SEBRING — Marilyn Blair has dedicated her life to helping others; she worked tirelessly in the public school system, and when she retired, she began volunteering to continue making a lasting impact on the world around her.
Blair spends much of her volunteer time helping environmental causes and teaching children about the environment. She has been volunteering with Archbold Biological Station for at least 27 years, and she volunteers for five other organizations as well — Ridge Rangers, Highlands Community Chorus, AgVenture and Jay Watch.
When she took her elementary students from Fred Wild Elementary to Archbold for educational field trips, Nancy Deyrup, the education coordinator at the time, asked her to help with the first summer camp in 1992. During her summer break from teaching, Blair taught children about the native scrub and introduced them to snakes and other fascinating animals.
Once Blair retired, she began volunteering all year, not just during the summers. “I love outdoor stuff. That’s why I love volunteering at Archbold, Jay Watch and Ridge Rangers.
“The people at Ridge Rangers and Archbold are so great,” she said. “They care about the environment, and they are so fun to be around. At Archbold, people are so smart, and they don’t mind sharing their knowledge.
“I like to learn,” Blair said. “That’s why I went into teaching. I’ve learned about scrub and got to see preserves. I’ve learned to use chainsaws, and I’ve learned what are weeds and what are rare plants.”
At Archbold, Blair teaches children about the environment and takes them on trails. She also helps with data collection on scrub jays and assists the station wherever needed.
Ridge Ranger Director Bill Parken said, “Ridge Ranger Marilyn Blair is an amazing inspiration to everyone, including the staff at the state, federal, and non-governmental conservation organizations where she volunteers.
“Her leadership and constant efforts at cleaning up old dumping grounds, while hiking the trails on conservation lands, has resulted in the removal of many tons of discarded appliances, car parts, roofing material, and glass bottles; returning hundreds of acres to pristine nature,” Parken said.
Along with other Ridge Rangers, Blair has put up fences, taken down fences and picked up tons of trash. “I helped pick up trash at Carter Creek. We picked up 42,000 bottles, most of them beer bottles. You could float a battleship on all that beer.”
Blair started counting the beer bottles Ridge RangerS removed from the property in 2010. Although she didn’t pick up all the bottles herself, she began counting them to see the impact of the work they were doing.
In addition to removing trash, Blair also locates rare plants for preservation and removes exotic plants that threaten to take over native landscape. She collects acorns to plant so that she can help restore scrub at the Royce unit of the Lake Wales Ridge Wildlife and Environmental Area.
Although Blair dislikes cutting down trees, she cuts down sand pines to make habitat more open for Florida scrub jays, a threatened species. “Scrub jays don’t like habitat with a lot of tall, bushy trees,” Blair said. The jays can’t see their predators in an overgrown habitat. “It goes against my feelings to cut down trees, but it’s something that’s got to be done,” she said.
“I like to feel like I have made a difference, and it has with these things [environmental projects],” Blair said. At 73 years old, Blair still lifts a chain saw, cuts up fallen trees and works to improve the environment. She feels that volunteering keeps her body in shape and challenges her mind.
“I really enjoy it,” she said. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. When you volunteer, you can look back and know you’ve done something important.”