Visiting the Preserve
- Open from Dusk to Dawn
- Please stay on trails & boardwalks
- No fires or camping
- No alcoholic beverages or drugs
- No firearms or fireworks
- No smoking or vaping of any substance
- No pets (only service animals permitted)
For Your Safety
- Please enjoy the trails at your own risk
- For assistance in an emergency, call 911 or LSSC Campus Security at 352-516-3795
History of Pete’s Preserve
Taken from Lake-Sumter State College: Fifty Years of Excellence, 1962-2012
Peter D. Klingman, Ph.D.
Thirty years ago, one would not find many courses devoted to ecology in the Florida community college curriculum, and one would certainly not find a college-funded campus nature trail from which to study ecology. The college’s Nature Trail was created by Peter Kehde, who built it with his own hands; it is named Pete’s Preserve in his honor. The support he received from the Board of Trustees and the college’s third president, Carl Andersen, was as unique as the nature trail itself. In a June 2012 interview, Kehde, now retired, remember the whole experience this way:
Let’s talk about a major contribution you made to the history of Lake-Sumter Community College – the nature trail that is named for you. It’s somewhat like talking about Dixie Allen and the sundial; it stands outside classroom contributions you made. And, it seems to be what you were all about. So let’s take the whole process from beginning to end. What is, where was it, how did you get involved, and why did you get involved?
Pete: I grew up in northern New Jersey and spent most of my childhood wandering through the woods looking/or snakes and lizards and lifting rocks to see what might be living under them. During my first year here at Lake-Sumter, I realized that there’s a beautiful forest right here on campus. There’s 20 acres of forest and wetland and I found myself spending a lot of my spare time out there investigating nature as I did as a child.
Peter: Let me stop you, Pete. Out where?
Pete: Behind the old science building and softball field. I’d go out there to eat my lunch and wander around simply enjoying the natural peace of the area. Actually, it was one of my students back in the early 80s that told me I should build a nature trail or something, since I spend so much time there. So I thought about that and wandered through the area finding things that I thought students and local residents might be interested in.
Peter: Like what?
Pete: Like a stump of a pine tree that had been worked for turpentine in the 1800s. Like several different ecological upland communities and a pretty cool swamp. I also found a couple of concrete foundations, about eight feet square. What they were there for I didn’t know at the time.
Peter: And you found out?
Pete: They were foundations for skeet towers possibly build in the mid-50s. I also found pieces of clay pigeons scattered over the area. In my subsequent research I found a map of the property that showed the skeet range and where the towers were located. There were actually three, and I eventually found the third one. I had a great time. I felt like an archeologist unearthing the forgotten past.
Peter: What else did you find?
Pete: My research disclosed that there had been a German POW camp located right here on the LSCC property in the mid- l 940s. Eventually I located most of the cornerstones from the barracks and other buildings used in the camp. So as the idea of the nature trail evolved I also became excited about the POW campus history. But that’s another story.
Peter: When I think of nature trails that I’ve walked on in my life, I think of nature. And I think of education about that nature for whoever is walking on that trail, be it by signs or video or little plaques and all that. What did you with all this? In other words what was in the natural state of those woods that would make a trail worthwhile, like the pine with the turpentine?
Pete: There was a swamp. We had, and still have, a Carolina willow swamp, an upland sand hill community, a sand pine community, a scrub oak thicket community, and a more mature magnolia-oak-hickory community. So we had all these different types of natural communities for anybody to see and study if they wished to do so. But then came the problem: how to get the public and the students to see it all. I have to say that without the help of Dr. Rexford Daubenmire and his wife Jean (both now deceased) I would never have learned about the communities and the plants that lived within them. Dr. Daubenmire was a retired botanist. He and his wife spent many long hours walking with me through our forest explaining the communities to me. Eventually I realized that I could mark out a very educational nature trail. But all this preliminary work and research was being done without anyone else knowing about it.
Peter: Not the president, Dr. Palinchak?
Pete: It’s a little hazy after all these years. The first work I did was about 1984. And when I mentioned the idea to Dr. Palinchak, he just didn’t seem to be very interested. But then Dr. Andersen became president and in about 1988 I mentioned it to him and he became quite interested in the idea of a nature trail on campus. He greatly encouraged me and that’s when I began planning the trail in earnest. When I explained everything I had in mind, he told me to write it all down, where the trail would go, the different signs I would need, etc. and come up with a budget. We took the budget and the idea to the LSCC Board, who also became excited about it. And eventually Dr. Andersen was able to acquire the funds.
Peter: Do you remember the cost?
Pete: $60,000.00- $30,000.00 from the Legislature and $30,000.00 from the Department of Natural Resources.
Peter: Who did the actual labor?
Pete: I did most of it myself.
Peter: What did you actually do?
Pete: First I marked with ribbons where I wanted the trail to go. It ended up being about a mile long. But to do that I had to know what exactly was in those woods and what was interesting and educational. Then I just went at it with hand clippers and an axe. I spend two years working on clearing the trail. Mostly on Saturdays. Eventually the upland portion of the trail was finished.
Peter: Was there an intention in the beginning to make it tidier as in a boardwalk or railings or any of those things you might see in a State Park?
Pete: Yes, right from the beginning I wanted a boardwalk through the wetland portion of the acreage. Swamps have always been somewhat mysterious to me. The problem is always getting into the swamp to see what’s there. And the funny thing about that is that when I was planning all this, we were in a severe drought and there was no water in the swamp. But I knew that when the next really good rainy season comes, we would have a swamp again. The trees were Carolina willows, typical of central Florida swamps. There were also several varieties of ferns and hollies. It had once been a swamp and I knew it would be again.
So I marked it all out, and with part of the money we were able to hire a local company to build the boardwalk through the swamp with all the necessary railings and steps. A local family, the Hopwoods, volunteered to build at their own expense an observation tower in memory of their son Jim, an avid nature lover who had recently died of cancer. They build a beautiful tower that is still a highlight of the trail even today. For the upland trail, we bought two 18-wheel semis full of wood chips and had them dumped at the beginning of the trail. Have you any idea how high a mountain of woodchips that was?
So I started spreading with a wheelbarrow and a shovel.
Peter: And you’d have to lug it nearly a mile?
Pete: In the beginning it wasn’t so bad. But pretty soon I saw that this was not going to work. I would never get this done. So I asked my biology students if they wanted some extra credit. So every Saturday there were 10 or 15 students happily transferring and spreading woodchips over a mile long trail thought the woods.
Peter: How long did it take?
Pete: About three months or so.
Peter: How many people do you suppose, in the time the trail has existed, have used it?
Pete: Let me answer first this way. I put a classroom out there. I had benches in a circle and a huge stump for a podium. I taught parts of my ecology, biology, and botany courses out there because I could explain the theory and then show them the examples. Part of the Biology I class was a hike through the nature tail. The trail included about 40 4X4 posts, with slanted tops and numbers painted on them referenced to paragraphs in a trail guide designed to explain all the natural and historical items to be found on the trail. Janet King took her art students to the trail for nature work. High schools, middle schools, civic groups, and various nature clubs visited the trail. Kids College also had regular projects on the trail.
Peter: And how long did the nature trail last in the form you planned it?
Pete: For about ten years. It opened about 1990 with a very nice ribbon cutting ceremony. And then in 2000, there was pine beetle infestation discovered. The dead pine trees had to be removed. But in order to pay for that, the healthy 100+ year old pine trees were harvested. And with all the heavy equipment necessary, the trail was basically demolished over a 3-day period. The boardwalk through the swamp is still there.
Peter: And there’s been no trail since?
Pete: In the last 13 years the forest has grown back up. Steve Clark, the science teacher who replaced me decided that the college should reestablish the nature trail where my original trail was.
Peter: Have you walked it since?
Pete: Yes, and I really like it. They have tried to follow the original trail. And have largely succeeded. There are still some remains of the old benches and 4X4s that you can find if you look carefully. The biggest honor of all, and this flabbergasted me, is when at my retirement in December of 2009, Dr. Andersen said that he always considered that area Pete’s Preserve. Dr. Mojock then decided that that’s what the trail would be called. So now they are building a new even better and wider trail where the old one was.
Peter: Very few people are fortunate enough to have a lasting legacy of that kind and I’m sure you feel both blessed and privileged.
Pete: Oh, it’s amazing. It’s quite an honor.
For his work on the trail, Pete Kehde was honored in 1991 with the Times Teaching Excellence Award from the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges.
In bringing this brief section of a piece of LSSC’s history to a close, we can also note the deep affection and gratitude for Kehde’ s work that President Carl Andersen expressed. Quoting from one of Florida’s most distinguished and famous chroniclers of natural history, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Andersen wrote a personal letter to Pete Kehde. The famed author of The Yearling had written: “We cannot live without the earth or apart from it, and something is shriveled in a man’s heart when he turns away from it and concerns himself only with the affairs of men.”
Andersen wrote Kehde the following on November 20, 1989:
Pete – It’s dreamers like yourself that keep me ‘goin’. Your acknowledgment is deeply appreciated – more than you will ever know. This business demands I give them but very few genuine ones come my way. Thanks so much. But thank you more for giving the college a place to “unshrivel.”