Socially Conscious Enterprise

An entrepreneur finds her niche in nature. Her company gets people in touch with the Florida outdoors.

By Maureen Byrne

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2000

DUNEDIN — Linda Taylor loves nature. So much so that she quit her high-paying corporate sales job four years ago and started her own company, It’s Our Nature.

Now, instead of traveling throughout the Southeast selling sports products, she walks and paddles for a living, helping others discover the Florida outdoors.

I’ve been a naturalist all my life,” says Taylor, 45, who grew up on the New Jersey seashore.

Taylor believes spending time in nature is beneficial to one’s health. It brings balance, improves clarity and enhances creativity, she says.

“Nature touches something very deep inside of us,” she says. “We need to feel, hear and smell it with all our senses. It really touches our spirit.”

To celebrate Earth Day and the fourth anniversary of It’s Our Nature, which was launched on Earth Day in 1996, Taylor will host a free event Saturday at Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area. The noon-to-3 p.m. event will feature a guided nature walk, tai chi lessons on the beach and crafts for children and adults. Park admission is $4 per vehicle.

Taylor, who has a physical education degree from Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., moved here in 1988. Eight years later, she turned her love of the beaches, bays and wildlife into a job.

Her passion for the environment shines as she guides people on walks on Caladesi Island State Park and Honeymoon Island. She eagerly shares her knowledge of the barrier islands, much of it gleaned from local environmental and historical groups, to residents and visitors alike.

Riding a ferry to Caladesi Island, Taylor points to an osprey flying across St. Joseph Sound. The eyes of nine women accompanying her on a recent tour of Caladesi Island quickly scan the sky.

On the island, she points out mangroves and explains their importance to the marine environment. She warns them of rattlesnakes, poison ivy and other hidden dangers. “Don’t touch the white flowers,” she cautions. “They’re nettles and they’ll sting you.”

She explains why there are charred stumps and burned palms on the island. She tells them the trees are deliberately set on fire to help rejuvenate the brush and to kill foreign plants.

She shows the women tracks in the soft sand. The marks are the tiny footprints of an armadillo, she surmises.

As they stroll along a three-mile trail, she draws their attention to each of the island’s three terrains: beach scrub, pine flatwoods and oak hammock. “This is a great place to take a big, deep breath,” she suggests while standing under a patch of pines.

The women begin to slowly inhale and exhale. After all, deep breaths and tranquil thoughts are encouraged on Taylor’s outings. “I’m trying to create a gentle partnership with nature,” she later says.

Taylor also has a partnership with the state. Her company has a contract with Gulf Islands GEOpark, which encompasses Caladesi and Honeymoon islands, to provide eco-tourism opportunities for the public. In turn, she gives a percentage of her proceeds to the state.

“She’s been a great asset for us,” says Perry Smith, manager of Gulf Islands GEOpark. “She’s been a real plus to our operation.”

Skip Meadows, 58, of Clearwater thinks so, too. “I love this,” she says as she follows Taylor on the winding trail. “It’s fantastic. I’ve been out here a number of times, but I’ve never taken the (nature) walk.”

Soon a small beach appears out of nowhere. Taylor points to Dunedin Pass and tells the women how it closed in 1985, when Hurricane Elena blew by the coast. She shows them pictures in the book Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise, which was penned by the daughter of Henry Scharrer, a native of Scotland who lived on Caladesi Island 100 years ago.

Back on the trail, the women walk in silence under the shade of oak trees, listening to footsteps in the brush and chirps of birds overhead. They follow the path to a clearing and step onto a white sandy beach that meets the Gulf of Mexico. The women stop and savor the sight before walking along the shore, the final stretch.

The guided tour is a learning experience for Mary Lowther, 53, who moved from Minnesota to Tampa two years ago. “I feel more connected with Florida now,” she says.

Connecting people to nature is what Taylor hopes to accomplish on her guided tours, which also include bird watching walks on Honeymoon Island, kayak trips near Fort De Soto Park and full-moon walks on the northern tip of Clearwater Beach.

About 70 percent of Taylor’s business comes from women. She says the gentle, moderately paced walks and kayak journeys appeal more to women, but she
would like more men to discover their simple pleasures.

“I’m actually trying to appeal to the person who doesn’t consider themselves an outdoorsman or outdoorswoman,” she says. “They just know they like being in nature.”

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