The St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge celebrated its 50th anniversary as a Refuge last week.

On Thursday, the Friends of St. Vincent invited Refuge retirees and volunteers to a luncheon reunion.

The following day, the festivities continued with the public in on the fun.

In all, close to 350 attended. The party started with a trip on the government barge from Indian Pass to St. Vincent Island. Visitors were greeted by staff from St. Marks NWR and St. Vincent NWR where US Fish and Wildlife firefighters displayed equipment and had a drone exercise.

St. Marks staff brought natural hides and skull and scat replicas of native animals.

Other exhibitors included the Florida State Park Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Service with a shorebird display and a live ghost crab in a tank, and the St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve had a native rare plant booth.

Hot dogs were served by St. Marks grill team.

Along the beach, Apalachicola National Estuarian Research Reserve presented shells, a Loggerhead sea turtle laid a nest on the beach which has been protected from predators by use of a special self-release cage.

Continuing on near the protected western “Point” area, spotting scopes were available for bird viewing. Everyone was able to explore and discover the beauty of the island.

While one family brought bikes and made use of the oyster shell roads, many others partook with a splash in the pristine Gulf waters.

It was a day of appreciation of this most important uninhabited barrier island which is a haven for threatened and endangered birds, animals and sea turtles. Friends of St. Vincent NWR is working to fund and develop an interpretive center to bring the island to the mainland for visitors and school educational opportunities with an expected opening winter, 2019. To learn more, visit: stvincentfriends.com.