Alan Burton has lived on the Ormond Beach Scenic Loop and Trail for 27 years. He's seen various campaigns related to the 30-mile national scenic byway during that time.
Save the Loop. Protect the Loop. Defend the Loop.
"And I'm thinking, 'What can be a way to make all that happen?'" Burton recalled.
A few months ago, he ran into Volusia County Councilman Troy Kent at the local Outback Steakhouse. Burton asked him, "Why don't we try to grow the Loop?"
"Maybe we start growing trees again," Burton said. "Maybe it's time."
This month, Volusia County launched Regrow the Loop, a one-year pilot program to restore and enhance the Loop by removing invasive plant species, increasing native vegetation to attract wildlife and pollinators, and sharing information about environmentally sustainable practices residents can use to protect natural areas.
Kent brought the idea to the council during a meeting in April, and the council voted 5-1 for the pilot program. Councilman Don Dempsey voted against, saying there was too much focus on the needs of the east side of the county versus the west.
Kent said he has always felt like an advocate for the environment and the Loop especially; he remembers his parents taking him for car rides along the byway as a child. He said he wants to preserve it for future generations.
"Everything has a lifecycle," Kent said. "Everything — and those trees that are out there, some of them are getting towards the end of their lifecycle, and if we don't do something now ... then my son Wyatt, who's 17, when he's older in his life and his kids, my future grandkids, they might not ever be able to enjoy the Loop. It could be gone."
After the council approved the pilot program, staff created a plan to implement the program, including an online pledge for residents to sign.
Each participating household, according to a county news release, will receive a "ReGrow the Loop" sticker and a native 3-gallon tree at one of the tree giveaway events to be held later this year. Residents do not have to live along the Loop to take part in the program.
The first free, monthly education activity will be held from 3-4 p.m. Saturday, June 24, at the Ormond Beach Regional Library at 30 S. Beach St.
Brad Burbaugh, county director of resource stewardship, said he always likes initiatives that plant trees, so the tree giveaway is one of the aspects of the program he's most excited about.
Another is the partnerships that have been formed. The county is partnering with the city of Ormond Beach, Halifax River Audubon, the Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail, the Florida State Parks system, the Pawpaw Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and Dream Green Volusia for the program.
It's unique to have so many partners, Burbaugh said, but he believes it speaks to people's love of the Loop.
"These partners came forward as soon as they heard the county was contemplating, and offered to work together with us," Burbaugh said. "I tell them this in our meetings all of the time — that, you know, one partner can't do it all, but we all can do something, and that's why we're coming together."
The funds used for the pilot program, aside from some staff time, are coming out of the county's existing tree fund. Burton also donated $1,000 for the program in memory of late Ormond Beach resident Sue Parkerson. Before she died, she asked Burton to stay involved in the community.
So he's doing just that.
"She was just a tremendous force and positive force," he said.
Kent said he's looking forward not only to attending some of the informational sessions, but also to planting the trees. His
message to citizens? Help Volusia County and Ormond regrow the Loop.
"Take a moment away from the technology and take your loved ones and go to a place on the Loop and just enjoy nature at its finest, for a good 30 minutes," Kent said. "It will help get your mind and body in the right place."
In 1986, Volusia County became one of the first counties in the U.S. to pass a referendum to fund land conservation, Burbaugh said. Some of the land purchases made possible by the referendum now form part of the several state parks along the Loop.
"I think it's really coming full circle, and it speaks to that conservation and preservation is in the DNA of our county," Burbaugh said.