by Whitey Markle

After serving 7 years as the Conservation Chair and Vice Chair, I’ve been elected Chair of the SSJ Group.  I certainly appreciate the EXCOM’s confidence in me and I hope we move forward through this rough time in American and Floridian environmental history. We have a big hill to climb, my friends.  Every year I say to myself, “This is the bottom of the pit”, but it gets worse with time. As they say: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”.

There have been reports of a sizeable increase in Sierra Club memberships since the election, perhaps a good sign for environmental activism.  We are going to need all the help we can get from the members as we continue in our efforts to educate and advocate for the environmental  resources we cherish so much.

Newly-reorganized Executive Committee

At the December 8th Executive Committee meeting, I was elected Chair and appointed Maryvonne Devensky to be the Vice Chair.  I will also remain Conservation Chair and will work as Legislative Liaison.  Harriett Jones remains as Secretary and was appointed Program chair, Doug Bernal was appointed Treasurer, Roberta Gastmeyer was appointed Membership/Volunteer chair, Travis Mitchell will remain as  Newsletter Editor,  Webmaster, and Social Media Chair, Scott Camil will remain as Political chair, Sherry Steiner will remain as Events Coordinator,  Jon Brainard will remain Environmental Education/Outreach chair,  Dan Vasquez will remain as Legal chair, Maryvonne Devensky will remain ICO chair with Travis Mitchell assisting, Kathryn Taubert will remain “at large”, assisting the committee chairs and Group Chair.  Kristen Young will be Publicity chair. Kathryn, Jordan Smith, and Gail Ellyson will be on the committee. As soon as we have all the committees established I will publish a schematic.

Special thanks to Maryvonne Devensky

I would like to express my personal appreciation to Maryvonne Devensky for her devoted service as Group Chair for the past two years. She has worked tirelessly and with great enthusiasm. Thank you so much, Maryvonne.

New Working Group

A new Working Group like the Tricounty Working Group in Citrus, Levy, and Marion Counties is forming in the northern part of our Group’s area.  Chris Mericle who lives in Hamilton County will be the leader. We appreciate Chris (and his wife, Deanna) leading this group into the future and we sincerely wish them well in their endeavors.  There are many issues in the area and we look forward to more attention to them. There will be a North Florida Working Group meeting at Rum 138 on Saturday, December 17th, 10 am to 2pm with lunch.


Outings Leader Training

Outings Leader training will be at the Wilhelmina Johnson Center on January 14, from 9 to 4pm. In order to lead outings, the Sierra Club requires a training session to cover  liabilities and give outings leaders the tools for good outings leadership. The more the merrier.

Florida Sierra Club  

I attended the Florida Sierra Club Conservation Conference on December 3rd with Chair Maryvonne Devensky. Several topics were presented and are worth discussing:

John Muir 150th Anniversary Celebration:   Paul Thibault of the Tampa Bay Group is heading up a project that will highlight the travels of John Muir in Florida in 1867 and hopefully bring attention to the Sierra Club’s involvement  in the area. Paul has sent us some great resources and a plan for the project:

Muir, John.  (1916). A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.project that will bring public attention to John Muir’s 150th birthday.  He has sent us several great resources for planning this event:

John Muir Journal of “The ‘thousand mile walk’ from Kentucky to Florida to Cuba” in the Holt-Atherton Special Collections – Digital Collections found online at:  (Note: The Florida portion of Muir’s travels are covered in Images 45 through 86.)

We hope to have several  events in our Group’s area since John Muir travelled across it from Fernandina to Cedar Key in 1867. We are even pondering having a John Muir Scenic Highway (if we can figure out exactly where he walked; the roads have changed drastically since 1867). Anyone interested in helping with the research, mapping, and events will be more than welcomed. Contact me or  Maryvonne Devensky if you are interested.

David Cullen, SC Lobbyist presentation

David Cullen gave a presentation regarding the new configuration in the Florida Legislature. The highlight was the appointment by newly-elected Senate President Joe Negron of Senator Lauren Book as chair of the Senate Conservation and Environmental Preservation Committee. It is surprising (to me) to see a Democrat appointed to a committee chairmanship of this stature. Hopefully we will gain in communicating with her appointment. The last chair of that committee was hard to communicate with to say the least.

David also advised that we should communicate with our local legislators and their staff.  I have found that in communicating with politicians one should be prompt and concise.  The Staff can often be the key to good communication. I really believe the legislators are extremely busy, thus the necessity of brevity.  


Sierra Club Awards

At the December Gainesville general membership meeting several Florida Chapter awards were presented:

Kathryn Taubert was given the Chapter Osprey Award for her work in designing, publishing, and presenting the two Powerpoint presentations: WaterWorks, Stand Up and Act Now! and Solar: Unlimited Energy for the Sunshine State.  Kathryn also trained a dozen presenters who eventually educated over 500 citizens on the value of our most precious resource and its care.  She also designed and implemented a program called Waterworks for Kids. We nominated her for this award because she is a true activist and is so valuable in her ability. Congratulations, Kathryn.

Kathryn Taubert receives Osprey Award

George Sibley won the Cypress Award (for an individual who has contributed greatly to the public’s environmental awareness in his or her own locale or Florida as a whole). George came to Gainesville last year on a grant from the Price of Sprawl project of the Florida Sierra Club and developed an excellent podcast called Plum Pudding, a five-part series that exposed the sensational campaign by Plum Creek Real Estate Investment Trust in their efforts to convince the voters and political figures in Alachua County to support their attempt to destroy the Alachua County Comprehensive Plan. We were proud to nominate George for the Cypress award and we congratulate him very much.

George Sibley Recieves Osprey Award     


Chris and Deanna Mericle were awarded the Cypress Award (for an individual who has contributed greatly to the public’s environmental awareness in his or her own locale or Florida as a whole). We nominated this husband and wife for their tireless  efforts in the North region of the group, especially with the Sabal Trail Pipeline issue. Their devotion and tenacity in negotiating is greatly appreciated. Congratulations!

Figure Chris and Deanna Mericle Receive Cypress Award