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Stetson’s Bartram Gardens & Trail Educates Community about Natural World

scenic trail along Lake Beresford
The Bartram Gardens & Trail includes six large, interpretive kiosks that feature literary descriptions and pen-and-ink drawings and paintings of the creatures, fauna and plants that William Bartram encountered while exploring the DeLand area. Photos: Stetson University/Ciara Ocasio

American naturalist William Bartram came upon scenic Lake Beresford in DeLand during his trip to Florida in 1774. Today, the community can experience the natural nirvana that Bartram encountered when they visit the new Bartram Gardens & Trail at Stetson University’s Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center on Lake Beresford.

Named after the renowned environmental explorer, the garden includes a lush, tree-lined path with six large, interpretive kiosks that feature literary descriptions and pen-and-ink drawings and paintings of the creatures, fauna and plants Bartram found while exploring the area. The Bartram destination also includes 10 small sign panels that provide visitors with information about various planted trees and plants in the naturalist’s own words adjacent to the signage. Scans of Bartram’s drawings and paintings were procured from the Natural History Museum in London.

Jason Evans, PhD, interim executive director of the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience and associate professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, encourages folks to visit the Bartram Gardens & Trail and learn more about native Florida plants and William Bartram’s historic exploration in Florida.

“Native landscapes require minimal resource inputs, like water and labor, and attract pollinators,” said Jason Evans, PhD, associate professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson. “The Bartram Gardens & Trail is a wonderful opportunity to educate and inform the community about native Florida plants and William Bartram’s historic exploration in Florida, as well as water resource issues.”

“The beautiful gardens and trail were created by Stetson’s landscape team and include some of the native plants that William Bartram described in his drawings and books. It’s a great way to get folks excited about native plants,” added Evans, who is Stetson’s interim executive director of the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience (IWER).

Tony Abbott, PhD, professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, contributed his William Bartram expertise to the Bartram Gardens & Trail and created a Bartram paddle map for one of the large kiosks.  

“William Bartram is America’s first naturalist and a triple threat who is famous for his visual art, romantic literature and scientific descriptions,” said Tony Abbott, PhD, professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson, who contributed his significant Bartram expertise to the project and created a Bartram paddle map for one of the large kiosks.

“William Bartram touches people,” said Stephanie Liskey, managing partner at Sailforth Productions, the company behind the kiosks’ and sign panels’ interpretive design and background that resembles the paper that Bartram used to collect his plant samples. “As an artist, his drawings aren’t just scientific drawings and appear poetic and magical.”

pencil drawig/portrait of William Bartram
William Bartram

Stetson University appreciates the Bartram Trails Putnam County Committee and Sailforth Productions for obtaining scanned images used to create signage used throughout the garden. Images were used with permission from the Natural History Museum in London.

Bartram Gardens & Trail is part of the River of Lakes Heritage Corridor, which includes Lake, Seminole and Volusia counties and part of Brevard County. Stetson students, history aficionados and water enthusiasts can canoe or kayak to areas where Bartram traveled during his expedition along Lake Beresford and other waterways as well as visit the Bartram Gardens & Trail.

The Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center’s stormwater pond, which is next to the Bartram Gardens & Trail, will be receiving a face-lift thanks to a $60,000 water-quality improvement 319 grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Grant monies will be used to beautify the stormwater pond with floating plants on the water surface, native plants around the perimeter and a rain garden for the outfall. The grant requires a $40,000 match, which will be funded by donors and in-kind faculty time spent working on the project.

kiosk shows Bartram's drawing of fish and explains about the trout
The Bartram Gardens & Trail sign panel features pen-and-ink drawings of fish that William Bartram had drawn while traveling on the St. Johns River.

The facility’s pollinator garden is situated near the Bartram Gardens & Trail and was The Garden Club of DeLand, Inc.’s Garden of the Month in February. Kirsten Work, PhD, professor of biology at Stetson, and her conservation biology students created designs and native plant lists for the pollinator garden and coordinated with Dave Rigsby, the former manager for Stetson Grounds and senior assistant for Special Projects, to bring the project to life. Jenna Palmisano, aquatic and marine biology senior, and Carson Bockoven, environmental science and studies junior, have been overseeing the pollinator garden since the planning stages last spring.

sketch of two alligators
Bartram sketched these alligators in the St. Johns River. Illustration used courtesy of Natural History Museum, London.

The West Volusia Audubon Society provided the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center with $2,500 for the pollinator garden project from a Duke Energy Foundation grant for conducting pollinator studies that increase biodiversity and help preserve Florida’s natural resources in west Volusia County. Stetson alumnus and IWER advisory council member Chris Shuster donated funds for a private pollinator garden reception that was held on February 15.

The Bartram Gardens & Trail is free and open to the public daily from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset unless otherwise noted. Public access may be restricted during special events.

-Sandra Carr