Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve Opens; 25-Acre Sanctuary is The First of its Kind in The Caribbean

3/24/2011 3:20:56 AM

Bahamas National Trust, Leon Levy Foundation Create Showcase
For Eleuthera’s History, Native Plants and Their Medicinal Uses

Eleuthera, Bahamas, March __ 2011. The Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve, a 25-acre sanctuary created jointly by the Bahamas National Trust and the Leon Levy Foundation, will celebrate its Grand Opening at 11 a.m., March 24 in Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera. The Preserve is the first National Park on Eleuthera and has already injected more than $2 million into the local economy. The Preserve was designed by world renowned landscape architect Raymond Jungles in conjunction with subtropical plant expert, Dr. Ethan Freid.

Visitors will enter a tropical sanctuary, walk a mile-long trail leading over a waterfall, through a mangrove swamp and groves of medicinal plants; and climb a lookout tower offering breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. The Preserve features over 171 species of indigenous plants and more than 34 species of birds, including the Antillean Bullfinch. Over 100 varieties of medicinal plants and more than 25 different economic plants are among the 2,000 native trees, shrubs and herbs recently added to the site. The Preserve will showcase Eleuthera’s history and prehistory. Visitors will learn about the arrival of the Lucayans, the Spanish, the English and the Africans, as well as the island’s native flora and fauna including the elusive brown racer. They will learn the ways in which native plants were used medicinally throughout the island’s evolution and be able to sample the five finger bush tea.

Grand Opening attendees will include the Hon. Brent T. Symonette, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Mrs. Symonette; the Hon Earl D. Deveaux, Minister of the Environment and Mrs. Deveaux, members of the Bahamas National Trust Council; Eric Carey, Executive Director of the Trust; Shelby White, founding Trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation; Gregory Long, President of the New York Botanical Garden, local government officials, community members and others.

Mission of Conservation, Preservation, Research

The overriding mission of the Preserve is to promote education, interdisciplinary conservation, preservation and research, so that future generations of Bahamians understand and appreciate their rich ethnobotanical heritage. Its programs will focus on medicinal uses of native plants and educational outreach to foster an enthusiasm for the environment and conservation and promotion of bio-diversity and sustainability.

The Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve was created by the Bahamas National Trust with the support of The Leon Levy Foundation, a New York foundation created from the estate of famed Wall Street financier Leon Levy, who founded the Oppenheimer Mutual Funds. For many years Mr. Levy and now his family, have had a home on Eleuthera. Mr. Levy loved the island and was concerned that the knowledge and use of the medicinal value of the island’s native plants was rapidly diminishing. In 2006 Shelby White, Leon Levy’s widow, approached the Bahamas National Trust about creating an appropriate memorial to her husband in Eleuthera.

Ms. White said, “This project has been a long standing dream of mine. Working with the Bahamas National Trust as our partners, I believe we have created the finest nature preserve in the Bahamas, a place that will make Eleuthera a must-visit tourist destination and of which we will all be proud.”

The founders hope that the diversity of the Preserve’s plant and animal life will inspire subsequent generations to preserve native species and habitat and address the pernicious effects of years of deforestation, invasive species importation and mono-culture agricultural practices.

Its founders intend the Preserve to be an educational resource for kindergarten to grade 12 students, from Eleuthera and other islands, to experience the bio-diversity of a Bahamian forest and a place to explore wildlife and engage in activities that encourage environmental awareness and individual stewardship for the natural world around them.

Bahamas National Trust Director of Education, Portia Sweeting said, “This will become a living classroom for Bahamian students who are studying plants and their value to Bahamians.”

Trust Executive Director Eric Carey said the preserve will act as a major public access facility for Bahamians to learn about their resident flora and its cultural impact on the daily life of island inhabitants. Mr. Carey added, “I’m extremely proud as an Eleutheran to see this happen. This is a dream realized after much hard work and its focus on bush medicine will stand as fitting memorial to Leon Levy who wanted to see this important Bahamian tradition celebrated.”

President of the New York Botanical Garden, Gregory Long said “All of us at the Garden are greatly impressed with what the Leon Levy Foundation and the Bahamas National Trust have accomplished on this beautiful site. The Preserve’s three-pronged mission of conservation, preservation, and research resonates very strongly with the Garden’s own goals, which we have pursued in the Bahamas and the wider Caribbean region generally, for more than a century. We are pleased to count the Preserve as the Garden’s newest institutional partner in the Caribbean.”

In conjunction with the Opening two new websites will be launched. The Preserve’s public website for visitors and general education and The New York Botanical Garden’s scientific website of the plants of the Leon Levy Plant Preserve and the Bahamas.

About the Leon Levy Foundation
The Leon Levy Foundation, founded in 2004, is a private, not-for-profit foundation created from the estate of Leon Levy, an investor with a longstanding commitment to philanthropy. The Foundation’s overarching goal is to support scholarship at the highest level, ultimately advancing knowledge and improving the lives of individuals and society at large.