On Wednesday, First Lady Casey DeSantis and Junior Rangers Madison and Mason DeSantis joined Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Shawn Hamilton in planting longleaf pine seedlings as part of continued hurricane recovery efforts at Florida Caverns State Park. During Hurricane Michael, which made landfall on October 10, 2018, as a Category 5 storm, Florida Caverns State Park sustained devastating damages and lost more than 90% of its forest. The Florida State Parks Foundation, a direct support organization of the DEP, created the Plant A Pine initiative in which 100,000 longleaf pine seedlings were planted at state parks across Florida. Following that success, they recently announced another goal to plant an additional 100,000 longleaf pine trees by Earth Day 2022.
“Floridians enjoy our award-winning state parks, and planting these pines will restore healthy ecosystems, while also providing an essential connection for Floridians of all ages to get outside, volunteer, and enjoy the life-enhancing benefits of nature and the outdoors,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “Today’s event emphasizes the importance of both large and small efforts to help communities recover and become more resilient. From day one of his administration, Governor DeSantis has stood with Panhandle communities impacted by Hurricane Michael and this is another way to revitalize a stunning, historical part of Florida’s history.”
“Today, we celebrated not only the importance of protecting Florida’s State Parks, but also the importance of hurricane recovery through environmental restoration,” said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “These opportunities allow us to witness first-hand how Governor DeSantis’ leadership has aided hurricane recovery efforts in our state.”
Thousands of trees that multiple groups generously donated have been planted throughout the park, and thanks to the hard work of dedicated staff and volunteers, Florida Caverns State Park recently opened its campgrounds in October 2021 for the first time since Hurricane Michael made landfall. Planting longleaf pine seedlings restores the appropriate overstory and groundcover to the upland pine ecosystem. When mature, these trees are more resistant to high winds and live longer than other southern pines.