Creating a Reserve for everyone.

The mission of the GTM Research Reserve is to protect biodiversity and cultural resources using science. Diversity is critical to the health of our coastal ecosystem – and to the health of our communities as well. In 2018, a group of volunteers, Reserve staff and the Friends began a discussion focused on diversity and inclusivity. An inventory of equipment and programs already in place was taken to assess the current opportunities available, then the team moved forward to assess additional needs. Rather than assuming what was needed, the planning committee decided to instead reach out and ask for input.

Pam Kylstra at WorkshopAssessing the needs

The Friends of the GTM Reserve applied for and received a grant from the National Estuarine Research Reserve Association (NERRA) to conduct a workshop with representatives of community organizations. The objective was to develop a blueprint for changes needed for programs at the Reserve and help underserved populations enjoy meaningful experiences. The community organizations represented people with physical challenges (hearing, sight, mobility), emotional and intellectual challenges (autism, developmental disabilities), and economic (low income communities with little or no transportation). The Council on Aging, Florida School for Deaf and Blind, Rotary Club, The ARC of St. Johns, Independent Living Resource Center, Jacksonville Speech and Hearing Center, and the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (UF College of Medicine) participated in the process.


During the facilitated workshop, participants explored ideas and discussed resources that would help their clients better access the Reserve. From sensitivity training for staff and volunteers to specialized vehicles or technology — the suggestions were both practical and inspirational.

Your dollars at work

Since the workshop, the Reserve has hosted autism sensitivity training for staff and volunteers, held family fun days for students from Title One schools, led special outdoor walks for the elderly and discovery visits for adults with developmental disabilities, and have scheduled many more similar events.

Next steps

There is so much more we can accomplish with your support. We hope to bring young people who have never seen the beach, despite living less than 30 miles from it, to discover its wonders. We wish to have people who cannot hear enjoy our education programs, and people who cannot walk visit our trails. We dream of a Reserve that is fully accessible to all members of our community…

Workshop participants

  • A place where people of all ages and abilities can experience the wonder and beauty of protected coastal landscapes, teeming with wildlife.
  • A place where all families, regardless of income, can visit our facilities, participate in our programs, hike our trails, and paddle in our waters.
  • A place where anyone can enjoy the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of being immersed in the natural beauty of Florida’s coasts.

With your help, we can accomplish all this and more! To become a Corporate Partner, contact the Friends at or call (904) 823-4527.