Ray Wunderlich III perpetually digs into the earth, either through his work creating organic community gardens and planting native trees, or metaphorically, speaking out against city officials, property developers, and the persistent poverty in St. Petersburg.
The 61-year-old University of Florida and Florida State graduate, with a bachelor’s degree in health education from UF and a master’s degree in sports administration from FSU, guides the organizations in planting gardens, large and small, in Midtown and other areas of St. Petersburg.
Wunderlich leads tours at Boyd Hill Nature Park, teaching visitors the ecological and cultural history of St. Petersburg. But to understand what motivates this so-called “amateur botanist, historian and all,” start with the legacy of his father, Ray Wunderlich II, a beloved St. Pete doctor who died in 2014.
The pediatrician cared for black patients in segregated St. Petersburg in the mid-20th century, when African-American families had little or no chance of finding a doctor to care for their children.
Saturday, February 5, 9 a.m.
“My dad lived in Pinellas Point, and part of my soul is in South St. Pete,” he recalled. “When you have a parent, who is such a big part of you, and you lose them, you can appreciate their legacy and try to live up to what they meant, what they are to you. ”
In 2009, Wunderlich’s parents sold the family home. “We sold it at the worst time, but those were the circumstances at the time, we were bleeding money from the old farmhouse, and it was a beloved home with lots of memories.”
Then and now, Wunderlich’s typical response to setbacks is to get to work on a project that will benefit the community. It’s a way to go beyond the preconceptions he learned from his father, who taught him medicinal herbs from his garden and practiced preventative and functional medicine long before it was fashionable. .
In this spirit, Wunderlich has set about restoring “pocket parks” long neglected by the city.
“I grew up on the pink streets of Pinellas Point,” Wunderlich said over the jingle of construction workers. “There were still woods there at the time. We grew up in a pine forest, and I have always admired and loved pine trees. here illegally and legally.”
In the wake of losses, Wunderlich has brought plants and trees to life in new places, and he has forged new alliances while working with friends he has known since childhood.
“In 2004 and 2006, I had 160 volunteers at one point and 90 at the other, planting trees,” he said of his work at Pinellas Point Park. “We planted over a thousand trees, in total. Small spoonfuls of pines and saw palmetto were able to survive despite the arrival of the city and cutting down a lot.”
As for the dubious felling of trees, he says, “we have our hands tied pretty much because of this city (St. Petersburg) and, in particular, the state.”
Laws have been passed that make it extremely easy to fell trees, Wunderlich explained. “As long as an arborist comes in and says ‘they can cause harm,’ you can remove them at no cost. They may just have the slightest infection, and an arborist will recommend removing them.”
In the former Pinellas Point neighborhood of Wunderlich, homes surround Temple Mound, an 800-year-old Tocobagan Indian site. In turn, he leads tours to educate the public on how native Florida plants, naturally present in the environment, can prevent the erosion of Indian mounds. “Exotic non-native plants often grow on the mounds due to the disturbance of the mound’s soil,” he said.
Wunderlich also tells tales of the nearly 7,000-year-old Maximo Archaeological Park on the shores of Boca Ciega Bay, made up of several mounds of seashells. The designation owes much to the efforts of Wunderlich and her longtime friend Beth Connor, an environmentalist and paralegal, whom Wunderlich describes as “a community-minded St. Petersburger who immerses herself in environmental and social efforts premises to improve citizens who have small voices.” (In 2019, Connor barely lost to City Councilwoman Deborah Figgs-Sanders in a bid for the District 5 seat.)
About 12 years ago, he and Connor spoke out against disc golfers, who never received official city permission, for building their hoops out of concrete, throwing mats and removing natural vegetation. to create paths in the seashell mounds. Their modifications destroyed the natural habitat of native flora and fauna, Wunderlich said.
Attempts to completely remove recreational facilities have been unsuccessful. However, Wunderlich and Connor convinced the town and the disc golf contingent to move two baskets and pads from two prominent mounds and erect historic information signs.
“But the 18-hole disc golf course remains built, literally, on top of and between all the historic archaeological mounds and perhaps on hidden antiquities yet to be discovered,” Wunderlich said.
Wunderlich and Connor then convinced the city to stop scraping the seaweed beach and stabilize a section of the beach, officially designated an Indian mound by the state of Florida, along the southeast shoreline.
“Frisbee golfers saw it as a personal affront,” Wunderlich said. “They stalked and verbally harassed Beth,” he said. “They were going through and dissecting all these native plants and four different ecosystems there. They were just ignorant about it.”
Wunderlich also doesn’t mince words about the state government’s (lack of) environmental regulation.
Six months ago, the fate of a “beautiful” stand of South Florida slash pines triggered a Wunderlich bat signal. Century-old evergreens occupied a St. Petersburg mobile home park on North 54th Avenue,
“The mobile home park was taken over because it could be developed, in accordance with the new legislation of the city of Saint Petersburg,” he said. “They cut down hundreds of these pines.”
The slash pins were what Wunderlich estimates to be the largest stand outside of Boyd Hill in all of St. Petersburg.
“Now two-thirds of them are gone,” Wunderlich lamented. “So I said, I have to replant. I just can’t let these trees go. I said, ‘What can I do? So I contacted the city of St. Petersburg, the parks department and the stormwater department. Initially they were interested, but then they said we couldn’t do it.
Wunderlich assured the city that he would purchase and install the saplings. “I mulched them, and I watered them at first. Then they had to water them after the first day, and that was all they had to do, and they refused.”
Pinellas County, however, agreed to Wunderlich’s request to plant a new mini pine forest. Wunderlich is now spearheading an effort to replenish the pines in Fort de Soto Park. The slash pine stand will be planted between the historic fort and the Arrowhead picnic area on the east side of the key. Pine planting will take place at 9 a.m. on Saturday, February 5.
Private donors, corporations and non-profit organizations are helping. Wunderlich’s childhood friend, Natalie Pruitt, donates to the project through her family’s nonprofit, the Pruitt Foundation, and Wunderlich co-leads the project alongside her esteemed friend. Will Moriaty, director of the nonprofit TREE and former Florida District Roadside Vegetation Coordinator. Department of Transport.
“When I run my show, I don’t want waste,” Wunderlich said. “I don’t want any litter, no plastic, you know? »
The Moriaty Cohort fits in with Wunderlich’s sustainable work ethic, and the countryman is donating about 10 trees ($200 each) to the project.
Speaking of successful collaborations: Earlier this year, Wunderlich partnered with Reverend Andy Oliver, the progressive pastor of Allendale Methodist Church. Oliver hired Wunderlich to build a community garden on church property.
“He knows my reputation,” Wunderlich said of Reverend Oliver. “He knows I bring integrity and stand up to everything I do.”
The garden, framed with wood from Boyd Hill, has become the center of controversy, oddly enough. Neighbors at the church protested the philanthropic plot, saying it interfered with the aesthetic environment of the neighborhood. Still, Reverend Oliver and Wunderlich persevered until the city council passed new legislation that would give landowners the right to grow and sell produce.
Under Wunderlich’s guidance, the church garden was successfully installed last spring and continues to bloom. His crops have benefited Feeding Tampa Bay and other groups helping local families in need.
“I’m going to look for other ways to express what I think needs to be done,” he said. “I also enjoy the educational components, guiding incoming children, young adults curious about sustainability, environmental endeavors. How can they get their hands and feet wet and dirty planting a pine tree?”