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.
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.