Felts Audubon Preserve is a hidden gem, tucked away among sprawling neighborhoods in rural Palmetto, Fla. Whether you’re a novice birder or an avid twitcher, Felts is the perfect place to visit when you want to unplug and see some of the spectacular species of birds and butterflies Mother Nature has to offer.
The Preserve land once belonged to Otis and Anita Felts, who owned and operated a family-run dairy farm. When Otis died in 2002, the family wanted the land to remain natural and free from future development, so the Felts family donated the 27-acre parcel to the Manatee County Audubon Society.
The property is beautiful and serene today, but back in 2002, it was in rough shape, and any improvements were always completed by volunteers. There are still no paid staff members at Felts, and original member Don Bansen remembers the first major project: volunteers cleared more than 300 tires out of the lake. “Everybody was covered in mud, it was a mess,” he says.
While tires in the lake no longer pose a problem, one issue occasionally plagues groundskeeper Fred Allen: vandalism. In the past, volunteers witnessed graffiti and spray paint on signs or broken display cases. Membership Director Lucette Wombacher believes mischief increases a little when school lets out for the summer.
“Everything is made possible by volunteers. They help keep the grounds looking good and Fred is instrumental in keeping the trails neat, so birders can walk through,” says Wombacher. “It’s important to have something that resists damage so we can stay focused on clearing invasive plants and trails rather than cleaning vandalized signs,” she says.
To make it easier for the volunteers at Felts, Heather Reece from LexJet suggested ChromaLuxe EXT metal photo panels with graffiti and fade-resistant properties that stand up to outdoor elements. The panels offer a glossy white finish, which makes them perfect for art and photo reproductions. The 0.045-inch metal panels have been tested to last three years or more outdoors without fading.
Florida sun exposure and occasional spray paint typically result in a short life-span for outdoor signage, but thanks to the dye-sublimation print-transfer process and the UV-resistant properties of ChromaLuxe EXT, Felts could update the old signs with new ones that would require little to no maintenance.
Two years ago, a local Eagle Scout troop created the original signs as a group project, so it was important that the heart and soul of those designs remain when using ChromaLuxe EXT to revitalize them. The signs are such an important part of the Felts experience, especially because of the busloads of third-graders that descend upon the sanctuary every year.
The local students get an opportunity to walk through the Preserve to help foster an interest in nature and science. Jim Stephenson, Secretary of Manatee Audubon Society, says that it’s been a successful program. “We’ve had as many as 1800 students come through during one school year. We teach them how to use binoculars or let them role-play the part of an Osprey. One student said it was better than a day at Busch Gardens.”
With as many as 200-300 third grade students visiting during these outings, the signs are instrumental teaching tools for the volunteers and must be legible, visible and sturdy. To get an idea of how many signs were needed, LexJet’s Reece received a quick tour of the grounds and found a total of 11 wayfinding and informational signs would need to be rejuvenated.
Working from the Eagle Scouts’ original artwork, which showed various species of birds, butterflies, and plants and Bee Hotel information, the new ChromaLuxe EXT panels were designed, printed and installed to the delight of the volunteers.
While summer is considered “off-season” for Felts, due to hot, muggy days and fewer bird sightings; when the weather cools off in November, the crowds – and birds – return. The bright new signs will help visitors of all ages and skill level – some from as far away as Europe or Asia – identify the flora and fauna at the preserve.
Since Felts relies solely on donations and grants for any improvements, LexJet offered to print and install the signs before the birds and birders return later this year. So far, the members and volunteers are impressed. “The signs were revitalized, giving them a new, longer life. They look great!” Wombacher says.
For more information on EPSON dye-sub technology or to order ChromaLuxe EXT, call your LexJet sales rep at 800-453-9538 or visit lexjet.com.