Bird watch, volunteer leaves $1 million for Florida parks

MELBOURNE BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A bequest from a former bird watcher and volunteer at Sebastian Inlet State Park will make finding feathered friends at the park a lot easier.

Bonnie Lizer, an Indialantic resident who died last year, left $1 million to the Florida State Parks Foundation. Part of the proceeds from an endowment that was started with the gift will pay for a series of interactive signs highlighting birds at the park.

“We think it’s a very significant and fitting way to honor the Lizers,” said Julia Gill Woodward, CEO of the Florida State Parks Foundation.

Bonnie and her late husband, Robert, moved to Florida from Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1989. Both volunteered at the park. Bonnie worked at the McLarty Treasure Museum, which houses exhibits on the Spanish fleet that wrecked along the Treasure Coast in 1715.

The park straddles the Sebastian Inlet, which also forms the Indian River-Brevard county line, and stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian River Lagoon.

The signs will help visitors identify common migratory and resident bird species in the park and learn about their habitats, feeding and nesting requirements and life cycles.

The signs will have Quick Response codes, aka QR codes, which are those square barcodes used to store information that can be read by and displayed on a cell phone. The codes will link visitors to more information that can be viewed while in the park or after returning home.

Visitors will be told how they can minimize impacts to birds and their habitat as well as the park’s estuary ecosystem and its importance to numerous bird species.

The signs will be installed along a walking path next to the Sebastian Inlet leading to the Sebastian Fishing Museum, which chronicles the history of the area’s fishing industry. More signs will be installed at beach access points on the south side of the park and on the north side of the park near the beach access and north jetty.

“A lot of visitors come to the park just for birding,” Woodward said, “so the signs will be of interest to them. We hope they also will pique an interest in birds for all the people who come to the park for other reasons, such as to fish, surf or enjoy the beaches.”

The project is expected to be finished in April, and an unveiling ceremony is tentatively set for May, Woodward said.

The cost of the sign project hasn’t been determined.

Lizer’s gift is the second-largest posthumous donation to the foundation. The largest was $15 million from the estate of John Kerschner, a Wisconsin man who died in 2015 and had been a frequent visitor and diver at Florida springs.

Proceeds from the Kerschner endowment are used to help train park rangers, Woodward said.