Wild Places

J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge -Sanibel Island

Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling convinced President Harry Truman to protect environmentally valuable land on Sanibel Island from developers. In 1945 President Truman signed an Executive Order, and J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge was created. Today, it is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States.

J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge offers refuge to countless animals, including those who are threatened or endangered. There are over 245 species of birds in its 6400 acres of mangrove forests, open waters, tropical hardwood hammock, seagrass beds, freshwater marsh, and Mudflats.

Federally and State listed species seek haven at Ding Daring Wildlife Refuge. Piping Plovers, Black Skimmers, Roseate Spoonbills, Burrowing Owls, West Indian Manatees, Sanibel Island Rice Rats, and Loggerhead Sea Turtles make their homes here. Aboriginal prickly-apple and Barbed wire cacti are protected from development within the refuge. Visitors from all over the world travel to Sanibel to catch a glimpse of and photograph The Big 5: the American White Pelican, Mangrove Cuckoo, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, and the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

Calusa Indians once made their home in the hardwood hammock among Gumbo Limbo trees, Strangler Figs, and Sea Grape trees. Take a short walk down the Shellmound Trail and discover remnants of shells which along with other waste, grew into mounds. The change in soil chemistry and height created a subtropical maritime hammock.

The 4-mile wildlife drive offers visitors the opportunity to drive, bike, or hike along the paved road. There are plenty of spaces to park and get out of your car for wildlife viewing. Four walking trails: the Indigo Trail, the Wildlife Education Boardwalk, Shellmound Trail, and Wulfert Keys Trail are accessible from the wildlife drive. A 90 minute guided tour aboard a tram is available. Walk or bike the Bailey tract to enjoy freshwater plants and wildlife. Launch your canoe, kayak, or boat or take a guided canoe, kayak or paddleboard tour at one of the designated sites.

For more information, times and to plan your trip, click here: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/JN_Ding_Darling/

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Lyonia Preserve

Lyonia Preserve is a hidden gem located in Deltona, Volusia County. It is a 360 acre restored scrub ecosystem with three clearly marked hiking trails and an educational center. Named for the Rusty Lyonia, a scrub plant, this imperiled Florida ecosystem is found on a high sandy ridge with open areas of white sand, low vegetation, dwarf oak trees, and few tall trees.

Three trails meander through the Preserve where you will experience more than 164 species of plants and 124 species of animals including Florida mice, gopher tortoises, gopher frogs and many other species of birds, mammals, and insects. Located on The Great American Birding Trail, you may see white-eyed Vireos, Eastern Towhees, Common Nighthawks.and many more so bring your binoculars and camera.

This Preserve had been restored and maintained as scrub habitat for threatened Florida Scrub Jays. Scrub Jays are endemic to Florida and depend on scrub habitat for survival. Scrub Jays are not shy birds. They are curious about people and may even approach you.

The Lyonia Preserve has no shade so come prepared. Bring water, sunscreen and close-toed shoes for the soft, sandy trails. There is a covered picnic pavilion to enjoy your picnic lunch before visiting the Educational Center.

The Educational Center shares the complex with the Deltona Library. It features an outdoor amphitheater, classrooms, ecological exhibits, fresh and saltwater habitats as well as native and non-native reptiles and mammals. The Center offers insights and education into this fragile scrub ecosystem and the animals and plants who live there.

Photo Credit: Lourdes Brown
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Oakland Preserve

Oakland Nature Preserve

Oakland Nature Preserve is a 128-acre preserve just west of Orlando between Winter Garden and Clermont. It includes 5 of Florida’s 12 major ecosystems. The mission of the Oakland Nature Preserve is to educate visitors about the ecosystems of the Lake Apopka Basin, and to conserve and restore the land and habitats within the Preserve.

The Oakland Nature Preserve offers many programs for visitors, including insect safaris, paddle tours, and guided hikes to experience Florida’s native species. On the Critter Cams, you may see a bobcat, osprey, great horned owl, or a gopher tortoise.

The Preserve’s most popular trail is its 2/3 mile long and mostly shaded boardwalk to Lake Apopka and a pavilion. The boardwalk is wheelchair accessible. The signage along the boardwalk will identify plants and trees. You may see blackberries, elderberries, cattails, alligators, birds, spiders, snakes, and turtles. There are 6 hiking trails. Trails are color-coded to available maps. Each trail offers a different experience and view, from floodplain forests to a shady oak hammock.

The Preserve’s Education Center offers live turtle and fish exhibits as well as a museum and library. While there, enjoy the Serenity Porch by resting in one of the rocking chairs and taking in the beauty of Nature.

source: Oaklandnaturepreserve.org.

Photo Credit: Dan Kon

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Anna Maria Island

Just south of Tampa Bay on Florida’s Gulf Coast is a quaint Barrier Island called Anna Maria.

Anna Maria Island is a seven-mile strip of white sandy beaches. It is a bird sanctuary and has attracted scholars who come to study biology, including marine biology, ecology, and more.

Seagulls, sandpipers, cranes, pelicans, herons, spoonbills, egrets, wood storks, osprey, vultures, hawks, bald eagles, crows, and feral parrots make their home here. Sea turtles come ashore to nest and bottlenose dolphins play in the Gulf, Intracoastal Waterway, and Bimini Bay.

Experience snorkeling, diving, including group diving, bicycling, bird watching, boating, or strolling along the beach. Enjoy a spectacular sunset to end your day at Anna Maria Island.

Photo Credit Aymee Laurain

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St Johns River

The. St. Johns River is Florida’s longest river at 310 miles long. It is one of only a few rivers in the US that flow north and is one of the laziest rivers in the world.

With headwaters in saw grass marshes south of Melbourne in Indian River County, the St. Johns River flows into the Atlantic Ocean near Mayport in Duval County. The Wekiva River, the Econlockhatchee River, and the Ocklawaha River along wth other tributaries flow into the St Johns River.

Twice a day, the incoming tide from the Atlantic Ocean causes the St.Johns River to reverse its current. When the water is low and/or the wind is blowing from the northeast, the reverse flow can extend 161 miles upstream and last for several days.
The reverse flow makes the St. John’s River more vulnerable to pollutants since they are not easily filtered.

For the St. Johns River and all rivers in Florida:
– Reduce fertilizers.
– Plant Florida native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers.
– Make sure your septic system is working properly
– Pick up dog poop. Don’t let it run down the storm drains.
Can you think of any other ways you can do your part to keep Florida’s water sources clean and safe for humans and wildlife?

Photo credit: Kon Studio
Source: St Johns River Water Management District

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Kraft Azalea Garden

There’s a secret garden in Winter Park with magnificent cypress trees, 8 benches for you to pause and immerse yourself in the beauty of Nature, and sunsets at The Excedra on the shore of Lake Maitland.

Kraft Azalea Park, located near Orlando, is a 5.22-acre public garden open to the public year-round from 8 am until dusk. The garden was designed in 1938 by Martin Daetwyler who was hired by Winter Park residents George and Maud Kraft along with Mayor Frederick Cady and other Winter Park residents.

While you are there, be sure to look for the banyan tree. Banyan trees, native to Sri Lanka and Pakistan and sacred to Buddhists and Hindus, have been planted throughout the tropics in botanical gardens and city parks. The banyan tree at Kraft Azalea Park is at least 70 years old and is believed to be the northernmost banyan tree in Florida which has survived the frosts. Like all trees in the fig family, the foliage and sap of the banyan tree can be an irritant to some.

IOF contributor David Gale says, “The Kraft Azalea Gardens on the edge of Lake Maitland are definitely worth a visit in February/March. We saw dozens of Great Egrets and numerous Anhingas all in full mating plumage high in the Cypress trees. We missed the azalea blossoms for this visit but this small park was still spectacular and very peaceful even though it’s in a suburb of Winter Park.”

David was lucky to visit during the breeding season for the Great Egrets. Kraft Azalea Park is a Great Egret rookery where up to 50 pairs show off their mating rituals, lay their eggs, and raise their babies. Mockingbirds, ospreys, and pileated woodpeckers also make their nests there. Sandhill cranes and wood storks visit the garden too.

Make plans today to visit this central Florida secret garden.

Photo credit: David Gale
source: https://cityofwinterpark.org/…/p…/parks/kraft-azalea-garden/.

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Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area

Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA), located near Palmdale in Highlands County, is an 18,272-acre corridor along Fisheating Creek. A 40-mile stretch of the 52-mile long creek is located within the management area. Fisheating Creek is now the only free-flowing water source feeding into Lake Okeechobee.

This WMA is a beautiful and unique place to spend the day or multiple days. It is made up of several ecosystems including marshes, cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, longleaf pine, slash pine, and Florida scrub.
Be sure to bring a camera since the management area is a site along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.

Canoe or kayak through hardwood hammocks and cypress swamps. Decaying plant matter creates tannin which makes the water a brilliant tea color where the sunlight touches it. The creek is teeming with bluefish, bass, and panfish. Wading birds, otters, and alligators enjoy the creek too. Swallow-tailed kites raise their babies along the creek and thousands of beautiful butterflies can be seen in the fall.

The 5-mile Fort Center Interpretive Nature Trail takes you through a hardwood hammock, wet prairie, and flood plain. There are covered rest areas with benches along the trail. You will learn about the history of the early Native Americans who made their homes here between 1000 and 500 BCE. See wildlife such as alligators, turtles, deer, wild hogs, turkey, wading birds, raptors, and an occasional black bear as you hike the hardwood forests. If you are lucky, you may even spot a federally endangered Florida panther!

At the Fisheating Creek Outpost enjoy camping primitively, hook up your RV, and rent a canoe or kayak. Hike through cypress forests on the 2-mile Knobby Knee Trail. Take the 8-mile Burnt Bridge paddling tour or consider the 16-mile Ingram Crossing tour for an overnight canoe or kayak trip. Cool off in the designated swimming areas, cook over a campfire or enjoy a picnic lunch.

Both the WMA and the Outpost are open 365 days, including holidays. Before planning your trip, be sure to check the calendars for both the WMA and the Outpost for activities, the best time to view your favorite wildlife, and water levels. Hours vary at the Outpost office.
Let’s camp at Fisheating Creek! – Fisheating Creek Outpost
https://myfwc.com/recreation/lead/fisheating-creek

IOF’s Board of Directors held their annual meeting around a campfire at Fisheating Creek Outpost in Feb. A few of the directors camped overnight and cooked campfire chili and other tasty treats for those who drove in for the day. All of us fell in love with Fisheating Creek Outpost and are planning to have our next annual meeting there.

Photo Credit: Directors Lourdes Brown, Ileana Rodriguez-Ramirez, Andy Waldo

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Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park consists of 22,000 acres of both wet and dry savanna in Micanopy, Florida. This state park, located just south of Gainesville, has more than 20 biological communities which provide habitats for wildlife. In the 1970s the state of Florida acquired the land and began the process of restoring it.

Within Paynes Prairie Preserve is a highland freshwater marsh composed of different plant communities that vary based on the depth of the water. The wet, forested areas have coastal swamps of bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and swamp tupelo (Nyssa biflora). Coastal plain blackwater river forests grow along streams. The uplands have southern oak domes and hammocks of southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) growing in areas with moist soils. Florida longleaf pine sandhills grow on drier, sandier soils.

There are over 720 species of plants at the Paynes Prairie Preserve including native, introduced, and invasive species. You will see everything from the Red Maple(Acer rubrum) to the invasive Cora Ardisia (Ardisia crenatum) to the beautiful Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata).

Over 270 species of birds including anhingas, ibis, flocks of turkeys, herons, and migratory birds can be found on the plain. You will see alligators as well as Cracker Horses and Cracker Cattle, both of which were introduced by the Spaniards. You may even see an American Bison which was reintroduced to the Preserve where they roamed until the 18th century.

Start your exploration of the Preserve in historic Micanopy. Exhibits, photographs and an audio-visual program will explain the natural and historical significance of the Preserve. A 50-foot tower provides a panoramic view, where you may spot wild horses.

Paynes Prairie has more than 30 miles of trails for horseback riders, cyclists, and hikers which will lead you through a variety of ecosystems. Camping opportunities await you in a full-facility campground. There is a boat ramp on the east side of the 300 acres Lake Wauberg for canoes, kayaks, and small boats. On weekends in November – April you can participate in ranger lead activities with pre-made reservations.

In 1971, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park was designated Florida’s first state Preserve. In 1974, Paynes Prairie Preserve was nominated to the National Register of Natural Landmarks, one of only 600 in the country.

ADDRESS: 100 Savannah Blvd, Micanopy, FL 32667

Photo Credit Kerry Waldo
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Wekiwa Springs State Park

Wekiwa Springs State Park, located in Orange County, is just waiting to be explored. Discover a longleaf pine forest and sandhill uplands. Hammocks at the river’s edge are thick and tropical-like. Wildflowers of multiple colors spring up at all times during the year to greet you. The park is home to an abundance of wildlife from iconic Florida black bears to the tiniest spiders who weave their intricate webs along the trails.

Wekiwa Springs State Park is best known for its crystal clear springs which are a refreshing 72* all year long. Swimming and snorkeling are favorite pastimes. A swim lift is available for those who have difficulty with the steps leading to the springs.

After enjoying a dip in the cool springs, cook an outdoor meal on one of the grills. Eat at a picnic table nearby or spread your blanket on the ground overlooking the springs. There is a playground for the kids, and a volleyball court and horseshoe pit for friends and family to enjoy.

If the river is calling you, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards are available to rent. Paddle the Wekiva river where you will see an abundance of wildlife including alligators and turtles basking in the sun and osprey high in the treetops.

Explore the trails of Wekiwa Springs State Park on foot, horseback, or bike. Trails range in length from 8/10 of a mile to 13.5 miles. The Tram Bed Horse Trail is perfect for horseback riding. Pedal along the bike trail or discover the many birds found along the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail within the park.

Stargaze at one of the 60 spacious campsites in Sandhill habitat. Camp with your horses at Big Fork or experience primitive camping at Camp Cozy or Big Fork. A concession is available for your convenience should you forget to pack something.

Make your day at the park a family affair. Bring your dog! Just be sure he or she is on a 6-foot leash.

Plan your adventure today! Explore and discover Wekiwa Springs State Park!

Wekiwa Springs State Park is located at 1800 Wekiwa Cir. Apopka FL 32712
Plan your trip here: http://www.wekiwaspringsstatepark.com/plan.html
Note- the park reaches capacity early in the day during the summer. It is best to arrive when the park opens.

Photo credit: Andy Waldo images captured during several hikes throughout the year.

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Naples Botanical Gardens

Discover Naples Botanical Gardens located 4 miles from downtown Naples. It is made up of 6 gardens, with a 2.5-mile walking trail as well as dog walks in the park.

The Botanical Gardens are a 90-acre preserve made up of seven unique ecosystems which include mangroves, marshes, and untouched forests. It features native Florida plant life, over 300 exotic plants, and hundreds of animal species.

You can visit tropic and subtropical landscapes of Asia in the Lea Asian Garden. The Brazilian Garden offers the bold display of the indigenous people’s use of plants in the landscape. This Garden features the only original Burle Marx, ceramic mural in the United States. He is considered the father of landscape architecture. The Kapnick Caribbean Garden gives the visitor a view through the natural landscapes islands of the Caribbean. You will encounter diverse landscapes, from mountain tropical forests, dry forests, savannahs, scrubs and different species of cactus. Take your child through the saw palmetto tunnel at the Vicky C. and David Byron Smith Children’s Garden. To a child’s and adult’s delight, they will encounter a world of flowers, vegetables, butterflies, a babbling stream, and tree houses. The Water Garden in the Naples Botanical Gardens is atop the river of grass. It is filled with water lilies, lotuses, and papyrus complete with a boardwalk.

The Karen and Robert Scott Florida Garden is the essence of the Florida landscape. Visiting this garden encourages visitors’ connection with the natural elements. This garden features The Great Circle which is formed by a circular planting of sabal palms, Florida’s State Tree. The underplanting is bougainvillea and silver palmetto. In this Great Circle are Florida’s beautiful grasses and wildflowers.

The Naples Botanical Gardens offer something for everyone. Demonstrations, talks, tours, and tastings of tropical fruit plants are experiences not to be missed. You may see a performance on the boardwalk that will definitely leave an impression.

Plan your trip today to explore Naples Botanical Gardens located at 4820 Bayshore Drive, Naples, Florida.

Photo Credit: Alex Clark

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Old Miakka Preserve

 Old Miakka Preserve

Named after a settlement in the 1840s, Old Miakka Preserve contains four miles of trails including scrub habitat, pinewood flatwood, and wetlands. The preserve is abundant in flowering plants with numerous pollinators and occasional gopher tortoises. One of the trails is named after Horticulturalist Tim Cash who spent years studying plants within the preserve. If you are looking for a calm trail with lots of sunshine and flowers, visit Old Miakka Preserve in Sarasota, FL.

Have you visited any interesting preserves lately? Message us with your pictures and some fun facts about your visit. Imagine Our Florida will feature your story as a Saturday saunter contributor.

Photo credit: Aymee Laurain

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Playalinda Beach

Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore

Imagine spending a day at the seashore, a day free of condos, hotels, and tourists. A day where you can be one with nature in a place where you feel the power of the ocean, hear the pounding of the waves and share all of that glory with only your friends and the wildlife who make their home there.

There is a little known gem in Florida known as Playalinda Beach. It is a part of Canaveral National Seashore. Take a trip to Titusville, go east on Garden Street and continue driving east until you reach the beach. The ocean is not visible from your car. As you drive parallel to the ocean, you will see sand dunes on your right. There are 13 parking areas, each with its own boardwalk. Any of the boardwalks will lead you over the sand dunes where the ocean in all of its magnificence will appear before your eyes.

There you will meet some of the 310 species of birds found at Canaveral National Seashore, including migratory birds, who will enjoy the beach with you. If you are lucky, you may meet a loggerhead, green or leatherback sea turtle who makes her nest in the sand or hatchlings as they make their way to the ocean. Enjoy your day swimming, surfing, sunbathing, fishing, and bird watching.

Stop along the way to or from the beach and explore by car or on foot, some of Canaveral National Seashore ecosystems. These include a barrier island, offshore waters, lagoon, coastal hammock, and pine flatwoods. Outdoor experiences include canoeing, kayaking, boating, hiking, camping, and historical trails.

There is an abundance of wildlife and wildflowers at Cape Canaveral National Seashore. Keep your eyes open for bobcats, raccoons and more. Look for beautiful flowers and the pollinators among them. We hope you encounter some of the threatened species who make their homes there. You may see Florida scrub jays, Southern bald eagles, wood storks, peregrine falcons, eastern indigo snakes, and manatees.

Take a day, or two, or three, and immerse yourself in the beauty of natural Florida, the way nature intended it to be.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #Playalinda #CanaveralNationalSeashore

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Marl Soil

Marl Soil

Marl soil is common in low lying areas of the Everglades and is most common in Monroe and Miami-Dade Counties. It is rich in calcium. These areas have wet summers where the low lying areas will become flooded for months followed by several months of a dry winter.

While flooded, organic matter in the form of microalgae grows on the water. This will create a loam soil that sits on top of limestone bedrock Other plants also contribute to calcium content when the organic acids in their roots dissolve the limestone bedrock beneath the marl which increases the concentration of calcium.

Marl soil has poor drainage. Grasses such as sawgrass, sedge, reeds, mimosa, buttonwood, and black mangrove will grow in these low lying areas. The American crocodile will dig a hole in marl soil to lay eggs.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #soil #marl

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Spring Hammock Preserve

Once known as Devil’s bend, Spring Hammock Preserve is made up of several ecosystems including hydric hammock, cyprus dome, floodplain forest, mesic flatwoods, and scrubby flatwoods. It is a wetland and watershed area which acts as a natural filtering system for Soldier’s Creek Drainage Basin which eventually drains into Lake Jesup.

Located in Seminole County, Old Bear Trail which is now known as County Road (CR) 427, runs through Spring Hammock Preserve. The preserve is accessible from County Road 419. The Senator, the world’s largest living cypress tree made it’s home here for over 3,500 years before being burnt down by a human.

On the hiking trails, you may encounter wildlife such as gopher tortoises and alligators. If you are lucky, you may even see an indigo snake who makes his home here. Bird viewing opportunities include migrating birds as well as wood storks, limpkins, snowy egrets, and bald eagles who share space at the preserve. Trees in the preserve include longleaf pine, loblolly pine, slash pine, scrub oak, sweet gum, and bald cypress. Be on the lookout for native plants such as the Florida willow, Okeechobee gourd, and cuplet fern.

Make a plan to get outside and explore natural Florida.
You will be surprised at what you will discover.

Photo credit: Andy Waldo

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #SpringHammockPreserve #explore #discover

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Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park

Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park
There’s something for everyone at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park!

Nature trails, birding, equestrian trails, biking, walking, jogging, camping, cabins, picnic areas, horseshoe games, volleyball court, pavilions, and playgrounds assure your entire family will enjoy their day. You can even bring your dog on a 6-foot leash to the hiking or paved bike trail.

You can easily spend an entire day here as you explore this beautiful park of 8,300 acres located in New Port Richey. Take your time as you wander through the wilderness and discover an abundance of wild plants and animals who make their home there. Leave your cares behind while you spend quality time with your family and friends reconnecting with nature. Get Outside. Explore. Discover.

Learn more and/or make reservations here:
https://www.pascocountyfl.net/…/Jay-B-Starkey-Wilderness-Pa…

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Washington Oaks Gardens State Park

Washington Oaks Gardens State Park

This State Park is located near Palm Coast along A1A, between the Atlantic Ocean and Matanzas River. Washington Oaks Gardens is known for its formal gardens, a unique shoreline with rare coquina rock outcroppings, beautiful oak trees, and nature trails. You can hike, bike, and picnic in the park. The grounds feature brick pathways, benches, as well as its preservation of northeast Florida’s original native habitats. In the 425 acres, you will find a beach, coastal scrub, coastal hammock, and tidal marshes.

Over 144 species of birds can be found in Washington Oaks Gardens State Park. Some of the birds you may see are peregrine falcons, spotted sandpipers, scarlet tangler, and indigo bunting, and the endangered scrub jay. Take one of the hiking trails and perhaps run into bobcats, a gopher tortoise, raccoons, or whitetail deer. The waters surrounding the park are home to sea turtles, manatees and you may spot dolphins.

Washington Oaks Gardens State Park was part of the Spanish land grants and is in an area steeped in history. The formal gardens are a showcase of the park. They were devised by the former owners Louise and Owen Young and feature rose gardens, birds of paradise, and orange groves, as well as the towering oak trees which the Youngs named the property after.

The park was donated to the state in 1964 with the stipulation that the gardens were kept and maintained as they were originally laid out. Spending the day at Washington Oaks State Park is worth the trip whether you go for hiking, picnics, bird watching, fishing, or just to spend a serene day enjoying nature.

Photo credit. Lourdes Brown

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #statepark #nature

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Spring-to-Spring Trail

Spring-to-Spring Trail

Volusia County’s Spring-to-Spring Trail is an apt name for a trail which will link several of the state and county parks which feature natural springs. It is planned for more than 26 miles and should take approximately 3 hours to complete. The paved, path will be ideal for walkers, joggers, skaters, bicyclists as well as those with disabilities. Trailheads are Debary Hall Historic Site, Gemini Springs Park, Lake Monroe Park, Lake Beresford Park, Blue Spring State Park, and Grand Avenue in Glenwood. To date, 15 miles have been completed.

The Spring to Spring Trail is planned for the diversity of the land and wildlife. You will see open fields to jungle-like conditions and you may encounter bald eagles, rabbits, armadillos, alligators, otters, coyotes, and deer.

The most northern segment starts near the base of De Leon Springs State Park. De Leon Springs is known for its the lakes, creeks, and marshes. The trail travels south along Grand Avenue. To the west lies the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. Here freshwater marshes and swamps provide critical habitat for nesting, migrating, and wintering birds. This 6-mile segment ends at W. Minnesota Avenue. The next part of the trail is an 8.9-mile segment which begins on the southwestern outskirts of DeLand. The trail travels over 2 miles along Lake Beresford. The trail then travels along Blue Spring State Park through an environment which features hammock and magnolias trees. This park is a designated manatee refuge. You can learn more about this endangered animal through ranger programs as well as view them from an observation platform during the winter when manatees gather in the warm waters of the spring. The last part of the trail route is the most scenic. It traces the northwestern shoreline of Lake Monroe.

The Spring Trail is one segment of the much larger St. Johns River to Sea loop. Eventually, the trail will stretch all the way from DeLeon Springs to New Smyrna Beach and Titusville.
Download a map of the Spring-to-Spring Trail here: https://www.volusia.org/…/park…/trails/spring-to-spring.stml
Photo:http://www.sportsvolusia.com

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #trail #hike #saturdaysaunter

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Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area

Located near Christmas Fl, the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area includes an 18.6-mile loop trail that features a lake.

The trail is located along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail so expect to see plenty of wildlife enjoying the area. Wading birds, eagles, ospreys, turkeys, deer, and alligators are some of the wildlife you may meet. Beautiful cabbage palm hammocks and freshwater marshes are waiting for you to explore. Discover bromeliads, orchids, ferns, and abundant wildflowers. Be on the lookout for rare pitcher plants, hand ferns, and cutthroat grass.

Short hikes can lead to many sightings and new discoveries like the virgin bald cypress stand in James Creek Swamp. There are trails for day hikes and hiking with overnight camping. Primitive campsites are available for the more adventurous including one along the 12 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail. The unpaved roads are bicycle friendly. For those who would rather view the scenery from the comfort of your air-conditioned vehicle, you are permitted to do so when the roads are not too wet or sandy. Dogs are welcome when on a leash.

Whether on foot, by bicycle or from your vehicle:
Get Outside. Explore. Discover.

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #trail #hike #saturdaysaunter #tosohatchee

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Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

In 1947 a beautiful clear lake full of fish began to change. Land from the north was purchased for agriculture. With agricultural practices at the time, lots of nutrients, including phosphorus, we’re drained into the lake. This caused an algae bloom that depleted the fish population and ultimately deteriorated the ecosystem. Fortunately, there was hope for Lake Apopka (Bauchmann et al 1999).

Thanks to the Surface Water Improvement and Management Act of 1987 Lake Apopka was identified for restoration. Plans were created to help bring life back to the ecosystem. In 1996 chapter 96 – 207 of Florida statutes was passed by the Florida legislature. This act allowed the agricultural lands to the north to be purchased and converted into wetlands (St. John’s Water Management District).

Because of dedicated legislators, biologists, volunteers, and citizens, the fish population has been restored, plenty of birds flock to the area to feed, deer and otters call this 48.4 square mile area their home, the hydrology has drastically improved, and the ecosystem is thriving.

The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is an 11-mile scenic route where visitors can enjoy Nature and the beauty of this Florida success story.

When entering the Wildlife Drive you can access an audio guide for your smartphone.

References:

Bauchmann, R. W., Hoyer, M. V., & Canfield, D. E., Jr. (1999). The restoration of Lake Apopka in relation to alternative stable states. Hydrobiologia, 394(0), 219-232.

St. John’s Water Management District, Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive
General Information Guide

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Perico Preserve

— Perico Preserve —
—– Get Outside! —–

A stroll through the Perico Preserve will take you through coastal scrub, salt marsh, freshwater marsh, stands of seagrass, and coastal hammocks. The Perico Preserve is located on what was once 175 acres of fallow farmland, located in Bradenton. Instead of letting the 175-acre site be turned into condos, local officials decided to restore coastal habitat and provide support for wildlife.

Emphasis has been placed on habitat diversity, so the Perico Preserve encompasses several plant communities. Grasses at the Preserve are Florida natives and include several that are common such as Pink Muhly. Others are less common, like Maidencane (Panicum hemitomon). These native grasses attract beneficial insects and make an excellent cover for wildlife. Over 100 species of native plants have been used on this restoration site.

The preserve hosts an assortment of birds as well. Tri-colored Herons, Osprey, Roseate Spoonbills, Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, and Great Egrets, are just a few you will observe of over 50 bird species. The area is located on several migratory routes. A rookery in the center of a pond, within a seagrass habitat with bird viewing platforms, allow the public to enjoy seeing the birds without disturbing them.

The Perico Preserve lies next to a neighborhood and extends beyond the houses to a coastal bayou. It was planned for public use and education, so it includes trails, viewing areas, shelters, and educational materials. This is a successful restoration project on Florida’s central Gulf Coast.

Photo credit: Aymee Laurain

#ImagineOurFlorida #IOF #PericoPreserve #GetOutside

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Coquina

Coquina (“co-keen-ah”) is a sedimentary rock consisting of loosely consolidated fragments of both shells and coral. The cemented fragments are generally calcium carbonate or phosphate. The shells and coral are compressed and turned into a mass as rainwater filters through. The rainwater dissolves the shell’s and coral’s calcium carbonate which then glues them together. Coquina forms inshore environments such as marine reefs.

In the Oxford English Dictionary, coquina is a loanword from Spanish meaning “shell-fish” or “cockle” which is a type of bivalve mollusk. The word Coquina was first used as a reference to building stone in 1837 in the book The Territory of Florida by J.L. Williams.

There are many different kinds of shells and coral that can cement together. By identifying the shells or coral you can determine the age of the coquina. Sometimes the coquina may be covered in mud or weathered with age making the identification of the shell and coral difficult and that particular piece may remain a mystery. Many coquina rocks have only been formed in the last few thousand years but others can go back to different periods of time such as the Miocene age (20 million years).

Identifying the coquina and where it’s found is important to local geology. Since Coquina forms inshore environments, either marine or on land, determining the ages of coquina deposits can help reconstruct sea level rise and fall over time.

Florida has large deposits of coquina, and the soft, white rock was ideal for building. Coquina is a very soft building stone and needs to be dried out for a few years before it can be used. The Castillo of San Marcos Fort in Saint Augustine was built of coquina by the Spanish in the late 1600s. When the British attacked the Fort in 1702 during the Siege of Saint Augustine, they fired cannonballs at the Fort which had no effect. The cannonballs kept sinking into the soft coquina. Coquina is used as an ornamental landscape material today.

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Coral Reef

—-Coral Reef—-

Florida is the only state in the continental United States with shallow coral reef near its coast. Coral reefs create specialized habitats that provide shelter,

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Lake Wales Ridge

We all know Florida has some very unique ecosystems. One of the most unique of these ecosystems is The Lake Wales Ridge. The ridge runs about 150 miles along the spine of Central Florida. The city of Lake Wales is located roughly at its center. The highest point of the ridge is Sugarloaf Mountain. At an elevation of 312 feet., this is the highest point in peninsular Florida.

As you can see in the satellite image, the ridge is actually visible from space as a bright white line. This line is caused by the dune sands of this former island chain. That’s right! The Ridge used to be a chain of islands 2 million years ago when the rest of the peninsula was under the raised waters of the ocean.

These ancient dunes and their white, powdery sand, provide a unique habitat for many rare and endangered plants and animals. These plants and animals have evolved to deal with hot conditions and quick draining soil.

Species such as the scrub jay, gopher tortoise, Florida scrub lizard and sand skink make their homes here. Many of the plants have also adapted to the heat and lack of regularly available water. Scrub oaks have thick, curved leaves adapted to conserve water. Yucca, pear cactus and scrub palmetto are all common plants along the ridge.

 

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Saw Grass Lake

Saw Grass Lake in St. Petersburg, Florida. According to the book “Mangroves to Major League: a Timeline of St. Petersburg, Florida” in 1869 cattle ranchers in Pinellas county saw bears and panthers as a threat and began organized efforts to eradicate us from the area. Today, we have better technology such as electric fences that keep us out of areas where there are other animals or vegetables. Did you know if you have a farm you can contact your regional FWC office who can help by loaning electric fencing for a limited amount of time? When you’re done you only need to return the solar panel that powers the fence. Doing this ensures that we don’t become an unwanted guest who gets a bad reputation. We don’t want history to repeat itself, right?

In the meantime, feel free to visit Sawgrass Lake and see local wildlife. You might even be lucky enough to be greeted by my good friend Brutus, the alligator.

#stpetersburgfl #pinellascounty #florida #blackbear #flbear#flblackbear

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Charles Deering Estate

Charles Deering EstateCharles Deering Estate in Miami Florida. This preserve is an excellent place to learn about Florida history. In fact, an old sinkhole revealed some amazing fossils that tell quite a story.

Speaking of stories, have you heard the story of the Florida Spectacle Bear? Tremarctos floridanus lived during the late Pleistocene Epoch. One of the oldest fossils for this bear was found in a sinkhole located on the Charles Deering Estate. These bears are thought to be strictly herbivorous which today’s Florida black bear eats 15% insects and 5% animal carrion. A fossil of the Florida spectacle bear was found at is location and was carbon dated back to 12 million years ago. Their wildlife friends at the time included glyptodonts, mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths, wolves, and the only large mammal to survive, the manatee.

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Goethe State Park

 

Goethe State Forest is located in southeastern Levy County with the Watermelon Pond Unit located on within Levy and Alachua counties. It is named for Mr. J.T. Goethe who sold most of the land to the people of Florida in 1992 under Florida’s Conservation and Recreation Lands program.

A 53,587-acre state forest, Goethe State Forest is managed for wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, timber production, and ecological restoration. There are 19 natural communities for you to enjoy including mesic flatwoods, dome swamp, sandhill, basin swamp, and the contiguous hydric hammock. Longleaf pine flatwoods and swamps dominate the forest. Be sure to look for the Goethe Giant among the old growth cypress.

The Goethe trail system has seven trailheads which are open during daylight hours. Pack a picnic lunch, put your dog on a leash and enjoy hiking, bicycling, or horseback riding. Be surer to check with FWC for hunting schedules before planning your trip

Black bears, gopher tortoises, Southern fox squirrels, and bald eagles are among the abundant wildlife who call Goethe State Forest home. You may even see an endangered red-cockaded woodpecker in one of Florida’s few remaining old-growth longleaf pine trees. Plant enthusiasts will enjoy searching for 34 different species of orchids!

Make a plan to get outside and enjoy a day at Goethe State Forest.

If you have a special place that you want to share with IOF please message us your pictures and tell us what draws you to that particular outdoor space. Your selection may be included in Facebook posts and/or on our website.

Photo Credit- Andy Waldo

This park is home to one of Florida’s largest Cypress trees, Goethe Giant! You can also see pitcher plant bogs here which are really pretty.

This beautiful forest is also home to little Smokey Jr., a bear cub who was rescued from a wildfire and rehabilitated. One reason this spot was selected for his home is that the bear population in this area has been in trouble. Low genetic diversity is the problem. A long time ago us bears were almost hunted to extinction. That meant very few of us existed in small isolated areas. When bears mate their DNA combines to make all the traits for a cub. DNA is like a set of survival tools. If you have a variety of tools you can be really successful. If your tools are limited it’s very difficult to survive. Creating wildlife corridors and passages helps other bears with more DNA tools to reach the small population in these necks of the woods. Come on out to Goethe and see if you can spot one of us.

#SaturdaySaunter#GoetheStatePark #ImagineOurFlorida #IOF#GetOutside
#Explore #Discover

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