Commissioner Thompson and other leaders standing for a photo on a lawn
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Orange County Commissioner Jennifer Thompson Hosts Community Celebration at Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge

Community & Services

Community celebrations are meant to bring residents and officials together to acknowledge projects that have either already been completed or are about to start. On September 7, 2018, a community celebration highlighting future enhancements to the Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge took place at Eagles Roost Park, and those in attendance realized just how much these enhancements will benefit not only the local ecosystem, but Orange County as a whole.

The new layout of the expanded 20-acre wildlife refuge, which includes the construction of a dedicated community center, was unveiled at the celebration. The project is part of Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs’ INVEST in Our Home for Life initiative that aims to improve the quality of life for current and future County residents. Through the INVEST initiative, the six County Commissioners were each given $5 million to implement various projects in their districts to cater to the unique needs of the community. Orange County District 4 Commissioner Thompson is spending $3.5 million of that money to evolve, expand and preserve the Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge.

“I chose this project because it will have a lasting impact on Orange County,” Commissioner Thompson said. “Protecting our ecosystem as we continue to grow is critical to the overall health of our region, and, by committing to this project, we’re also endeavoring to improve educational opportunities and amenities for local residents.”

Among those speaking at the event were Commissioner Thompson, Environmental Protection Division Manager David Jones and Executive Director of Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge Debbie Hansel.

“Continued development in our region is having a significant impact on wildlife, and the Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge plays a crucial role in taking in animals that have been injured or displaced as a result of this encroachment on their nature habitats,” Commissioner Thompson said. “The expansion of the refuge will culminate in an enhanced rehabilitation center, and the construction of the community center will allow for expanded educational opportunities for both school-aged children and adults who want to broaden their knowledge of the environment.”

Commissioner Thompson’s goal is to offer residents the opportunity to connect with and learn about nature while preserving one of Orange County’s best-kept secrets. Back to Nature has been caring for wild animals for more than 27 years, with a mission to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured and orphaned Florida-native wildlife. As a leading wildlife refuge and rehabilitation center, the organization is driven to help preserve native wildlife and educate those with the same desire in protecting the environment. Construction is slated to begin in the summer of 2019.

“This future project is a dream come true for our organization that was once a very small wildlife refuge and began in a backyard 30 years ago,” said Debbie Helsel, executive director of Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge. “This expansion is bigger than what we could have ever imagined for our nonprofit and we are excited, humbled and exceptionally grateful for what is yet to come.”

Photo Caption: [L-R] Orange County Environmental Protection Division Manager David D. Jones, Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge Executive Director Debbie Helsel, Orange County District 4Commissioner Jennifer Thompson, Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge President Debbie Kleinberg and Orange County Environmental Protection Division Green PLACE Program Supervisor Beth Jackson gathered for the Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge Community Celebration Sept. 7, 2018.

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