TAVARES — At the regularly scheduled Lake County Board of County Commissioners' meeting this week, VolunteerLAKE presented the PEAR Association with the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
The PEAR Association is a group of about 150 volunteers that work to improve the County’s PEAR Park, located at 12325 University Ave., Leesburg. The association completed the volunteer service award’s certification process and achieved group Gold status. The award is in recognition of their outstanding volunteer service in 2008 of 10,675 service hours to Lake County.
“This is the first time in the 16 years of existence that VolunteerLAKE has an organization that achieved this honor,” said Helena Osborne-Ponsi, Lake County’s Volunteer Center Director. “The President’s Award comes with a lot of work. We have documented service hours completed in 2008 as a $220,000 savings to the citizens of Lake County.”
The PEAR Association was started in the late 1990s with the assistance from the Lake Soil & Water Conservation District. The association was formed to assist with obtaining the former 264-acre research center for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“The farm was primarily for developing grapes and watermelons,” said Gary Salzman, President of the PEAR Association. “Several people with the Lake Soil and Water Conservation District decided they wanted to keep this land in public hands.”
In 2001, the University released the Palatlakaha Environmental and Agricultural Reserve (PEAR) site to the Lake Board of County Commissioners. The PEAR Association has been instrumental in improving and restoring the conservation property. One of the volunteers’ first projects was completing the park’s 1.5-mile trail that borders the Palatlakaha River. The trail is now a popular attraction for bird watchers and butterfly enthusiasts. The PEAR Association is working on and has completed numerous projects at the park, including refurbishing a building into a nature center, creating a demonstration garden, managing a community garden and restoring several ecosystems including scrublands, woodlands, meadows and wetlands.
“The award is a confirmation of everything we have been doing,” Salzman said. “We have at least a dozen projects going on. Our largest single project is restoring 50 acres to scrub habitat that would be suitable for Florida Scrub-jays.”
For more information about PEAR Park, call the Lake County Parks & Trails Division at (352) 253-4950 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the PEAR Association, log on to www.pearassoc.org or e-mail email@example.com.