Mission & History


Our mission is to foster an awareness of Florida birds and other wildlife through exploration and conservation.

“One reason that birds matter – ought to matter – is that they are our last, best connection to a natural world that is otherwise receding. They’re the most vivid and widespread representatives of the Earth as it was before people arrived on it.”

— Jonathan Franze

We warmly invite you to join us, whether for a birding adventure, community educational speaker program, or a board meeting.


David WilsonIn the spring of 1977 a group of Charlotte County citizens got together and decided to form a new Audubon chapter. Joanne and George Griffin wrote a letter to Florida Audubon and began the process. They needed 35 members and started to recruit interested parties. By June, they had collected 37 Charlotte County residents interested in bird walks, conservation, native plants, wildlife, kayaking and meetings with speakers. Some key community leaders became founding members. David Wilson III was the first President for the first two years and Jerri Gingerich became the Executive Vice President for the first five years. David was Treasurer for three more years in addition to being editor for the White Bird monthly newsletter. Florida Audubon accepted the application and the first meeting was held June 28, 1977.

Founding the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center

Peace River Audubon was one of four organizations that founded an environmental education organization in Charlotte County. The history of the name Charlotte came from Great Britain’s Queen Charlotte, after Spain lost Florida to the British in 1780. The harbor, county and a state preserve claimed the name. Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park is comprised of 43,404 acres and protects more than 100 miles of shoreline along Charlotte Harbor in Charlotte and Lee Counties. In 1983, Charles Caniff, President of Peace River Audubon wanted to “raise public awareness of the value of our natural and cultural resources by providing environmental education, recreation, research and management of conservation lands.” The Peace River Audubon, the Charlotte County Board of Education, the city of Punta Gorda and the Charlotte County Government joined together to establish The Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center nicknamed CHEC in 1987 within the state Preserve. Carol Leonard took a 2 year break from her Marine Biology classes at Lemon Bay High School to create the field trip programs for second and fourth grade elementary students. A nature center building was built to honor Charles Caniff inside the park. Later in 1992, Cedar Point Park, Englewood was purchased by Charlotte County to be included in the environmental programs of CHEC. Trails were established in 1995 and the Visitor Center opened to the public in 1998. Mote Marine Laboratory’s historic first building called the Cookie House was moved within the park which originated from Dr. Eugenie Clark’s 1955 Cape Haze Marine Laboratory. The Lab moved to Sarasota County and was renamed to honor a major benefactor, William R. Mote. Cape Haze Marine Lab history is documented in the 2010 book “The Lady and the Sharks” by Dr. Clark.

Audubon Pennington Park

In 1984 General Development Corporation (GDC) deeded 10 acres of land on a peninsula to Charlotte County and Commissioner Tom Frame brought it to the attention of Peace River Audubon. GDC had planned to create a lake but decided that it was too expensive and the peninsula had some old growth trees. The county was interested in creating an urban park which would cost less to develop so Peace River Audubon volunteered to help develop a plan. Some Peace River Audubon members (Francis G. McGovern, Charles Derrick, Charlie Caniff and Dave Wilson) held several planning meetings and took tree inventories of the area. Then they bought 70 Slash Pine seedlings and 700 Long Leaf Pine seedlings to be planted in 1988 to create a Pine Flatwoods landscape. They discovered an upland area with Maple, Salt Bush and Cabbage Palm which was home to five Gopher Tortoises. They explored a transitional area with Dahoon Hollies, Live Oak, Laurel Oak, Elm, Red Maple, Sweet Gum and Southern Cedar and Southern Wax Myrtle. The peninsula is surrounded by the Elkcam waterway canal on three sides ending in a southern cypress swamp. In 1989, a retired teacher from Sallie Jones Elementary School named Betty Pennington donated her properties in the nearby community of Cleveland to Peace River Audubon. The Audubon used the proceeds of the sale of her properties to develop this urban park since her lots were residential lawns. Charlotte County and Peace River Audubon named the park Audubon Pennington Park in her honor. A Laurel Oak Tree was planted and her memorial sign was erected in the park. It is a unique urban park with an undisturbed hammock of old live oak trees, a pine flatwoods area and a small cypress swamp. A mile of trails were established through the three elevations. Peace River Audubon entered into a 99 year lease with the county to manage the land as a natural area for $1 a year.

Founding Members:

George Griffin
Joanne Griffin

Jerri Gingerich

David Wilson III

Carolyn Wilson

Martha Turner

Mr. & Mrs. Lippner

Bob Taylor

Lorrain Davis
Wanda Jaworski
Robert Bream
Suzanne Schneider

Viiola Messner

Mr. & Mrs. Osborn

David Pius

Willima Stanko

David Polansky

Alva Nation

Lynn Gilbert

Jerri Stallcup

James Layne

Claude and Rick Page
Doug and Jackie Fry

Allen Crouch

Frank and Marilyn Goody

Sue Gilleo

John Mossler

Liz Ratermann

Jessie & Bonnie Bauer

Rufus Willes

Virginia, Larry & Jack Montague


Video of first President David Wilson: https://peacerivergardens.org/project/native-plants/


our purpose