Sunday, August 12, 2012

Florida's State Parks - Southwest Region

Florida is blessed with one of the most extensive state park systems in the country. And, despite the presence of a criminal presently residing in the Governor’s mansion, it’s state parks are among the best managed nationally.
On moving to Florida in March 2008 I discovered that just like the National Park Service system, the Florida state parks system maintains a passport stamp program. Each state park has a stamp unique to it and if you slog your way through all of the parks in the system (currently 152 of them) and obtain a stamp for each one, you receive a complimentary front license place from the parks agency
Not all parks are able to maintain an active onsite staff (another of Governor Rick Scott’s many accomplishments) however passport stamps for those parks can be obtained at larger nearby parks. For instance, the stamp for unmanned Cedar Key Scrub Preserve is obtained at nearby Cedar Key Museum.
The first state park I visited in Florida was Collier-Seminole in Collier County. There I purchased my first passport stamp book and after traveling around the state for a year I finished obtaining stamps for all of the parks at Big Lagoon State Park in Escambia County Not satisfied to leave it there, I purchased another passport stamp book and completed the second round of visits at Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West – at the exact opposite end of the state from Big Lagoon.
Not many people have completed one circuit of the state park system let alone two times. That day at Fort Zach I purchased a third passport stamp book and in June 2011 finished filling it out at Torreya State Park in the Panhandle. Currently I am working on a fourth round of visits to each state park. When that’s completed I’ll do it a fifth time.
Because you can obtain stamps for the unmanned parks without actually visiting them, I decided during my third round of visits that I would go one step further in obtaining documentation of my visits.
This time around I began photographing the entrance sign for each of them. Doing so turned into a challenge because places like unmanned Mound Key Archeological Site and St. Lucie Inlet Preserve require a boat ride or a kayak paddle to physically visit the site and obtain a photo. Likewise, Yellow Bluff Fort in Jacksonville doesn’t actually have an entrance sign – just a plaque on a slab of concrete announcing the presence of the park.
Not long ago I had obtained photographs for all but two of Florida’s 152 actively managed state parks (there are 14 others that do not have a passport stamp or public access or both).
The two missing photos were for Egmont Key State Preserve at the mouth of Tampa Bay and Anclote Key State Park offshore from Tarpon Springs. I attempted to get a picture of Anclote in February 2012 but the ferry system used put me on South Anclote Bar where there were no signs.
On July 28, 2012 I took the ferry from Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County over to Egmont Key. I had last been on this island in the mid-1990s when I accompanied the National Wildlife Refuge manager there
All of Egmont is a National Wildlife Refuge but part of it is managed as a state park through a cooperative agreement. On this trip I wanted to visit the state managed area to see and photograph the sign.
That was accomplished easily on a brilliantly hot and bright July weekend afternoon.
Leaving Egmont Key for the mainland I was one park short of my goal – a picture of Anclote Key’s sign. Before making the 90 minute drive to Tarpon Springs where I planned to hire a boat for half a day to run out to the main island, I called Anclote Key to confirm the presence and location of a sign.
Imagine my surprise when I was informed that there is no sign for Anclote Key! Thus when I took the picture of the Egmont Key sign I had completed my quest and now have a photograph for all the actively managed parks that possess a sign (although the signs for Terra Ceia and Cockroach Bay are marginal in their acceptance as a park entrance sign).
To commemorate this accomplishment I am going to post my picture of each of the State Park signs.
With the picture comes a small blurb about the park – something unique or some experience I have had there in each of my visits. This post deals with all of the State Parks in the Southwest Region of Florida.
Alafia River State Park – Out in the middle of the Hillsborough County mine fields (that would be phosphate mine fields) Alafia River provides a small oasis of protected habitat among the miles and miles of scarified earth.
No Sign! Anclote Key Preserve State Park – There is no sign for Anclote Key. The only well-established state park in the system that does not have one! In my quest to obtain a picture of the entrance sign I left it until the end. – the last one. And as it turns out after talking to the park manager there is no sign! I have landed on the south bar of the state park but not on the main island. The south bar has several signs proclaiming this to be a state park yet there is no mention of the name Anclote Key. At least I waiting for this one to be last. Maybe the blank area above is supposed to mean something?
Caladesi Island State Park – Reached by boat or by ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park this little gem protects island beach habitats that are within a stone’s throw of the overdeveloped uplands of Pinellas County.
Cayo Costa State Park – Located just west of Pine Island, and on the south side of infamous Boca Grande Pass, Cayo Costa is a real pleasure to visit for a day. The beach is superb. The birding is great (except in summer when the birding sucks) and the overall experience is one of the most satisfying in the Florida Park Service system
Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park – Protecting about 70 miles of shoreline in and near Charlotte Harbor this park protects thousands of acres of mangroves and other essential coastal habitats.
Cockroach Bay Preserve – Just north of Bradenton but in Hillsborough County, Cockroach Bay is one of the best birding sites in western Florida.
Collier-Seminole State Park – Be prepared to feed a zillion mosquitoes as you explore the historical richness of this unique park. Florida Panthers have their cubs in forested habitats of the park.
Dade Battlefield Historical State Park – The Second Seminole War (of three Seminole wars) began on this site.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park – Although its name “Delnor Wiggins” reminds me of something that a band would name itself, this small park just north of all the Republicans and their money in Naples is one of the best preserved coastal parks in the state.
Don Pedro Island State Park – Another of Florida’s parks accessible only by boat, kayaking or swimming, Don Pedro is one of the jewels of southwest Florida.
Egmont Key State Preserve – Co-managed with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (who owns the entire island) Egmont Key is a nice place to spend an a day exploring islands habitats when you are not working on your tan along the beach.
Estero Bay Preserve – A delightful variety of coastal habitats awaits the traveler who seeks out this beautiful part of southwest Florida
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve – At the edge of the Everglades, Fakahatchee Strand is an important component of the effort to restore Everglades habitats to some semblance of what they were before the carnage of humans began.
Gamble Plantation - A curious plantation home, set in south Florida before the War of Northern Aggression, Gamble Plantation is a pleasant place to spend a few hours learning about this history of the Sunshine State.
Gasparilla Island State Park – The principal draw of Gasparilla Island is the interesting lighthouse that still remains here.
Highlands Hammock State Park – Few places in Florida evoke a sense of what once was as does Highlands Hammock State Park. I thoroughly enjoy walking among the humongous stately trees here especially in spring migration when the vegetation can be overloaded with migrant birds.
Hillsborough River State Park – Are you looking for a great place to go kayaking not far from the crush of the Tampa metro region? Look no further than the beauty of the Hillsborough River protected in this state park.
Honeymoon Island State Park – Keep an eye on the ground for rattlesnakes while you explore the beautiful coastal habitats of this park.
Koreshan State Historic Site – Come here to learn about the history of a bunch of religious whack jobs that traveled here in the late 1890s to find the “New Jerusalem.” After laughing yourself silly at the ridiculousness of it all, enjoy the rest of your day exploring the beautiful habitats of this out of the way place just south of Fort Myers.
Lake June-in-Winter Scrub State Park – Protecting a small patch of what used to be the Lake Wales Ridge, Lake June in Winter is a great place to see Florida Scrub-jay.
Lake Manatee State Recreational Area – The name says it all. This site is about boating and RVing rather than habitat protection and management.
Little Manatee River State Park – An excellent kayaking and canoeing spot not far north of Sarasota or south of Tampa.
Lovers Key State Park – Exquisite is the only superlative that adequately describes the beaches at Lovers Key.
Madira Bickel Mound State Archeological Site – This site, just north of Bradenton, protects a curious mound constructed more than 2000 years ago.
Mound Key State Historic Site – It takes a great deal of effort to visit this small park in the middle of Estero Bay.
Myakka River State Park – The largest State Park in Florida, Myakka River protects a mosaic of habitats for a great number of species of birds and insects. This is one of the best places in Florida to see Alligators.
Oscar Scherer State Park – If you want to see Florida Scrub- Jays and Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes look no further than this beautiful state park just south of Sarasota.
Paynes Creek Historical State Park - Few places in central Florida can provide you with the combination of historical importance and excellent birding as does Paynes Creek.
Skyway Fishing Pier – Why is this included in the State Park System?
Stump Pass Beach State Park – Reached primarily by boat or kayak Stump Pass can provide visitors with a quintessential Florida coastal experience should they be able to reach the park.
Terra Ceia Preserve – Upland and coastal habitats are protected (until criminal governor Rick Scott learns about them) in this interesting preserve not far north of Bradenton.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park – A relict from the 1950s, Weeki Wachee Springs has no business being called a state park.
Werner – Boyce Salt Springs State Park – This unique patch of remnant Pasco County protects some ecologically important salt water springs along the Gulf of Mexico coast.
Ybor City Museum – Come here to learn about the robust history of the Cuban people and their settlement of the Tampa Bay region.

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