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Posts from the ‘Florida Hiking’ Category

Vestige of the Everglades: Grassy Waters Preserve

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. —John Muir

Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach presents the natural history of Florida in its pristine and wild 23.5 square miles. 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. Humans have since severely altered this historic water flow — although efforts have begun in earnest to resolve years of detrimental impact. The Grassy Waters Preserve (GWP) represents a remnant of the once-magnificent Everglades ecosystem.

Numerous hiking and biking trails wind throughout GWP, including the Apoxee Trail — “beyond tomorrow” in the Miccosukee language (pronounced A-po-hee). We weren’t prepared for a flooded-trail hike, so we drove north to the Hog Hammock Trail, where we were delighted to be completely alone for our 5-mile venture, save the critters. What’s wonderful about GWP is the variety of trails offered — long, short, easy, advanced — you have your pick.

Wildlife sightings include alligator, deer, armadillo, wild turkey, feral hog, bobcat, otter, osprey, great-horned owl, hawk, assorted wading birds, and snail kite. The survival of snail kite — the logo for the Preserve — is dependent on the preservation of pristine wetlands like those at Grassy Waters. Sadly, like so many other species, it’s estimated that this amazing bird of prey will most likely face extinction within the next 30 years due to habitat loss and other factors. But at Grassy Waters, snail kite sightings are common — proving that this iconic Everglades resident is allowed the quality habitat it needs for a fighting chance at survival.

These images were taken during our Hog Hammock hike, which we did in its entirety, including the mile-long dead-end trip…. As we were leaving the trail, I was yapping about something terribly important and startled a magnificent great-horned owl, which alighted immediately in front of us. Argh for the failed photo op!

Cypress Tree

Here There be Gators: Adorable but Flighty Juvies!

Outside of the trail…

Entering the trail…

Everglades Vista

Everglades Vista

Nature’s design: Slash Pines

NENA Signage

National Trails Day

Tomorrow — Saturday, June 2, 2012 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.

National Trails Day also introduces many people — those who may not otherwise visit parks and trails — to all of their benefits. The day further highlights trails that people didn’t even know existed. I try to do this as well in this blog — after hearing many friends unaware of the magnificent parks and trails in their backyards (see Natural Areas and State & National Parks dropdowns, above — or the Categories section to the right). 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. It’s also cheap! Exploring these serene environments will help you decompress and find solitude as well; I often wander alone, watching and photographing as I stroll the natural areas.

Find an event near you for a National Trails Day event. Celebrate nature and promote our country’s parks and trails! I have far too many trail pictures to share (as proven in my past posts!), so I’ll revisit a few of my favorite areas, if that’s possible:

A most beautiful path in Riverbend (Jupiter, FL)

Cypress Swamp Along the Florida Trail

Into the Swamp, Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Prairie Overlook Trail, Fern Forest

Sheltering Trees of the Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Gorgeous Oaks of the Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Cypress Swamp, Historic Jupiter-Indiantown Trail, Cypress Creek Natural Area

Boardwalk, Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Riots of Yellow & Gold in a Florida Forest

Hiking in Florida affords an onslaught of lush landscape, but in the dry winter months, all shades of  brown rule. As spring dawns, the greens return and the colors alight. During our recent venture to Broward County’s Fern Forest, a magnificent 247-acre conservation site and wildlife refuge characterized as “the last remaining stronghold of ferns in southeastern Florida,” we witnessed a barrage of yellows and oranges (the colors of the day, as my mind flashed to an episode of Sesame Street). This beautiful and diverse natural area represents the last remnant of the historical Cypress Creek floodway — which today, remains a significant refuge for wildlife in a highly urbanized region, encompassing ten plant communities, including tropical hardwood hammock, open prairie, and cypress-maple swamp.

After leaving the shaded canopy of the Prairie Overlook Trail — the shade of which was already much appreciated with our rapidly rising temperatures — a riot of bright yellow Prickly-pear cactus blooms greeted us in the open prairie. And upon our departure from the Cypress Creek Trail (a wonderful boardwalk), we spied a rare yellow anole (aka yellow-phased green anole); unfortunately, anoles with this unique color mutation don’t usually live long in the wild, as the green coloring offers them valuable camouflage for hunting prey and hiding from predators.

A Ruddy Daggerwing butterfly (Marpesia petreus), a common sight in Florida, alights near the hardwood hammock…

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Love in the Florida Forest

Still not quite able to tackle the bigger hikes, we ventured to lovely Fern Forest, a magnificent conservation site and wildlife refuge located in Broward County. Encompassing 247 acres, researchers have characterized the site as “the last remaining stronghold of ferns in southeastern Florida.” This beautiful and diverse natural area represents the last remnant of the historical Cypress Creek floodway. Today, Fern Forest remains a significant refuge for wildlife in this highly urbanized region, and hosts many educational activities, conservation events, and nature programs. The park encompasses ten plant communities, including a tropical hardwood hammock, an open prairie, and a cypress-maple swamp. Visitors can investigate three main trails: The Cypress Creek Trail (a wonderful boardwalk); the Prairie Overlook Trail, which includes a 20-foot-tall observation platform; and the Maple Walk, winding through an often soggy red maple swamp.

During our weekend visit we hit the Prairie Overlook Trail and the expansive boardwalk; the butterflies were especially active after an unexpected Saturday monsoon. As always, I try to catch the swallowtails in action, but fail miserably and land in the oversized banana spiderwebs. But I did manage to snap a private moment between mating Viceroy Butterflies (Limenitis archippus) — cue the appropriate music; I was humming it for them at the time.

Deep in the darkness of the Prairie Overlook Trail, my guy spotted this sublime palm…a love tree! I’m only sorry I didn’t find it first; it was completely tucked away in a riot of Florida growth.

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Air, Water + Earth: The Savannas

Despite our fanatical hiking throughout South Florida, we had never investigated the Savannas — and within the space of one week, it came up in conversation no less than three times (once from a fellow blogger). Obviously a sign! We were insanely lucky to visit on a cool, cloudy, and windy day after an unseasonably warm (read: HOT) spell. We investigated a few trails from the Education Center, as well as further within the park. Afterwards, we drove towards Jensen Beach to check out Hawk’s Bluff, also part of the park and an extension of the Florida Trail. Located along the eastern edge of the Savannas, Hawk’s Bluff is a lovely 1-mile loop trail, marked by sand dunes and oak hammocks, leading to the water’s edge overlooking the Savannas. If anyone has suggestions for other trails and access points, please give a shout!

Managing nearly 6,000 acres, the preserve represents the largest and most ecologically intact swath of freshwater marshes, or “savannas,” that once extended along Florida’s entire southeast coast. Looking across their lovely vastness today, it’s downright depressing to picture the hotels that currently reside in their place. The open wetlands filter rainwater and runoff from the surrounding dunes and pine flatwoods, creating a unique biological community — an endangered landscape — as they continue to preserve and feed vital waterways and ecosystems, including the Atlantic scrub ridge, freshwater marshes, and the estuaries of the St. Lucie Inlet. The preserve is comprised of six natural communities: pine flatwoods, wet prairie, basin marsh, marsh lake, sand pine scrub, and scrubby flatwoods. While each community is home to its own fauna and flora populations, the sand pine scrub habitat represents an increasingly imperiled ecosystem, and shelters several of Florida’s most threatened and endangered animal and plant species. The Savannas’ many wildlife species include the threatened Florida scrub jays, gopher tortoises, alligators, deer, and sandhill cranes. American bald eagles have recently made their homes in the preserve, as well — the nests of several pairs are located in the more isolated areas. The park is also one of the few remaining natural habitats in the U.S. for the endangered (and inedible) prickly apple cactus (Harrisia fragrans), which grows along the Atlantic Ridge in the scrub regions.

Being a chilly and windy day, we didn’t run into too many critters, but I did manage to spot a few (with some trees thrown in for good measure):

Green-on-Green Dragonfly

Water Flower

Rat Snake Catching Some Sun

Palm and Savannas

Live Oak on the Hawk’s Bluff Trail

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