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Posts from the ‘Florida Hiking’ Category

Hit the Trails — It’s National Trails Day!

June 1, 2013 is National Trails Day!

Since 1993, the first Saturday of every June has been designated to inspire the general public and hiking enthusiasts alike to discover and celebrate America’s expansive trail network — comprising over 200,000 miles of trails. You can participate in a local hike, dog walk, cycle, horseback ride, help in a trail maintenance project, kayak, birdwatch, and so much more. It’s easy to forget how much work goes into trails’ planning, development, and upkeep: National Trails Day thanks the countless volunteers and partners for their support and grueling work.

Trails of the Yamato Scrub Natural Area, Florida

Heading into the lovely trails of the Yamato Scrub Natural Area

Organized by the American Hiking Society, National Trails Day also introduces many people — those who may not otherwise normally visit parks — to all of their benefits. The day further highlights trails that people didn’t even know existed. This was actually the genesis of Serenity Spell; after hearing how so many locals were unaware of the magnificent parks and natural areas in this area (see the much-needed-updating Natural Areas and State & National Parks dropdowns, above — or the Categories section to the right), I was inspired to investigate more on my own. In today’s world, it’s critical to get outdoors and into nature. Hiking, even simple walks, gets the heart pumping, the muscles relaxed and stretched, and is an excellent way to improve overall health and mental alignment. It’s also cheap!

Click here to find an event near you for a National Trails Day event. Celebrate nature and promote our country’s parks and trails!

Oak Trees of the Florida Trail, Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Florida

Oak Trees sheltering the Florida Trail, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Equestrian Trail, Bluefield Natural Area, Florida

Equestrian trail signage in the Bluefield Natural Area

Pines in the Atlantic Ridge State Park, Florida

Pines along the trail in the Atlantic Ridge State Park

A Heavenly Hardwood Swamp

Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees takes off his shoes. —
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

In honor of the Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, who met after a long correspondence on May 20, 1845…and began one of the most celebrated love affairs in history. After much wooing, Browning finally convinced a shy and skeptical Barrett that he loved her “for naught except for love’s sake only.”

* * *

I readily admit that my sense of direction is horrible. Which makes wanting to explore the more off-beaten trails a bit…difficult, to my family’s tremendous concern. There’s a lot of backtracking! But in visiting these places, a vision of natural Florida is allowed — and it’s divine.

Outside of the *ridiculous* number of gargantuan mosquitoes that swarmed as I carefully crept into this lovely swamp, it was a treat. I only hope that any human male who shows an interest in me in the future, will also understand my occasional mosquito attacks (not pretty). And the spider bites. And occasional wasp stings. I should seriously consider paramedics or forest rangers as potential dating material.

Cypress Swamp, Cypress Creek Natural Area, Florida

A still-dry cypress swamp in the Cypress Creek Natural Area

I recently hiked through one of my favorite habitats, a hardwood swamp. Various hardwood trees and a mixture of hardwoods and Cypress can be found here, including Water hickory, Holly, Maples, Oaks, Cabbage palms and Bay trees, accompanied by a dense understory of vines, ferns and herbaceous plants. Hardwood swamps occur on floodplains or upland areas that are lower than the surrounding area. And it’s home to so much life — the sounds coming from the trees were just lovely.

Hardwood Swamp, Cypress Creek Natural Area, Florida

Looking up into the canopy of the hardwood swamp

Yet another breathtakingly beautiful Florida habitat to witness and love — and above all else, protect and preserve.

Tree Tuesday: Slash Pines of the Pine Flatwoods

Many of my hikes and images are shot in this ecosystem, and I adore these trees — but in all honesty, show me a tree I don’t love!

Pine flatwoods represent the most extensive ecosystem in Florida, and are distributed over 50% of the state’s land area. As their name implies, flatwoods have a low and flat topography, punctuated by differing kinds of pine, depending where  you are in the state. I’m in the south, so it’s the slash pine that dominates this habitat!

Slash Pines of the Pine Flatwoods, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park, Florida

Slash Pines and Saw Palmetto of the Pine Flatwoods in Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

These flatwoods, or pine barrens, were created by changes in the sea level during glacial times — as the sea levels increased, expanses of land flooded, and sand was deposited. As the waters receded, early species such as pine trees were able to establish themselves in the sandy soil.

Pine flatwoods are consistent: Layered, with high canopies of pines, a lower shrubby layer, and an herbaceous layer. They’re dotted with cypress domes (a cypress swamp in the shape of a dome), cabbage palm flatwoods, marshes, and other habitats. This is truly a fascinating ecosystem, and one that weaves so many others together.

And while today’s flatwoods are less extensive, with more shrubby groundcover than in times past, they continue to be a vital ecosystem in Florida, covering vast expanses of land. Beginning in the 1950s, developers here discovered that this land was easy to cut and clear in enormous swaths — sadly, they haven’t forgotten. Doesn’t the world needs another empty strip mall and golf course?

Flatwoods rely on controlled, or prescribed burning to maintain its community of pines, grasses, and herbs — and to prevent the forest from being overgrown. Controlled burns are vital to new growth, as well. Pine flatwoods continue to be fascinating areas to hike, each one being new; you never knows when you’ll encounter a swamp, open flatwood, or more of these beautiful trees — or the wonderful wildlife this ecosystem supports….

Controlled Burned and Thriving Slash Pines at Bluefield Ranch Natural Area

Controlled Burned and Thriving Slash Pines at Bluefield Ranch Natural Area

To learn more about the Pine flatwoods, visit:

National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests: FREE Today!

Today, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the National Park Service is offering FREE entrance into any national park… So walk, meander, run, bike, or trail-ride your way to your nearest one!

Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Amazing Everglades and Sky of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

The remaining entrance fee-free dates for 2013 are:

  • April 22-26 (National Park Week)
  • August 25 (National Park Service Birthday, or Pre-FeyGirl Birthday)
  • September 28 (National Public Lands Day)
  • November 9-11 (Veterans Day weekend)
Cypress Swamp of the Big Cypress National Preserve

Cypress Swamp of the Big Cypress National Preserve

Love your national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests — numbering more than 2,000 — and continue to support them by your mere presence. And above all else, bask in the beauty of these wondrous spaces!

On the Florida Trail, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

OFF the Florida Trail — Discovering a most amazing, awe-inspiring, and rare OLD cypress swamp

Critical Habitat Protection at the Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park in Stuart (Martin County) is a must-visit: a gorgeous area encompassing 5,800 acres of pristine wetlands and uplands, which provides critical habitat for endangered species of animals and plants. The ecosystem encompasses pine palmetto flatwoods, wet prairie, sand pine scrub, oak hammocks, mixed hardwoods, and freshwater marshes. It includes one of the largest areas of natural land remaining near the Florida Coast.

The natural Atlantic Ridge ecosystem is comprised of 16,000 acres in its entirety. Outside of the already-acquired 5,800 acres, some more areas are on the county’s list for lands to be acquired for purchase of conservation lands and parks — so keep your fingers crossed, because this is some truly beautiful pristine land. The Hobe Sound Irrevocable Trust is proposing to give away approximately 2,300 more acres, enabling the county to provide additional public access to this park, and to preserve the environmentally sensitive land in perpetuity as part of the State park system. The donated lands will create a wildlife, greenway, and recreational corridor running north from Halpatiokee Regional Park (also in Stuart) through the Atlantic Ridge State Park, and south to Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

Pine Flatwoods, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Pine Flatwoods (Tree = Tree)

Pine Flatwoods, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Pine Flatwoods

There’s always an exchange: here, it’s houses. In exchange for the conservation lands, the remaining 400 acres will become a new community, the Atlantic Preserve. This new Planned Unit Development (PUD) will contain 650 homes.

Prairie, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park


But for the 2,300 acres of donated lands that will be protected in perpetuity, this area will serve as the missing link that will connect the Atlantic Ridge State Park ecosystem. This area includes the headwaters of the South Fork of the St. Lucie River and the Loxahatchee River — the first nationally designated “Wild and Scenic River.” The donation and preservation of this land is critical in the ongoing efforts to restore the historic waterflow of these ancient waterways.

Pines, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Into the Pines

Prescribed Burning Signage, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Prescribed, or Controlled Burning Signage

Many animals make their homes in these protected and pristine acres, including anhingas, egrets, herons, owls, hawks, sandhill cranes, and osprey. Bobcat and coyote are also abundant, but as always, these guys were shy as ever. It was equally wonderful to see such healthy and abundant Native flora for the wildlife.

Coyote Prints, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Lots of coyote prints, but no real critter… Drats!

Feral Hog Trap, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

(Invasive) Feral Hog Trap… Here, piggie piggie


Really have to take that Naturalist Class….



Click Here for a Map to the Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park.

The only other people I saw here were on horseback — two of them! But be forewarned, having learned this from the ranger…. Apparently the Palm Beach Hunt Club likes to visit on the occasional Saturdays with their 20-something dogs and horses, spreading a scent and letting their collared dogs run free throughout the Preserve. Needless to say, I’ll never be visiting this location on any Saturday. I’m VERY confused by the County allowing this practice — that is, allowing a HUNT CLUB and their dogs roam free in sensitive, threatened habitat, with wildlife?? Am I missing something?

There’s one public access point, via Cove Road in South Stuart. Before entering, make note of the fee required at the honor station. ALSO: Call Jonathan Dickinson State Park at 772-546-2771 for the entry gate code. Sometimes the gate is closed upon entry, sometimes it’s open. Either way, you NEED THIS ENTRY CODE to leave via a locked gate!

Slash Pine Close-up, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Slash Pine Close-up

Double Vision

We recently hiked the Grassy Waters Preserve — specifically the SWA Trails within the Preserve, the Rookery Loop, and the outer Owahee Trail. Today, the Preserve serves as the freshwater supply for the city and its associated municipalities — but historically the area was the headwaters of the Loxahatchee River (Seminole for River of Turtles). It was also a key component of the Everglades watershed, which began north of Orlando and flowed through rivers that emptied into the vast Lake Okeechobee, where the lake’s waters flooded into the Everglades Basin and slowly flowed into the Florida Bay.

So while we expected to see alligators (as always!) during the hike in the Rookery Loop section of the Preserve, such numbers as those we encountered were not expected. I lost count at 40…in 3 hours! And in this area, as warned by the signage, the gators are in very close proximity to the human visitors. But as is often the case, they were very shy, perhaps not quite as accustomed to humans. And I was thrilled to spy such numbers of these amazing creatures in this beautiful and thankfully preserved ecosystem — they always make wonderful models. I don’t even know where to begin with my alligator collection from this outing, but this duo made me smile.

Seeing Double: Alligator Pair in the Everglades


A Return to Cypress Creek

The last time we visited Cypress Creek Natural Area, we were thrilled to explore part of its 2000 acres of newly restored sensitive pine forest and wetland habitats. We were even more ecstatic to learn of the county’s continued aggressive preservation and restoration efforts of the area.

Restored Everglades Vista of Cypress Creek Natural Area in Jupiter, Florida

Part of the Northeast Everglades Natural Area (or NENA, which holds approximately 165,000 acres of conservation land in northern Palm Beach Country and southern Martin County), and serving as a buffer for the Loxahatchee Wild and Scenic River, Cypress Creek is a valuable part of the Everglades ecosystem. Managed by Palm Beach County, current restoration activities in Cypress Creek include the removal of invasive non-native vegetation, filling miles of ditches (we continue to witness these efforts), changing the elevations of shell mining pits to encourage re-vegetation of native plants, and improving the Old Indiantown Road grade — now known as the Historic Jupiter-Indiantown Trail — for use as a multi-use trail.

Cypress Creek’s restored Everglades habitat

A Great egret in the restored Everglades habitat of Cypress Creek: I see your brightness, fella

Cypress Creek’s restored Everglades habitat

We recently hiked a different section of Cypress Creek, and saw loads of animal tracks due to the fact that not many humans probably make it out to where we ventured — deer, coyote, bobcat, wild boar. It was a wonderful sight to see, and I hope that the county continues it preservation efforts to protect this critical and threatened habitat, returning it to its full splendor…and providing a home for the wildlife once again. It’s wonderful to witness!

The remnants (slash pines) of a controlled (?) burn

Wading friends: A cattle egret and tricolored heron were inseparable

Overlooking the restored Everglades habitat: We need to get over THERE. Trail was flooded, however… We made it, but it was dicey and involved lots of high-steppin’ through the swamp

Gator check… Good to go. OK for foto session.

Wonderful old live oak canopies of Cypress Creek Natural Area

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