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Exploring the Wilds of Tarpon Springs
Most visitors to Florida’s central Gulf coast make a beeline for its beautiful sandy beaches, but they might want to consider taking a day trip to the region’s largest natural area– Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs.
Exploring even one of the miles of hiking trails crisscrossing these 8,500 acres of wild lands will return both visitors and longtime residents to the much simpler times of old Florida –as far back as region’s the first native American settlements.
I recently took a one-hour guided walk with husband and wife preserve volunteers Ray and Rose where we traversed three distinct native habitats in less than a mile.
Beginning on the elevated boardwalk at the Environmental Education Center, we walked a short distance before spying a five-foot alligator in its cypress-shaded swampy hole, an immature ibis preening its feathers, an anhinga sitting on a deadfall drying its wings, and a night heron looking for lunch. All rely on the Brooker Creek watershed whose 13 channels meander for miles before merging into Lake Tarpon– a world-class bass fishery despite its urban location. The boardwalk was lined with red and silver bay, ferns, and tupelo, and we kept pretty cool despite the late-spring heat and humidity.
Continuing on, it wasn’t long before we entered an oak hammock that provided even more shade under leafy, spreading boughs. Just a few steps more to flat woods where tall longleaf pines were surrounded by thickets of saw palmetto. Beside the path, we found a sandy hole dug by a gopher tortoise– a threatened species. We didn’t see the reptile, but that wasn’t surprising since its burrow could extend 30 feet underground.
Back on the boardwalk we passed through a cypress swamp where the tree limbs were decorated with colorful bromeliads– relatives of the pineapple. Returning to the education center, we passed a gaggle of volunteers who were busy pulling up invasive plants adjacent to the parking lot. The community loves this place and works hard to maintain it as a peaceful, natural oasis.
Brooker Creek Preserve (www.brookercreekpreserve.org) is open daily from 7 a.m. to one hour before sunset with free admission. The Environmental Education Center is open Thursday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Free guided hikes are conducted often, along with classes, workshops, kids’ camps, musical jams, and festivals. The venue also hosts weddings and conferences. Visit the website for more information, or call 727-453-6800.
Be sure to sign up for more information on the Guy Harvey Outpost Club & Resort Tarpon Springs, the first outdoor resort for the brand featuring cottages and RV lots www.outpostclubtarponsprings.com.