Monday, January 28, 2013

Brooker Creek Nature Preserve

By Lu and B

Let us begin by saying that we have only just begun to scratch the surface of the Brooker Creek Preserve. As wild areas in Pinellas County go, it is HUGE – about 8,500 acres (some sources say 8,700 acres) and seven miles long. It is the biggest natural area in the county, an oasis in the densely populated East Lake area. We hiked maybe a mile of the trails that loop through a variety of environments. There are five miles of hiking trails and nine miles of horse trails in the preserve.
There might not be mountains in Florida, but at Brooker Creek Preserve you can clearly see how even a few feet of elevation can make a big change in the ecosystem. Where the many-channeled Brooker Creek flows there are impressive cypresses, and in other lowlands are wet grassy prairies and marshes.

But hike a barely perceptible grade and you'll reach the saw palmetto thickets that mark the boundary between wet and dry. Another foot or two of elevation and you'll get to a mixed pine habitat, and finally the “mountains” – oak hammocks.

Some cypress trees have knees.
These have toes.

The trails are perfect for a amateurs and families. The first stretch, from the parking lot, past the nature center, to the trail-head proper, is a boardwalk. The preserve offers detailed maps, and the trails are well-marked. B and I had the feeling that we were deep in the wilderness, but never worried about getting lost. Families with strollers and little kids can have a beautiful short hike in this first stretch.

A gopher tortoise.

Next week I'll be exploring the other trails, by myself first and then later with B. These are the wet trails, or at least the trails that aren't guaranteed to be dry. We'll let you know how they go. There's also a short dedicated bird trail that ends in a viewing blind for better spotting opportunities.

Check out their trail maps here, and see my information about free guided hikes on this blog's sidebar. The preserve also has lectures just about every week.

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