Business focuses on eco-education
At right, Karen Fraley conducts a class on flora
and fauna behind Anna Maria Elementary School,
thanks to a grant from a local environmental agency.
Karen Fraley's past 12 years have taken her around the bend many times as she leads residents and tourists into the wilderness on land and in the water, but it might never have been had she not dealt with a spate of free time on her hands as a mother.
"I was looking for something to do while my kids were going to school," he said. "I didn't want to return to school, so I started my business. It was great because I could schedule my job around my other duties as a mother."
Fraley will celebrate the 12th anniversary of Around the Bend on March 5. She said she has introduced 38,453 students and more than 10,000 adults to the Florida story. She said she chose eco-education because of her background.
"I have a degree in horticulture from the University of Florida, and I taught pre-school for seven years," she said. "I was acquainted with the curriculum because I worked as an environmental consultant. I knew the Florida ecosystem, and I wanted to share it."
Fraley said she quickly learned to adapt her tours to what the people wanted.
"When I first started, I thought I would take them on half-day tours," she said. "I quickly found out people don't want to spend that much time on a tour, so I shortened it to about two hours."
Fraley said she faced a lot of competition from other agencies that were conducting free tours, so she carved out a unique niche.
"I decided to market my services to schools, and I was able to obtain grants to pay for my time and services. I got my first grant through the Tampa Bay Estuary Program taking people through Emerson Point."
She said as Around the Bend became more popular, she picked up more grants.
"We now host 90 trips and we have a waiting list of schools," she said. "I work with 40 to 50 schools in Manatee and Sarasota counties."
She also has a list of 10 certified Master Naturalists to lead these tours. At Anna Maria Elementary School, she has held outdoor classes for third-graders for several years. She takes them on a tour of the flora and fauna behind the school and into the bay water with dip nets to capture critters for study before they are released back into the water. She was asked what she likes best about Manatee County's environment.
"I love Florida's scrubs inland because all the scrubland on the water has homes on it," she said. "They are all very interesting.
What would she like to see for the future of Around the Bend?
"I would like to triple my field trips," she said. "We average about 4,000 students per year and I would like to increase that."
Fraley had some agencies to thank. They include the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, Southwest Florida Water Management District, Manatee Sarasota Fish & Game Association, Florida Native Plant Society, Manatee Audubon Society, Manatee Education Foundation, Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency and the League of Environmental Educators of Florida.
For more information on Around the Bend Nature Tours, including a schedule of events and tours, go to its website at www.aroundbend.com or call 794-8773.