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AC_Beyond2012E  ALACHUA – In 1925 Helen Keller challenged Lions to become “Knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”

Lions Club members have worked on projects designed to prevent blindness, to restore eyesight and improve eye health and eye care for hundreds of millions of people worldwide.  Since 1990, Lions have raised $415 million through two SightFirst fundraising campaigns to help provide vision for all.

The Alachua Lions Club has successfully completed their $20,800 contribution over the past five years. Through the effort of Lions, over 15 million children have had their sight saved through eye screening, glasses and treatment through Sight for Kids; helped to eliminate the spread of trachoma in Ethiopia by providing 10 million doses of a sight-saving drug; improved eye care for 100 million people by training more than 650,000 people worldwide; distributed more than 147 million treatments for river blindness; provided 8 million cataract surgeries, and vaccinated 41 million children in Africa against measles --- a leading cause of childhood blindness.

Lions International has paired with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in eradicating measles in Africa where as many as 400 children die a day from measles. Through coordination efforts with various organizations, measles, river blindness and trachoma can be eradicated for $1 for each person treated. Past President Jimmy Carter, a Lion, has been instrumental in distributing the medicines to third world countries.

The Alachua Lions have been involved with the Alachua community since 1931.  Even though the Alachua Lions have contributed $20,800 to the SightFirst campaign serving world-wide, their focus has always been for the Alachua community first.

Each year the Alachua Lions have provided eye screenings, eye glasses, eye surgeries, hearing aids, a college scholarship to a Santa Fe High School student, mentors to tutor at Alachua Elementary, Food 4 Kids of Alachua, recreation and team sport programs for youth, literacy programs, and many other projects for people in need.

The Alachua Lions Club has also proudly sponsored Boy Scout Troop 88 for over 75 years.  The club has also sponsored cub scouts and has pledged to pay dues for any child who needs the assistance to belong to a scouting organization.

It is due to the continued support of the Alachua community in participating in the various fundraising activities through-out the year that the Alachua Lions Club is able to provide these services.  All funds raised from the public must go back to help those in need.

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W_-_Nations_Ball_Park_Trent_Simmons_1_copy NEWBERRY – Action was happening this weekend at Nations Park in Newberry. The heat did not stop the games and teams from far and near played all day. Trent Simmons from Newberry and Trey Drummond from Chiefland played on south Georgia’s "Chain Dirt Dogs."  Simmons said he enjoyed meeting the other kids and working together to form a good team. Playoffs are schedule for this week, so if you want to watch them play head out to the ball field south of Newberry.

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W_-_Colson_copy ALACHUA – Kathy Colson, Senior Vice President of Finance of SunState Federal Credit Union is the recipient of the 2012 ABLe Award.

Each year, the Alachua Business League bestows the ABLe award on a deserving member of the organization. To receive the award, a member must show great activity in the community, show extraordinary belief in others, must lead with style, and must exemplify the Alachua Business League values.  This year, the organization feels Colson, of SunState Federal Credit Union, is most deserving of the recognition.

Growing up outside Alachua, Colson, was born and raised a true GRIT (Girl Raised In The South).  When speaking with her, you think of the soft-spoken, yet strong, confident women for which the South is famous.   Yes, she loves to cook and values Southern hospitality, but don’t make the mistake of thinking she’s meek or passive.

Colson, while serving as CFO of SunState Federal Credit Union, still manages to actively participate in numerous community activities, demonstrates her belief in others through genuine inclusion, leads with a style of strength and gracious professionalism.  SunState Federal Credit Union is involved with many events in the communities they serve. They also help promote events for many nonprofit organizations in the area. Colson leads the enthusiastic ABL with professional guidance and respect for all members.

The Alachua Business League, Inc. began in 2003 with a mission to bring residents, visitors, families, and friends to discover the charm of “beautiful downtown Alachua,” to coin a Rick Robertson phrase.  Annually, since 2003, the ABL presents two festivals, the Alachua Spring Festival and the Alachua Harvest Festival, both of which play host to thousands of visitors.  The festivals showcase the friendly, shaded and rustic ambiance of Main Street Alachua, as well as the goods and services of local entrepreneurs.

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The Columbia Timber Company is one of five companies selected to provide biomass for the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center.  The timber company harvests timber, provides forest certification, works with landowners to maintain forests and other related activities.  Shown here are deck hands working at the logging ramp.

GAINESVILLE – When the Georgia-Pacific plywood mill in Hawthorne closed last November, about 400 jobs were eliminated and a void was left in the local timber industry.

The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center may provide a chance for local companies to make up for this loss.

Columbia Timber Company, which has been in operation since 1989, has recently been selected to provide biomass for the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center.  Columbia Timber Company was one of five companies selected to provide biomass for the plant.

Though the new 100-megawatt biomass plant scheduled to go online in 2013 has received criticism for the financial ramifications on local resdients, the financial impact for the local timber industry may fill gaps left by the recession.

Columbia Timber Company owner Jib Davidson said the plant will also affect land owners with timbered land. Davidson said he has been politically neutral in the debate surrounding the plant but sees the economic benefits of the deal.

Although a group of Gainesville residents calling themselves Gainesville Citizens CARE has recently filed a lawsuit against Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, Davidson said he is not too worried.

According to the Florida Forest Service, the state’s forests and the forest product industries have an annual economic impact of $16.5 billion. Columbia Timber Company harvests timber, provides forest certification, works with landowners to maintain forests, and many other related activities.

Columbia Timber Company plays a vital role in the economic chain that brings consumers products. Nail polish, football helmets, bandages and eyeglass frames are some of the products from Florida’s forests.

Davidson and his business partner, Norman McRae, are degreed foresters from the University of Florida.  Davidson also has a Bachelor’s of Science in business with a major in finance and minor in real estate. Eventually, the company expanded to doing environmental services under the name Columbia Environmental Services. It was a natural expansion, as the owners already had the necessary skills to delineate wetlands and working with newly founded environmental regulations, Davidson said.

The Hawthorne plywood plant closing was not the only hit that the company has taken over the years.

In 2006 business started to dry up as the effects of an economic downturn were felt almost overnight. In a four-week period in August, five major projects pulled out.

Davidson remembers wondering, “What’s the deal?”

That’s when the company moved into another facet to their business. This time, the company began to work in real estate as Florida Timberlands.

Who better to find timberland than foresters, Davidson said.

Now, the company has joined with United Country Real Estate and operates under United Country Land and Lifestyle Properties.

The real estate business has gotten the company through when times were tough economically, and he said that now is the time to buy land.

“I haven’t seen prices like these in 20 years,” Davidson said.

With several local saw mills closing and a recession, the deal with the biomass plant gives the company a chance to make up for economic hits throughout the years.

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W_-_Bats  Photo special to Alachua County Today/Florida fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/ Bats by the pound, as a volunteer weighs a bat

 FLORIDA – As night falls over north Florida, a band of 66 men and women split into small groups to find bats in damp, mosquito-rich places in the Panhandle, like Apalachicola National Forest, Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

To ensnare the bats, biologists hoist nearly invisible “mist nets” as tall as trees. They wait for hours in the dark. They have equipment out on portable tables, so they can quickly log in any bats they capture. The bats will be identified, measured and weighed, and a sample of guano will be collected before they are let go.

“It’s best to think like a bat” when scouting for bats, explained Melissa Tucker, wildlife biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “Bats are not evenly distributed across the landscape. Some areas are more important for foraging and roosting, and we’re still figuring those things out,” she said. Sites over water or with features such as fire lines or forest trails that funnel flying bats into the nets are usually good choices.

The grand total of bats captured over three nights: 246.

Eight of Florida’s 13 native bat species were identified in this survey: the Southeastern myotis, Seminole bat, red bat, Brazilian free-tailed bat, evening bat, big brown bat, Rafinesque’s big-eared bat and tricolored bat. Natives like the threatened Florida bonneted bat live only in the southern end of the state.

“It was a lot of bats. We were really pleased about the number and the diversity. Finding eight species was exciting to us,” Tucker said. “It was an amount of information about bat species in north Florida that our staff couldn’t have gathered on our own or in such a short amount of time.”

The “Bat Blitz” was conducted for three nights in late May as biologists from the FWC and the University of Florida joined forces with Apalachicola National Forest staff, as well as students and volunteers from throughout the southeast United States and as far away as Oklahoma, Kentucky and Ohio. The blitz, sponsored by the Florida Bat Working Group in conjunction with the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network, was held for the first time in Florida.

How are bats doing in Florida?

“In general, we have a sense in Florida that our common species of bats are probably doing OK,” said Tucker, acknowledging, “We do not have a lot of baseline information to draw from.”

The deadly white-nose syndrome that has decimated many cave-roosting bat species throughout the eastern United States has not been detected in Florida. The disease is caused by a fungus found in cold caves and affects bats as they hibernate. With Florida’s relatively warm winters, few bats hibernate here, so there is hope bats in the state won’t experience its devastating effects.

Still, to prevent a potential spread of the fungus, “Bat Blitz” biologists were extremely careful about decontaminating equipment between every bat examination and at the end of every night, as well as forbidding anyone from bringing in equipment from out of state.

Florida bats play a major role in insect control, consuming moths that destroy crops and dining upon mosquitoes. Some bats also pollinate flowers, although all bats in Florida are insectivores.

How to help bats?

“Use insecticide sparingly and with caution. It’s always nice to put out bat houses,” Tucker said. “And if you come across bats in tree cavities, palm fronds or Spanish moss, step back and give them their space.”

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