Monday, October 08, 2007

Highlands Hammock State Park

This 9,000 acre park in Highlands County opened to the public in 1931 and is one of the earliest examples of grass-roots public support for environmental preservation. Local citizens, concerned about plans to turn the hammock into farmland, acquired the property and pledged to protect it. When Florida’s state park system was established in 1935, Highlands Hammock became one of the four original state parks in the newly established system.

Swamp along the Richard Lieber Trail

The park preserves a scenic virgin hardwood forest, a large cypress swamp, pine flatwoods, sand pine scrub, bayheads and marsh. There are nine trails that penetrate this thickly wooded preserve, with many having boardwalks that take hikers over the marshier sections affording vistas into the mysterious and fascinating swamps below.

Gigantic golden silk spider

Fern Garden Trail

There is also a campground, restaurant, museum and ranger guided tram tours. Highlands Hammock is located four miles west of Sebring on County Road 634. For such a small park it is dense with natural beauty and a wide array of contrasting biomes. It is well worth the detour off of U.S. 27 if you ever happen to be in this neck of the woods.

Delicate white fungi on the forest floor

An adult eastern lubber grasshopper (Romalea microptera)

Deep in the jungle wilderness

Giant oak trunk

Catwalk on the Hickory Trail

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Myakka River State Park

This past Sunday we visited Myakka River State Park, one of Florida's oldest and largest (58 square miles). It is located in central Sarasota County, just seven miles east of I-75, and preserves a diverse set of distinctive natural landscapes. In addition to the Myakka River floodplain there are swamps, dense forests of hardwoods and palm, several large lakes and extensive tracts of dry prairie land. This is one of the most interesting natural areas in Florida and judging by the number of visitors very popular too.

Myakka River

Trail along the river floodplain

Floodplain palm forest

The forest canopy as seen from a 74 foot observation tower.

The park is also teeming with wildlife and on our fairly short visit we encountered: wild boar, deer, a pygmy rattlesnake, red shouldered hawks, flocks of black vultures, alligators and all kinds of interesting insects.

Wild boar

Red shouldered hawk

Upper Myakka Lake

Black vulture convention by the lake

In addition to hiking, camping and fishing there are trails for horseback riding and as well as interpretive presentations and guided hikes. You can also hop aboard one of the world's two largest airboats, the Myakka Maiden or the Gator Gal for a scenic cruise on Upper Myakka Lake or take a Tram Safari into the backcountry. There is enough room here to take extended backpacking trips into the interior but I would strongly suggest doing this in the winter when the bugs and heat are less intense. All in all a great place to enjoy the essence of natural Florida.

Where the prairie meets the forest

Some very interesting ant hill architecture

Steer clear of the velvet ant (Dasymutilla magnifica).

Black vultures in a tree waiting for death to bring them lunch.