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Tree Tuesday: Oaks of the Hammock

There was some synchronous discussion during a *hammock* ecosystem reference in one of my recent posts … I’m so accustomed to these habitats, that I forget to detail their wonderful qualities!

From the National Park Service’s perfectly phrased definition of a hardwood hammock on their Everglades page:

A hardwood hammock is a dense stand of broad-leafed trees that grow on a natural rise of only a few inches in elevation. Hammocks can be found nestled in most all other Everglades ecosystems. In the deeper sloughs and marshes, the seasonal flow of water helps give these hammocks a distinct aerial teardrop shape.

Many tropical species such as mahogany (Swietenia mahogoni), gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba), and cocoplum (Chrysobalanus icaco) grow alongside the more familiar temperate species of live oak (Quercus virginiana), red maple (Acer rubum), and hackberry (Celtis laevigata). This diverse assemblage of plant life supports an equally diverse array of wildlife.

Because of their slight elevation, hammocks rarely flood. Acids from decaying plants dissolve the limestone around each tree island, creating a natural moat that protects the hammock plants from fire. Shaded from the sun by the tall trees, ferns and airplants thrive in the moisture-laden air of these hammocks.

Here’s one of my favorite hammocks — an oak hammock of the Florida Trail, leading towards Jonathan Dickinson State Park from Indiantown Road in Jupiter. There are several types of hammock ecosystems in Floridahardwood, palm, tropical hardwood — but this is a live oak (hardwood) hammock, more common inland.

To say it’s incredibly lovely does not do it justice — how can you not feel protected by, and protective towards, these ancient, sheltering giants?

Oak Trees of the Florida Trail, Jonathan Dickinson

Oak Trees / Hammock of the Florida Trail

 

Barking Tree Frog

During our recent trip to Jonathan Dickinson, our exploration centered on the Florida Trail and the Kitching Creek portions, which can lead you to  Riverbend Park and Indiantown Road, to the south.  It was a perfect day for such an investigation — overcast and lonely (encountering only one other backpacker, on his way to the primitive campsite). Four hours of hiking in Jonathan Dickinson’s terrain, and one is thankful for cloudy days (or at least my Irish skin always is). After passing stately rows of centuries-old cypress and live oak along the Loxahatchee River (into which the Kitching Creek flows), we headed into some lovely cypress swamps — always my favorite — before breaking out once again into the open pine flatwoods. Outside of the family of feral pigs (wild hogs) and myriad birds (we tried looking for the maniacal owl), it was somewhat quiet. But towards the end of the hike, I nearly stepped on a tiny, beautiful barking tree frog. Fortunately, s/he leapt straight in the air to avoid my lumbering hiking boots. I was reaching exhaustion after those hours of hiking — I really, really need to return to hiking shape….

A tiny barking tree frog hopped out of the way of my lumbering hiking boot, clutching a twig for dear life….

Beautiful markings on a tiny barking tree frog — safe and sound after s/he hopped out of the path!

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Jonathan Dickinson State Park: Strolling JD to Riverbend

Jonathan Dickinson State Park offers an ideal exploration of natural Florida, providing a vast ecosystem filled with wildlife in 13 natural communities. Sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, mangroves, and cypress swamps cover the entirety of the park, nearly 20 percent of which is comprised of coastal sand pine scrub, an environmental community so rare that it’s been designated as “globally imperiled.” The Loxahatchee River — Seminole for “River of Turtles” — was federally designated as Florida’s first “Wild and Scenic River” in 1985, and runs through Jonathan Dickinson, originating in Riverbend Park to the south.

A portion of the Florida Trail winds throughout the park, but be sure to double-check its start points — they’ve recently altered one of them. It includes two interconnecting hiking loops — the East Loop and the Kitching Creek Loop (see trail guides within the links, below). Each are provided with their own primitive campsites — something we’d like to do while the weather holds. The loops are linked via a short connector trail through pine flatwoods, and are popular with hikers and backpackers due to the fact that they’re the furthest campsites from the park’s entrance. The total hiking distance for both loops is 17 miles. While we haven’t yet done both simultaneously, we’ve done them separately — and we’re in the process of investigating the portion of the Florida Trail leading to Riverbend Park.

It was a perfect day for such an exploration — overcast. Four hours of hiking Jonathan Dickinson’s terrain, and one is thankful for cloudy skies (or at least my Irish skin always is). After passing stately rows of centuries-old cypress and live oak along the Loxahatchee River (into which the Kitching Creek flows), we headed into the lovely cypress swamps — always my favorite — before breaking out once again into the open pine flatwoods. We only saw one other backpacker on his way to the primitive campsite, in the late afternoon — outside of the family of feral pigs (wild hogs) and myriad birds (we tried looking for the maniacal owl), that is. We’ll definitely be returning to complete the hike, and soon.

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Kitching Creek, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Signage for the Casual Hikers, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Heading into the Cypress Swamp, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Controlled Burn Results, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Cypress Swamp, Jonathan Dickinson

Cypress Knees, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Swamp, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Cypress Swamp, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Cypress Swamp, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Slash Pine Bark, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Trail Signage, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Slash Pine Treetops, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Signage to Riverbend, Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Jonathan Dickinson State Park offers an ideal exploration of natural Florida, providing a vast ecosystem filled with wildlife in 13 natural communities. Sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, mangroves, and cypress swamps cover the entirety of the park, nearly 20 percent of which is comprised of coastal sand pine scrub, an environmental community so rare that it’s been designated as “globally imperiled.” The Loxahatchee River — Seminole for “River of Turtles” — was federally designated as Florida’s first “Wild and Scenic River” in 1985, and runs through Jonathan Dickinson, originating in Riverbend Park to the south.

Wildlife thrives at the park, due to a long history of protection. Deer, raccoons, foxes, otters, bobcats, and coyote can be seen if you’re quiet enough. Alligators are common, as are turtles along the river. Threatened and endangered species include Florida scrub-jays, gopher tortoises, manatees, and Eastern indigo snakes. More than 150 species of birds have been identified within the park as well. We’ve (not surprisingly) encountered families of wild pigs, but often on the backroad “trails” within the park. The feral pigs — or wild hogs — have become a destructive and invasive force in the area for some time, and the park does its bit to control their populations.

History

Jonathan Dickinson’s namesake was a shipwrecked Quaker merchant, who, in 1696 made his way — along with his family and other survivors — up the eastern Florida coast to St. Augustine. Crucial information about early life in Florida is provided within his journals, which describe his encounters with Native Americans and Spanish settlers.

During the 1930s, Trapper Nelson (born Vincent Nostokovich or Natulkiewicz), the Tarzan [or Wildman] of the Loxahatchee, moved to the region and lived off the land as a trapper and fur trader. He eventually grew himself and his home into one of the area’s first tourist attractions after World War II — with “Trapper’s Zoo and Jungle Gardens.” Spending the majority of his profits buying land at tax sales, he amassed nearly 900 acres of the Loxahatchee riverfront, thus sparing it from development. After he died mysteriously in 1968 of a “self-inflicted” shotgun wound to the chest, the state acquired his land, and deeded it to the park. Trapper’s controversial death continues to lend a sense of mystery to the site of his restored camp.

During World War II, the U.S. Army established Camp Murphy, a top-secret radar-training school. In what is now Jonathan Dickinson State Park, there were more than 1,000 buildings, housing more than 6,000 officers and soldiers. While the camp was deactivated after only two years of operation in 1944, many of the buildings’ ghostly foundations remain visible. In 1950, the land was declared a state park.

Activities

Hiking: Jonathan Dickinson provides a wealth of activities within its 11,500 acres. We’re avid hikers, and there’s much land to hike at JD. Be sure to pick up a trail map, or download one from the Web (or from one of the sites provided below). We’ve done bits of the four main nature trails — we’ve even tackled an abandoned trail or two. But of late, we’ve been investigating the Florida Trail and the Kitching Creek portions, which can lead you to Riverbend Park and Indiantown Road. You can spend a half-hour on a trail, or an entire day (if you can hike those 12 miles — sometimes in soft sand).

Biking: The bike trails at Jonathan Dickinson are amazing — both paved and off-road bicycle trails are available. The Camp Murphy Off-road Bicycle Trail System is a nine-mile network of mountain bike trails, with loops rated for difficulty, from beginner to “black diamond, experts only.” (Bicycles are available for rental.)

Horseback Riding: Eight miles of multi-use trails are also provided for equestrians wishing to bring their horses, and a full-facility campground is available for those wishing to camp with their horses.

Camping: The park provides an abundance of camping options, from full-facility, to cabins, to primitive (something we’d like to try in this area). Three youth group sites are also present at the park.

Canoeing & Kayaking: The Loxahatchee is famous for its scenic canoeing and kayaking, leading travelers under a canopy of breathtaking centuries-old cypress, or through a gnarled mangrove-lined estuary. I’ve canoed to Trapper Nelson’s site, and it’s especially lovely when it’s not the busy (S)eason. Rentals are offered for canoes, kayaks, and motorboats. Remember to observe the “idle speed” limit on the river within the park for the sake of the wildlife. The 25-passenger Loxahatchee Queen II also takes visitors on a two-hour tour of the river, with a stop at the restored camp of Trapper Nelson.

To learn more, visit the Elsa Kimbell Environmental Education and Research Center, which celebrates the nature and history of the park through exhibits, displays, and other educational offerings.

Address & Directions

16450 S.E. Federal Hwy.
Hobe Sound, 33455
(772) 546-2771 / Reservation: 1-800-326-3521

Hours: 8 a.m. until sundown, year-round

Jonathan Dickinson State Park is located 12 miles south of Stuart on U.S.1. Accessible from I-95 (Exit 87A) or the Florida Turnpike (Exit 116).

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