Leslie Burgess, a longtime Boardwalk Naturalist at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, has been named the top tourism volunteer in Collier County for 2019, winning the Paradise Coast Convention and Visitor Bureau Volunteer Star Award.
The award was presented Friday, September, 27, 2019, at the Paradise Coast Convention and Visitor Bureau Tourism Star Awards at the Naples Grande Beach Resort. Burgess is the second Corkscrew volunteer to win the award in as many years. Last year, Boardwalk Naturalist Jack Wheeler was honored.
Burgess is keenly aware of the boardwalk’s role in tourism. After Hurricane Irma knocked out whole sections of the boardwalk and shut it down completely, she came up with a creative way to pay for boardwalk repairs that continue to this day. (The boardwalk reopened within weeks of the hurricane but some areas are still being repaired.)
An artist, Burgess asked Corkscrew management if she could paint pictures of birds and other swamp creatures on small pieces of broken boardwalk and then offer them to the Nature Store where visitors could have them in exchange for a donation. Her artwork raised more than $8,000 in donations for boardwalk repairs. Her boardwalk paintings sold out.
The non-profit Sanctuary presented her its Special Services Award at Corkscrew’s Volunteer Appreciation Dinner in March 2019.
Burgess’ above-and-beyond efforts don’t stop there. She designs the small round pins with animal images that adorn the hats of Corkscrew’s boardwalk naturalists, and the colorful pins have inspired many interesting conversations with visitors. She designed and crafted the green tree frog costume that serves as Corkscrew’s mascot at After Hours and Family Fun Day events. To top it all off, she frequently holds baby alligators and snakes for young children to touch at those events!
Burgess has put in almost 6,000 hours as a boardwalk naturalist since becoming a Corkscrew volunteer in 1998. Every Wednesday she is on the boardwalk answering visitors’ questions and pointing out the sights and sounds of the swamp.
Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was founded in 1954 to protect the largest remaining stand of old-growth bald cypress trees. Although the Sanctuary comprises 13,000 acres, public access is limited to the 2.25-mile boardwalk that meanders through the cypress swamp.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is open daily from 7 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. with the last admission to the boardwalk at 4:30 p.m. Regular adult admission is $14. The cost for children ages 6 to 18 is $4. Children under 6 are admitted free.