Published: Oct 09, 2013 11:25 AM EDT

PINE ISLAND, Fla.- The 4-H Trail Blazers of Lee County will be restoring mangrove habitat at Smokehouse Bay Preserve in Bokeelia on Lee County Conservation 20/20 property on Saturday, Oct. 12, 9:30 a.m. to noon.

Last year, the 4-H group planted more than 200 mangrove propagules at the same site. Smokehouse Bay, on the north end of Pine Island, is part of the Conservation 20/20 program, which bought two parcels of land there in 1999 and 2007. The county program is restoring the area by replacing exotic plants with natives. Conservation Lands Manager Cathy Olson said, “I really appreciate the time and effort that the 4-H Trail Blazers is investing to make Lee County a better place. The mangroves that are planted help fill in areas that were once ditches that altered the natural tidal flow.”

Club members collected propagules (cigar-shaped seeds of the red mangrove) during the summer, and raised the seeds until they developed roots and leaf buds, and were ready for planting. Lee County Parks and Recreation Ranger Michele “Mickey” Miller will supervise the volunteer project, and 4-H clubs countywide are being invited to help plant the seedlings.

Mangroves are critical to Southwest Florida. They are key to the region’s commercial and recreational fisheries because they provide food and shelter for estuarine sea life. They also serve as a hurricane buffer and protect against coastal erosion, sequester carbon dioxide, improve water quality, and provide habitats for birds and other wildlife.

Smokehouse Bay Preserve is home to wood storks, snowy egrets, roseate spoonbills and tricolored herons. It’s also home to past alteration of Florida’s natural state. Reversing those past practices is the work of Lee County’s Conservation 20/20 program. The 4-H group was awarded a small grant through Mote Marine’s Youth Ocean Conservation program for this project, and the Trail Blazers are working to spread mangrove awareness in local communities.

For more information, visit www.Conservation2020.org. Conservation 20/20 preserves and Lee’s 4-H program fall under Lee County Parks & Recreation. Visit www.leeparks.org or call (239) 533-7275.