nature trails and parks Wakulla Crawfordville Florida * nature Hikes Canoe Bicycling Wakulla Natural Preserve

The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is home to a great diversity of creatures. As you browse through its miles of unspoiled natural habitat you can see animals and birds that aren't to be found anywhere else. As you are slowly driving the blacktop road that winds through the park, you are treated to the sight of an American Alligator floating serenely in the lake. There in the foreground you see a log piled high with something... on closer inspection you see a mass of Suwannee Cooters sunning themselves. You have to be fast, they startle easily and leave the log for the safety of the water in a hurry. At the picnic area you notice a small shape moving through the grass and find a Gopher Tortoise making his ambling way towards the marshes and his succulent dinner. If you have the luck of the Irish and quick eyes, you might spot a Sherman's Fox Squirrel . You continue on through the park, finding areas where you can overlook the water and perhaps you'll see a slow moving West Indian Manatee . Butterflies migrate through the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge in September and October. While the butterflies aren't endangered, they are certainly an interesting sight to see.

The entire coastal region on the southern shores of Wakulla is known as the Coastal Marsh Belt. Saltwater marshes are the transitional waters between the fresh water of the rivers and the salt water of the sea. Saltwater marshes are characterized by grassy plants such as cordgrass and needlerush. Freshwater marshes, found up river from saltwater marshes are characterized by sawgrass, bulrush and pickerel weed.

These areas are home to the West Indian Manatee , providing food and shelter. The Coastal Marsh Belt extends along the entire coast of Wakulla, where marsh grass gives way to a coastal beach at Mash Island Park at the mouth of Ochlockonee Bay. Prime examples of the Coastal Marsh Belt Region can be easily seen at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and along stretches of Highway 98.

Marshes are important protectors of the natural environment. They function as natural sponges in times of floods. They absorb and hold water, then release it slowly, which helps prevent severe flood damage. Marshes help protect the coastline from storng storm winds and waves which cause coastal erosion. Marshes also act as natural filters for pollutants carried by storm water runoff. Coastal marshes serve as protective nursery areas for most fish and shellfish of commercial and recreational importance. Without an abundance of healthy coastal marshes we would not enjoy the abundance of fresh seafood available in the area.

Marshes offer feeding and nesting habitat for large numbers of wildlife Beautiful herons and egrets are often seen stalking their prey in roadside marshes.

he American Alligator is found in freshwater throughout the state. It has a large 10 to 19 foot long black body with a broad, rounded snout and lives an average of 40 years. It has excellent eyesight even at night.

Its jaws hold 70-80 pointed teeth. If a tooth is lost, a new one grows in its place. An alligator can go through 2,000 to 3,000 teeth in a lifetime. The ears and nostrils automatically close as the gator slides underwater. A transparent third eyelid, or nictitating membrane, covers the eyes as the reptile's powerful tail propels its streamlined body easily through the water. It feeds on fish, turtles, water birds, snakes, frogs, small mammals, carrion and sometimes other alligators. To find alligators you can scan the surface of a lake at night with a strong flashlight. A red glow is the light reflected from an alligator's eyes. A green or yellow glow indicates a frog or water spider.

The alligator swims by tucking its legs against its body and sweeping its tail from side to side. It is capable of sudden bursts of speed in the water and on land. Alligators construct "gator holes" with their large sweeping tails that retain water during periods of drought. This provides water and foraging space for many other species such as wading birds. In turn, alligators may forage on the species attracted to the "hole." Paths used by alligators in sawgrasses widen to form creeks which in turn help to flood marshes during rainy seasons. Active during warmer months, alligators may stay secluded underwater or in shoreline dens during colder months. If resting, they can stay underwater for an hour or even several hours. They tend to wander during droughts and mating season.

Alligators bellow, loudly! Apparently gators bellow for the sheer sake of bellowing -- it hasn't been linked to hostile or mating behavior. Just before a male bellows, he performs a "water dance", vibrating his whole torso. At the same time, he issues low notes, too low to be heard by humans, that can be heard by other alligators at long distances. Females bellow but not as loudly. Females grunt to call their young. All alligators hiss.

Spring courtship usually takes place in early April. In June or July, the female builds a nest of dirt and plant debris 2-3 feet high near water. Other species, like the red bellied slider, use alligator nests for their own egg deposition. The female alligator hollows out a cavity, lays the eggs (30-50), and covers them up. She aggressively guards the nest, often resting her chin on top of it. About 70 days later, the broods hatch, usually emerging from the nest with the help of the mother, and head straight for the water. Black with yellow bands, the hatchlings are 8-9 inches long. They stick together, forming a "pod", for at least a year. Females will protect their young for up to two years. Like crocodiles and most turtles, alligators lack sex chromosomes. The sex of the offspring is determined by the incubation temperature of the eggs. Alligator eggs that incubate at 82-86°F become females and those at 90-93°F become males. Eggs that incubate in the middle range result in an equal number of males and females.

Alligators are also featured in gator wrestling shows. If you do happen to see one of these, note that the human wrestler quickly clamps the gator's mouth shut (easy to do, it takes very little pressure) and flips him on his back (which impedes blood flow to his brain and he becomes immobile). Rubbing his belly to lull him to sleep once the blood flow to his brain is so reduced is just show. Hunted almost to extinction, alligator hunting was banned in the early 1960's, and is now strictly regulated. Alligator farming now accounts for most of the hides and meat on the market. Alligators are still listed as a threatened species by the USFWS due to the similarity in appearance to the American Crocodile.

WAKULLA COUNTY PARKS
Bald Point State Park , FL
Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park , FL
Ochlockonee River State Park , FL

State Parks in Wakulla County
For more information visit www.floridastateparks.org

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park

550 Wakulla Park Drive Wakulla Springs, FL 32327
850-224-5950
Hours: Florida state parks are open from 8 a.m. until sundown 365 days a year.
Directions: 267 just east of 319 Crawfordville Hwy. Internationally known as one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. Daily guided riverboat tours, swimming, birding, wildlife viewing, photography, hiking. 6,000 acres with Lodge and full service dining room overlooking the spring, horse trails, restrooms, showers, changing room.
http://www.floridastateparks.org/wakullasprings/default.cfm
http://tfn.net/Springs/WakullaSprings.htm

Ochlockonee River State Park

P. O. Box 5 Sopchoppy, FL 32358
850-962-2771
Hours: 8:00 a.m. to sunset
Directions: Ochlockonee River State Park is located four miles south of Sopchoppy on U.S. 319.

San Marcos de Apalachee Historic State Park

148 Old Fort Road St. Marks, FL 31355
850-925-6216
Hours: The historic site is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Thursday through Monday and closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
Directions: San Marcos de Apalachee Historic State Park is located in St. Marks, off S.R. 363 on Old Fort Road.

St. Marks Lighthouse
850-925-6121
http://www.fws.gov/saintmarks/lighthouse.html

Wakulla State Forest
850-488-4274
267 just east of 319 Crawfordville Hwy. across from Wakulla Springs State Park . Florida ' newest state forest is currently in the planning phase. Hikers welcome, NO facilities except parking at the front area.

Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail
850-925-6216
Located in the San Marcos de Apalache Hist or ic State Park. Hike 16 miles through the Appalachicola National F or est all the way to Tallahassee . The trail began in the early 1900s as a railroad c or rid or to transp or t cotton to New England .

St. Marks Trail Boundless Playground
ADA approved NEW playground.Old Woodville Hwy. Off of 267 near Wakulla Station .

National Park s
Apalachicola National Forest
The Apalachicola National Forest is comprised of 564,961 acres on gently rolling flat terrain, and is the largest National For est in Florida . Our forest contains two rivers, the Ochlockonee and the Sopchoppy, along with more than 35 boat launches and landings to provide access to the waters of Florida's national forests.

MAIN WALKING TRAILS INCLUDE
Wright Lake Trail 4.5 miles
Trail of Lakes 6 miles
Leon Sinks Geological Area Trail 5.4 miles

County and City Parks
The Florida Trail in the Apalachicola National Forest is certified as Florida National Scenic Trail. The entire length of the trail in the National Forest is also designated as part of the Florida Statewide Greenways and Trails System. This portion of the Florida Trail offers some of the most remote hiking areas available in the Florida.

Azalea Park
Walking “natural” park with benches, excersise station and two gazebos. Restrooms.

Camp Indian Springs
926-3361
Includes YMCA Camp, equestrian Center, Horseback Trail Rides, Indo or Skate Park . 2387 Bloxham Cutoff Road .

Hickory Park
Downtown Crawfordville behind Sonic. Scheduled f or playground by June ‘08.

Hudson Park
Festivals held here throughout the year. Covered picnic pavilion with stage. Restrooms.

Mash Island Park
Boat ramp, fishing pier, picnic, swimming beach, trail head f or Ochlockonee Bay Trail.

Medart Recreation Park
Hwy 98. Ball fields, playground, restrooms.

Myron B. Hodge City Park
Sopchoppy. Boating, fishing, kayaking, swimming, birdwatching, wildlife viewing, fishing, camping, playground.

Newport Park
Near St. Marks - Boat ramp, RV camp ground, playground, restrooms.

Panacea Mineral Springs
Picnic pavilions, natural mineral springs.

Panacea Women's Club
Panacea baseball field, basketball court, rental available for events.

Shell Point
Beatty Taff Road - Public swimming beach, pavillion, restrooms, volleyball, playground. Non-Motorized boat launch.

Woolley Park
US 98 to Panacea, left on Mound St. Playground, walking trail, fishing pier. Home to the Blue Crab festival & Children's Fishing Tournament in June.

Coming Soon: Wakulla Equestrian Center, Wakulla Wildlife Sanctuary, Pioneer Village, Ochlockonee

Bay Trail.

 

 

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