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Posts tagged ‘trails’

A Picnic at Fern Forest

As is our modus operandi (read: cheap activity these days), we grabbed an insanely delicious LaSpada’s subs, and headed out to Fern Forest in Broward County for a picnic and casual hike. It’s a bit of a haul for us, but we wanted to take advantage of Florida’s overcast weather with Tropical Storm Emily. Although she didn’t quite make it to land, enough of her bands reached us, and we had to make a run for it out of the trails. The flutterbys were active, and I was chasing them like a crazed lunatic with my camera to no avail. And the banana spiders, oh my. Oh my. They’ve obviously been busy, with their gigantic (but non-toxic) selves. I crashed into a few of their expansive webs, chasing butterflies. Dave’s especially enthralled with spiders, consistently offering better leverage for close-ups. Right-o.

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Fern Forest Nature Center

Fern Forest, 247 acres in entirety, is a magnificent conservation site and wildlife refuge located in Broward County, Florida, taking its name from the myriad ferns — more than 30 species — found on its grounds. In 1979, scientists from FAU and Broward Community College (now Broward College) wrote about the area’s botanical diversity in their article “A Tropical Fern Grotto in Broward County, Florida.” The researchers 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. Authorized in the early 1900s to create more suitable farming land, the Cypress Creek drainage system and the surrounding areas have a long history as farmland, first for such crops as pineapples, tomatoes, beans, and peppers, and later for dairy farming, logging and milling.

Fern Forest remains a significant refuge for wildlife in this highly urbanized region, and hosts many educational activities, conservation events, and nature programs. A reception hall, an ampitheater, and picnic areas and protective shelters are provided within its nature center. The park encompasses 10 plant communities, including a tropical hardwood hammock, an open prairie, and a cypress-maple swamp. Three main trails are offered: The Cypress Creek Trail (a wonderful boardwalk); The Prairie Overlook Trail, which includes a 20-foot-tall observation platform; and the Maple Walk (my favorite!), through an often soggy red maple swamp. Fern Forest was awarded “Best of” from the Broward/Palm Beach New Times for:

  • 2009 – Best Nature Trail
  • 2007 – Best Nature Trail
  • 2005 – Best Place to Birdwatch

LaSpada’s Subs is nearby, even better! We like to grab some grub for a picnic, before our walks either here or at nearby Tree Tops park… Upcoming post.

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A Rainy Day at Riverbend

Riverbend Park in Jupiter, Florida, remains one of our favorite places to hike, providing both leisurely strolls and more advanced hikes. When we don’t feel up for a longer hike, or hitting the Florida Trail (accessible across Indiantown Road), we’ll stay within the park proper and its abundance of pathways.

During our most recent trip, we thought we would take advantage of the cloudy skies, but as soon as we stepped into the park — literally — the skies opened up. For the next three hours we hiked in the rain, most of which were downpours,  which is perfectly fine. Save for the fact that I was waiting for my camera bag in the mail, so my camera-baby was wrapped in 2 Publix bags and crammed under my shirt. No worries; we saw several hawks, a few skittish deer, and LOTS of butterflies (in between the really rainy spots). I did feel badly for the drenched, lost (and inexperienced) kayakers, though — we tried our best to guide them. OK, Dave did. I had absolutely no idea where to point.

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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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