The 8,000 acre tract of the 18,000 acre preserve is, most definitely, my favorite place to run and explore. J. B. Starkey Wilderness Park is a hidden jewel of a county park located in Pasco. The people are great company, the facilities are top-notch, and the land is spectacular.
Recently, the mornings at the park have been cool and the land blanketed in a heavy fog, which creates stunning sunrises over the open scrub. Many people come to Florida to watch sunsets over beaches, but I believe that nothing can even rival the views from Starkey. Currently, Starkey unlatches the gates at 6:30am, so there is plenty of time to start you run before the temperature rises. A convenient place to park your car if you plan on running trails is at the corral by the horse trails, as opposed to the parking lots by the shelters. Usually the bikers and runners who use the paved bike path park in those lots.
The horse trails tend to be less crowded and more rugged than the hiking trails near the pavilions and parking lots. Also, there is a great group of regulars who use the dirt corral lot. Many walkers with their dogs and a select few runners take to the trails every morning.
|Image from the SWFWMD Starkey Park website|
The maps of the horse trails are very simplistic. There are many, many unmarked trails in this part of the park. My best advice for not getting lost is to make out-and-back routes as opposed to loops. If you do decided to make a circle, take the 1.9 mile or 3 mile loop. These are fairly well marked paths that overlap for much of distance. Take your time and explore the land and enjoy the little twists and turns. I have been running in this park for years and I am only familiar with a little more than the front half.
|Trails are marked with signs, colored posts, and painted trees|
The majority of the horse paths are double track and are usually sandy. Occasionally you will find a grassy stretch, which turns your summer workout into a fun mud run. During March, all of the paths seem to be dry.
I have visited many county and state parks in Florida, and I can definitively say that J. B. Starkey Wilderness Park stands above the rest. Although the new payment system is certainly a change, I will continue to support this park so that it can stay open to the public. I am applying for a yearly pass that allows me to visit any Pasco park for free. The passes are $60.00, which is quite reasonable since I know that I could spend more than that in one summer with the $2.00 a visit fee. Please support the parks when you visit. We have the power to preserve this special piece of land.
On a side note, I got the photos that I will use for my painting. I am excited to begin working on it on Tuesday!