Some people find second careers when they retire from a job. Sandra Chafin discovered two.
Sandra grew up in Port St. Joe, but moved to Eufaula, Alabama, when her husband took a job there. She spent 29 years teaching elementary grades and gifted education.
She decided to retire early, and the couple returned to Port St. Joe when their parents became ill.
“I was born and raised in Port St. Joe,” Sandra says. “My husband also. It’s a great place to raise kids.”
Once home, Sandra spent 10 years working as executive director of the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce.
She retired again, but that didn’t last long.
Sandra began volunteering with the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve, serving on the board of The Friends of St. Joseph Bay Preserves—a nonprofit that supports the preserve.
That soon evolved into more. Sandra says management of the preserve talked with her.
“‘You’re here all the time,’” Sandra says, recounting the conversation with a laugh. “‘Would you like to be paid?’ I said, ‘Yes, that’s always nice.’”
Sandra began working as an administrative assistant. Eventually, she shifted into the director’s position, coordinating housing for visiting researchers, doing paperwork and helping get the buffer back online after Hurricane Michael hit in 2018.
When COVID-19 put a damper on researchers coming to town in the spring, Sandra found herself with time on her hands, so her position morphed once again. She examined the trails that run through the vast property and envisioned a way to make them more accessible to the public.
“I thought 5,000 acres was a lot, and if visitors didn’t know what to look for on the trails, they would be hesitant to come,” Sandra explains.
She approached Buffer Manager Dylan Shoemaker about writing a series of feature stories for The Star newspaper in St. Joe, detailing each trail and what visitors will find exploring them.
The 0.79-mile Pig Pen Road Trail, for instance, no longer contains pig pens from its former owner, but hikers may spot wild hogs along the route. In the article, Sandra even offers a history of how pigs arrived in Florida via Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto.
On the almost-2-mile Pond Road, Sandra notes hikers may witness gators in the manmade body of water known as Lake April, or deer along the road.
One of her favorite trails is Treasure Road, which begins across from the welcome center on State Road 30-A. Treasure Road leads hikers into the heart of the preserve, traveling approximately 3 miles into the uplands and along an old train roadbed that once ran passengers from Apalachicola to Port St. Joe.
Sandra’s goal is to publish information about all 14 trails in the preserve and make that information available to visitors.
“Sandra’s passion and dedication to preserving Gulf County’s environment is invaluable,” says Kelli Godwin, executive director of the Gulf County Tourist Development Council. “She is a wealth of knowledge and has an enthusiasm for educating others on the importance of some of Florida’s most beautiful, natural assets.”
Maybe three times is the charm for this former schoolteacher.
“I loved teaching and I loved being director of the Chamber,” Sandra says, “but I dearly love being here at this stage.”
To read Sandra’s stories about the trails at St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve, visit starfl.com.