Saturday, April 13 pushed construction of a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk and fishing pier at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center (SYCC) in Apollo Beach, Fla., closer to completion.

Collectively, donations in funds, volunteer union labor, materials and other construction expenses from project partners are expected to top $800,000. The project will be the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s (USA) largest undertaking to date and is expected to be completed in May of 2019.

Organized by the USA with support from a wide range of partners, the project aims to give thousands of Florida youth and their families better firsthand access to the Gulf of Mexico’s inshore ecosystem.

Union volunteers donated 622 hours of skilled labor valued at nearly $33,000 during Saturday’s workday event, focusing much of their efforts on installing the new pier’s decking.

The wheelchair-accessible boardwalk and fishing pier project is being organized as part of Work Boots on the Ground – the USA’s flagship conservation program. Project partners include the USA, Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida (FWFF), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Southern States Millwright Council, The Saunders Foundation, Frank E. Duckwall Foundation, Ben Hur Construction, Pure Fishing and a number of local labor unions. 

Part of the FWC’s Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network (FYCCN), the SYCC is a marine-focused conservation education center on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay. The campus, which includes a 6,000-square-foot education facility with an outdoor classroom, hiking and kayak trails, a wildlife observation tower, and a sea turtle rehabilitation center, was developed in partnership with TECO Energy and the Florida Aquarium. More than 11,000 youth and adults participate in SYCC programs annually. 

Nearly 70 union volunteers rolled up their sleeves to work on the new wheelchair-accessible boardwalk and fishing pier at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center in Apollo Beach, Florida.

The new boardwalk and fishing pier will flank a recently restored, 2.5-acre saltwater pond and marsh adjacent to the educational complex. By design, the new structure will allow visitors to study coastal marine habitats and learn to fish with minimal impact to the environment.

“We’re grateful to all the volunteers who have donated their time, talent and other resources to make this new wheelchair-accessible boardwalk and fishing pier a reality. Thanks to them, there will be greater access to fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities, which supports our mission to engage youth and families in the outdoors and conservation,” said Rae Waddell, director of FWC’s Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network. “Providing access to the pond and saltwater marsh at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center is important for creating the next generation of conservationists. Time spent outdoors also provides youth, families, school groups and others with numerous benefits–ranging from health improvements to better academic performance.”

USA national partner Pure Fishing, the country’s largest manufacturer of fishing gear, has been a driving force in the project’s development. “While this project satisfies all of the conservation criteria—people, outdoors, on the water, learning to appreciate our great stewardship of natural abundance—it also speaks volumes of what can be done when it is for the right reason,” said Pure Fishing Stewardship and Government Relations Director Connie Parker, who also serves on the FWFF board of directors. 

“Multiple non-profits, labor unions, a state agency, state wildlife foundation and industry partners–all organizations with different business models–put down their ideology, joined talent, skill and dedication, dropped their return on investment rubicon and did what was right for land, water and people,” she continued. “We were in this moment united not in doing well but in doing good for the right reason at the right time of need for land, water and people. It is the epitome of a blueprint of success for conservation.”

“There is not enough room to say everything I would like to say about this project and the partners involved,” said USA Director of Conservation and Community Outreach Forrest Parker. “Our volunteers continue to amaze me with their skill and dedication to their communities and the future of conservation. 

“This project has been a journey and there were times that we hit a few walls,” he continued. “During these times, every player stepped up and pushed through, gaining a little more ground than we had before. I feel honored to work amongst and with such warriors. To see a public/private partnership such as this unfold is inspiring and should motivate us all to dig deeper and think outside the box. Rest assured, the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance is ready to partner anywhere we can unite the union community through conservation and make a difference in someone’s life.”

Volunteers from the following unions and groups donated their time and skills to Saturday’s workday: Florida Gulf Coast Building Trades Council, IBEW International, IBEW Local 915, Insulators Local 67, Iron Workers Locals 7, 397 and 808, IUOE Local 487, Millwright Local 1000, Roofers International, UA Local 123, Ben Hur Construction and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s office.

Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, Partners Secure Funding for Suncoast Youth Conservation Center Project

January 28, 2019 in Conservation News, Fishing, Press Release, Work Boots On The Ground

Construction of a new boardwalk and fishing pier at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center will provide visitors of all ages and physical abilities with better access to the center’s hands-on recreational and educational programs.

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) is proud to report that a multi-year, collaborative effort to give thousands of Florida youth and their families better firsthand access to the Gulf of Mexico’s inshore ecosystem has cleared its last financial hurdle.

The final funds needed to construct a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk and fishing pier at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center (SYCC) in Apollo Beach have been secured, pushing total cash donations and in-kind commitments to the project to $600,000. 

A wide range of partners have made contributions, including the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida ($240,000), Southern States Millwright Regional Council ($50,000), The Saunders Foundation ($28,000), USA ($20,000) and Frank E. Duckwall Foundation ($10,000).

In addition, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is providing construction materials and Ben Hur Construction is contributing $100,000 in in-kind construction costs. The project is being organized as part of Work Boots on the Ground – the USA’s flagship conservation program. Through this program, union volunteers are expected to donate in excess of 1,000 hours of skilled labor valued at more than $50,000 to complete the pier and boardwalk, pushing the total project value even higher.

Part of the FWC’s Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network (FYCCN), the SYCC is a marine-focused conservation education center on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay. The campus, which includes a 6,000-square-foot education facility with an outdoor classroom, hiking and kayak trails, a wildlife observation tower, and a Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center, was developed in partnership with TECO Energy and the Florida Aquarium. More than 11,000 youth and adults participate in SYCC programs annually. 

The new boardwalk and fishing pier will flank a 2.5-acre saltwater pond and marsh adjacent to the educational complex. By design, the new structure will allow visitors to study coastal marine habitats and learn to fish with minimal impact to the environment.

More than 11,000 youth and adults participate in SYCC programs annually and will benefit from the new pier.

“The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, their partners and union volunteers have demonstrated a deep commitment to inspiring people to care about conservation and the outdoors through their support of the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network,” said FYCCN Director Rae Waddell. “Their generosity and expertise is allowing the FWC to provide youth and families greater access to the pond for fishing, wildlife viewing and learning about conservation.”

“Getting children out into nature has become a national priority, and the boardwalk and fishing pier add significantly to the educational and recreational programs at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center,” said Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida (FWFF) President and CEO Andrew Walker.

USA national partner Pure Fishing, the country’s largest manufacturer of fishing gear, also participated in the process, donating time and product to the project’s development. “We are thrilled that ground will be broken soon on the boardwalk and pier,” said Pure Fishing Stewardship and Government Relations Director Connie Parker, who also serves on the FWFF board of directors. “This addition to Suncoast’s campus will ensure that outdoor activities and learning are accessible to all children.”

“This is not your conventional conservation project with one or two partners,” noted USA Director of Conservation and Community Outreach Forrest Parker. “This is a union-led, private-public partnership that involves multiple non-profits, labor unions, union volunteers, a state agency, state wildlife foundation and industry partners. We are thankful for everyone’s persistence and support through two years of collaboration, strategic planning and old-fashioned hard work to make it all come together.”

Wayne Jennings, Southern States Millwright Regional Council executive secretary treasurer, said the effort was all about serving the community. “Unions were created for the greater good—not just in the workplace but also the surrounding community,” he explained. “The SSMRC embraces this ideal. By partnering with the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and everyone involved with this project, we hope to demonstrate that through unity, anything can become reality. When we all pull in the same direction, we can accomplish extraordinary things. We are investing in the community and hope everyone enjoys the opportunities that this project provides.”

Construction is slated to begin in February, with completion in the summer of 2019.