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Riverbend Park

Riverbend has been by far one of our favorite places to hike, of late. There are expansive networks of trails (for the beginner as well as for the more experienced explorer), including the Ocean-to-Lake portion of the Florida Trail. A wonderful extension of the Florida Trail can also be picked up across the street from Riverbend — accessible through the park (under Indiantown Rd.), or creatively hoofing it across the street, near the river. We jump a fence for quicker and easier access, but it can be difficult to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s a fantastic trail, with a gorgeous watering hole, canopy trees, and miles of hiking, that leads to Jonathan Dickinson. (Several pics below were taken along this trail.)

Within Riverbend proper, besides the nearly 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, there are 7 miles of equestrian trails, and 5 miles of canoeing/kayaking trails — leading you through an otter preserve, and all the way to JD as mentioned. What I especially love about this park is its significant and rich history: Habitation has occurred along the Loxahatchee river dating as far back as the Archaic Period, 5,000 years ago. The first battle of the Loxahatchee, referred to as Powell’s Battle, took place on January 15, 1838. The second battle of the Loxahatchee — Jesup’s Battle — occurred nine days later on January 24, 1838. Outnumbered 1500 to 300, the Seminoles fled into the swamps. After the Battle of the Loxahatchee, Jesup petitioned Washington to allow the Seminoles to remain in the Everglades, effectively ending the war. Washington denied his request, and 600 Seminoles were captured at Fort Jupiter. From its ancient Indian middens, through the tragic Seminole War Battles, to its impressive present-day restoration efforts, tremendous respect should be given to this land and its history. Habitats include beautiful pine flatwoods, open meadows, cypress swamps, oak hammocks, and even abandoned — but still fruit-bearing — orange and grapefruit groves. It can become busy on the weekends, so if you’re able to visit on a weekday during the quieter hours, it’s much more peaceful (or, visit the less-traveled Florida Trail extensions). We’ve seen great horned owls, red-shouldered hawks, deer, alligator, wild turkey, peacocks, gopher tortoises, and otter during such off-times.

We’ll picnic here, along the river or within park in the chickee huts, before our hikes. As always, bring extra trash bags, in case there are no cans in sight until the park’s entrance. (Although here, that’s not such a problem.) We often pick up others’ trash along the way, anyways.

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Bluefield Ranch Natural Area

Bluefield Ranch Natural Area is located in St. Lucie county, at the southern end of Bluefield Rd., 18 miles west of Ft. Pierce off of SR 70. The conservation site rests on the Orlando Ridge, a relic sand ridge originating near Orlando and ending in Martin County. During our initial trip, we believed the park wouldn’t be far from the turnoff from the last “main” road — we were wrong. Expect another 20 minutes of slow driving on a bumpy road and (occasionally) deep sand, before reaching the trailhead. There were times when we completely expected the car to get stuck, and that’s been a first down here. If you have something other than a normal car (which we now do), no worries!

The area provides a variety of natural Florida habitats, supporting diverse wildlife and plant species, including many on the threatened and endangered species list. More than 3,000 acres (3,285 in total) of scrub, scrubby flatwoods, prairie hammock, wet flatwoods, wet prairie, dry prairie, and depression marsh are protected at Bluefield Ranch, and are home to such wildlife as bald eagle, deer, coyote, alligator, turkey, wood stork, sandhill crane, burrowing owl, quail, and several species of snakes (including rattlesnake).

A series of trails is accessible from the parking lot. Biking and horse trails are included, so share the trail where appropriate. We were all by our lonesome in the vastness of the park, so the sharing was done with the gopher tortoises. There’s also an observation tower overlooking a large wetland habitat used by such wading birds as herons, egrets, sandhill cranes, and wood storks.

The area has quite a history, mostly sad: During the Second Seminole War (1835 – 1842), a military trail crossed at this location, providing access to a series of forts constructed throughout Florida to transport troops and supplies. A Seminole Indian camp was also located in the region. The Seminoles stayed in the scrub environments in the summer months, avoiding the flooded swamps and their gargantuan mosquitoes. They moved to the Cypress Creek swamp in the winter. In the 1940s however, they were evicted from their camp (at what is now Bluefield Ranch Natural Area), accused of stealing a calf from a rancher.

During the Prohibition, illegal stills were constructed on the site by bootleggers — for personal consumption as well as for providing an income to support their families. Their remnants can still be seen at Bluefield. Logging was also an active industry — sadly, the area was completely logged of its virgin trees in the 1920s and ’30s, as was true in many regions of Florida.

There’s an abundance of trail options, should you decide to hike Bluefield. Take plenty of water and some snacks with you — we found ourselves far out in the park, after 5-6 hours of solid hiking. It’s obvious that horse trails are popular there as well, so be aware. During our first lengthy hike, we heard a coyote very close, perhaps feet away, but they’re quite shy so we never saw him/her. Above all else, enjoy the land and its beauty, after what it’s been through. We hope to visit again very soon, as it’s been some time since our last trip.

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