Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Exploring the Preserve

Brooker Creek Preserve, located in Pinellas County, is an approximately 9800 acre "mixture of cypress and bottomland swamps, freshwater marshes and pine and oak hardwood forests" (SWFWMD).  "Over four miles of hiking trails are accessible from the Environmental Education Center.  Hikers learn about the Preserve on the 1.75-mile self-interpretive Friends Trail, located at the end of nearby Lora Lane.  Also, nine miles of equestrian trails, the Scenic Horse Trail and Exercise Horse Trail, meander through pinelands and open fields [...]."  (BCP)  Currently, the park is open from sunrise at 7am to sunset (time posted) and there is not an entrance fee (so that means you can visit often).

Map from SWFWMD

I was pleasantly surprised when I drove into the park this morning.  The electronic gates opened at 7:01 and I drove the meandering road about a mile (I want to run this 1.85 mile loop the next time I am at the park) back to the parking lot.  It was great to see multiple deer, rabbits,  and wild turkey mere yards into the park.  Who knew such a beautifully preserved piece of land sat so quietly near my home for years?

Overall this park is probably the most "user friendly" park I have ever been to.  All paths and viewing areas are marked from the trail head.  Almost over-marked, it is virtually impossible to get lost.  The trails fit together in one large loop with a few points of intersection.  The disappointing part is that I felt like I was running a loop, like the wilderness did not go on forever.  I knew that in time, I would end up right where I started without any need for exploration.  That can be a great thing when you are looking to run a fast trail run, but these are not the trails to spend hours on.

I appreciate the start and ending points.  These markings help when determining how far you traveled.

A few distances are marked on the Wilderness Trail

Signs reading "Preserve Staff Only" appeared frequently  on the paths.  As much as I wanted to run these clearly off-limit trails, I was good and stuck to the paths intended for park guests.  I can imagine that the restricted  trails are much more extensive (and fun), probably similar to the obscure, overgrown paths I find at J. B. Starkey Wilderness Park.  Even though the Preserve Staff does not want anyone to explore these trails, I am overwhelmingly curious about how far out they go.

Being a future educator and lover of natural sciences, I greatly appreciated the educational plaques on the trail by the Education Center.  The quality of the information and presentation as a whole was impressive.  This would be a wonderful place to take a family or group of children to learn about natural Florida firsthand.

Knowing the size of this park, I thought that there had to be other entrances.  With a bit of research, I learned of the one off of Lora Lane.  Horse trails!  We all know those are my favorite.  I can't wait to get back out to Brooker Creek Preserve and learn the intricacies of the land!

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