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Tree islands and sustainability at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and THPO

By Misty Snyder, registrar, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

One of the objectives of the Museum and Tribal Historic Preservation Office’s (THPO) Strategic Plan is to “practice responsible environmental stewardship.” There are many projects underway and multiple divisions within the department working toward this goal. I have had the opportunity to spearhead one of these exciting new projects and to serve as a partner to implement others. While having distinct capital improvement projects that have tangible end products is an important component of achieving this goal, other ongoing efforts to reduce resource use and energy consumption are equally important. Taking a holistic approach will not only improve infrastructure but ultimately contribute to creating systems, processes, and an operating philosophy that promote sustainability throughout all aspects of the Museum and THPO.

Artifact found at tree island site. Glades pottery sherd with a mend hole. Mend holes were used to tie together broken pieces of pottery. (Courtesy Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

My involvement in the tree island landscaping project came about because I came to the Museum with a background in environmental science, and had previously worked to educate Florida residents on the benefits of using native plants in their landscaping. During the construction of multiple new buildings on the Museum/THPO campus we began to consider the landscaping needed around these areas. We felt it was the perfect opportunity to utilize native plants, and create an immersive experience that would teach visitors how the Seminole Tribe of Florida and their ancestors utilized the tree island ecosystem for thousands of years.

Tree island on Josie Billie Highway, just outside of the Big Cypress Reservation. (Courtesy Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

The majority of the historic and prehistoric sites the THPO protects and investigates are located on tree islands, which are areas of slightly elevated land containing distinct vegetation communities. These elevated places were dry and provided ideal places for temporary and long-term camps. The landscaping we selected for one of these new buildings was designed to mimic the vegetation found on a tree island characteristic of the Big Cypress basin. Once the landscaping installation is complete, interpretative signage will be installed that will educate visitors about these important habitats and their significance to the Seminole Tribe’s culture.

Artifacts found at tree island site. Tiger shark teeth used as cutting tools. (Courtesy Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

Landscaping with plants native to Florida, and naturally occurring in this region, has many benefits. Native plants provide places for animal species to take shelter, find food, and build nests for their young. They also integrate into the surrounding natural areas to provide larger contiguous landscapes for species like panthers and bears. Once native plants are established they do not require any supplemental water or fertilizer to keep them healthy. This reduces the environmental impacts and extra resources needed when planting non-native species.

This is one step of many that the Museum and THPO are implementing to complete our sustainability initiatives and environmental resource stewardship objectives. Other amazing projects have been implemented as well, such as a campus-wide composting program, and still more are on the horizon. Stop by the Museum to see some of the projects for yourself. Staff members are happy to talk about the continuing work of the Museum and THPO to meet the needs of the community and protect the environment.

Guest Contributor
This article was submitted by a guest contributor.

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