CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail is OPEN!

The South Florida Water Management District has finished up the construction projects at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail and now the entire 12-mile loop is open and ready for your visit!

Thanks for being patient as he northern trestle bridge crossing was repaired and several degraded culverts were replaced.

Designed and constructed by Nelson Marine

Construction Underway at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail

The South Florida Water Management District, CREW’s land managers and primary land owners, will close the CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail after the boardwalk until further notice for construction.

Please respect the posted signs at the end of the boardwalk so construction efforts can be efficient and completed on time. We will notify you again when the trail work is complete and the entire trail is open.

For now, you may enjoy the 1/4-mile crushed shell path leading to our 1500-ft. boardwalk with wheelchair accessibility remaining open for visitors! đźšś

Or you may prefer to visit one of our other three excellent trails. Check out more detail on our website here: CREWtrust.org/visit-crew

CREW Work Never Ceases

By Allison Vincent – CREW Trust – 5/20/2022

Partners, SFWMD and FWC clear fallen trees off the designated hunting trails

SFWMD – Shredding at CREW Flint Pen Strand Trails

At first glance, shredding – or mechanically grinding a wider path – may seem like a drastic step in the wrong direction. Walking the uneven ground the land management machines leave in their wake, it’s easy to focus on the current destruction instead of the intended long-term benefits. So, give it some time, and much like the rest of the changes we’ve observed at CREW Flint Pen Strand Trails (FPS), this too will lead to a more environmentally resilient ecosystem. 

Since its opening in 2018, we’ve seen remarkable changes at CREW Flint Pen Strand Trails as this newest network of trails has grown and evolved. We know that connecting four (including the CREW Bird Rookery Swamp) parking lots may seem like a bit much, and maybe it is, but what those connections create in terms of accessibility is truly great. A substantial part of land management is to ensure accessibility. This involves widening the trails to allow others to wage the never ending battle of keeping them trimmed and mowed. This in turn helps create firebreaks to contain inevitable outbreaks of fire and ensures that first responders can reach those in need.  

One of the coolest things about the FPS trail system is the constant change that can be observed when we slow down long enough to pay attention to how the trails are always evolving. Return in ten years and you will likely find this trail system to have undergone the most changes of any within CREW. From the changes that wildfire brings, to the hydrologic restoration project, and the connection of the Purple Trail to CREW Bird Rookery Swamp, nothing ever stays the same at FPS!

FWC – Designated Trail maintenance at FPS

There are trails here for all levels of hikers and for every conceivable user group. Not unlike the waves of wading birds and alligators that populate FPS in all their wild ways; bikers, equestrians, long-distance hikers, wildflower seekers, photographers, birders, geo-cachers and hunters all flock to FPS. 

We’ve intentionally kept the hunting area separate from the trails for all user groups to enjoy their chosen pursuit of nature to its fullest. Far ahead of the hunt season, CREW FWC biologists hang “Designated Hiking” signs with a different color/shape to designate the hunting trails from the CREW hiking trails; they update hunt brochure policy and survey the huntable area by swamp buggy to ready the lands for this active user group. That includes a whole lot of trail trimming work as these areas of CREW rarely see a vehicle. 

CREW Trust volunteers aid in trail maintenance

SFWMD – Culvert installation at BRS

Future endeavors are on the horizon at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail, which has experienced natural degradation over the course of its public access history. The trail itself is historically significant, as a former logging road used to haul out old-growth cypress. The second-growth trees we now enjoy surround the old logging tram, with some of its original construction. 

It’s no wonder that some of the infrastructure has begun to crumble under the weight of bikers, hikers, bears, panthers and most significantly, land management trucks and heavy equipment. If you’ve hiked far enough, you’ve likely noticed the lack of trail upkeep on the far western banks of the trail. That’s simply because mowing contractors have not been able to traverse the broken down culverts desperately in need of replacement. That will all change in the coming months! 

The diligent South Florida Water Management District personnel assigned to look after CREW, have purchased several huge new culverts to install before the rainy season kicks into high gear. You can expect to see a temporary closure of the tram section of the trail in the next few weeks so that SFWMD personnel and contractors can complete the project as quickly as possible. The portion of the trail to remain open will include the parking area and boardwalk. 

In Sum

Keep an eye out for all these improvements by visiting CREW trail systems regularly. The CREW Land & Water Trust works to keep you informed about water and wildlife through guided walks, strolling science seminars, information kiosks and this series of blog posts. The hard work is handled by our partners, SFWMD and FWC, who keep our trails navigable and safe for humans and wildlife, and most importantly they protect and maintain our watershed. We owe them our thanks. 

The Changes that Wildfire Brings

By Allison Vincent – May 6, 2022 – CREW Land & Water Trust

Trail recon and clean up post fire with the CREW Trust volunteers

The walk leading up to the pine flatwoods at CREW Flint Pen Strand on the Billy G. Cobb Memorial Trail – commonly known as the Red Trail – at first glance appears unchanged after the March wildfire. That is, until you reach the fire breaks laid down by the Florida Forest Service (Forestry). 

Winding through the first half mile of this popular trail, with its verdant evergreen canopy, makes you almost forget a wildfire occurred or that even more changes are imminent as the seasons change. In just a few short months these trails undergo a dramatic transformation as the CREW watershed goes from dry to wet with the onset of the rainy season. That’s why many scientists say our region has two seasons – wet and dry – plus a fire season mixed into the later end of the dry season. 

Saw palmetto

Fire ecologists, like those with Forestry – or in-house at CREW with the South Florida Water Management District (the District) – anticipate the fire season considering many factors including seasonal water levels, wind measurements and relative humidity conditions. 

Ecosystems across the state reap diverse benefits from the touch of fire, which is why land managers utilize prescribed fire, previously known as “controlled fire”, year round. These burn prescriptions strategically revitalize fire dependent ecosystems and help to lower the intensity of future wildfires by focusing on heavy “fuel loads”, or areas with a layered understory of plant vegetation. 

As visitors, what we see after the impactful touch of fire is a stark change with ample opportunity for observation. Before the rain really gets started, take the gentle powder-sand path of the Red Trail, freckled with yellow tickseed flowers, and observe this easy-going path break up like a scar at each intersecting fire-break line. 

Send in your after pictures of the Red Trail at CREW Flint Pen Strand, or tag us @CREWtrust

As the fire-affected areas regrow and we work to restore the natural ecological flow, much of the burned area will remain wide open to better observe wildlife like low-flying birds, teal-striped lizards and foraging white-tailed deer. 

The blazing wings of a male red cardinal stands out even more starkly as he seeks out the cooked seeds and roasted tidbits among the contrast of the blackened pine woods on one side of the fire break with the thick undergrowth of vegetation on the other. 

Strange sounds, like the crackling reverberations from the pine trees, may surprise visitors not used to walking among the charred aftermath of a burn. In fact the wind blowing through the dry trees can evoke the experience of underwater fish gnawing on their favorite coral treat. However, here the sound comes from the pine tree trunks and limbs stretching from under their alligator-textured bark, growing back and expanding underneath the tightness of the char. 

The openness of the understory makes it easy to spot other wildlife, such as the outlines of white-tailed deer in the distance and white zephyr lilies peaking starkly upward against a black earth. As if waiting for the water that winds down the fire season and fills the CREW trails, these rain and fire loving lilies are delicious to sniff, but take nothing but photos as you tour this eclectic sensory experience. 

Under the spiky neon-green of the saw palmettos – the first plants to return as one of the only ground cover hold-outs – the equally bright colors of the six-lined racerunner streaks meticulously across the open understory. Their blue cheeks and yellow racing lines are a rare sight on these usually vegetative trails. 

Ultimately, it’s not a question of if a fire will affect this region, but when, which is why we encourage you to learn about the strategies used to enhance the resilience of the land, water and surrounding inhabited areas. With its rare sights and sounds, fire reveals so much life that would normally be hidden and allows us, along with the wildlife, the ability to truly explore this newly exposed landscape.

In the Footsteps of Fire

The Blue Shortcut Trail at CREW Flint Pen Strand

by Julie Motkowicz, CREW Trust Education Coordinator

Have you heard the news? 

CREW Flint Pen Strand recently experienced several days of wildfire. While CREW agencies conduct intentional prescribed burns all the time at Flint Pen, this fire was treated differently because of how it started. Read through these frequently asked Q&A to discover the facts about our recent wildfire and fire ecology of Southwest Florida.

What happened?

On Saturday, 3/26/22, local residents reported an active wildfire at CREW Flint Pen Strand in Bonita Springs. The fire began in northern Flint Pen outside of the hikable area, but spread to other areas within the preserve, including several of the CREW trails. The fire ultimately burned in three separate sections and was monitored over the following weeks. The Florida Forest Service and Bonita Springs Fire Department immediately responded with wildfire control measures. The South Florida Water Management (SFWMD) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) aided the situation. 

How big was the fire?

The fire burned approximately 190 acres, a majority of which occurred beyond the trails in northern areas of CREW Flint Pen Strand.

How was the fire stopped?

The Florida Forest Service used plows to create “fire breaks”. Fire breaks clear vegetation so that fire will no longer have “fuels” to burn and therefore extinguish itself. Natural fire breaks include bodies of water and even hiking trails.

How has the fire affected Flint Pen Strand?

The fire has visually changed the floral landscape of many areas of CREW Flint Pen Strand. For example, on parts of the Red Trail the understory of grasses and shrubs have been cleared, opening up lots of space for new growth. The fire breaks have created new open clearings on and around the trails that will take time to regrow. 

Are the trails still hike-able?

Yes, but some of the trails were affected by the fire breaks and are very bumpy and sandy with plant debris that may overlap the trails. Be sure to watch your step and closely follow the trail markers such as flagging, tree markers, and wooden posts. 

What is being done post-fire?

The plants and animals will quickly bounce back from the fire. CREW agencies are working to minimize the impacts of the fire breaks by flattening them and removing debris. CREW Trust staff are working to provide educational opportunities as the fire has created a unique hiking experience!

Is fire bad?

Fire is good! Our ecosystems in SWFL are dependent on fire. For example, most of CREW Flint Pen Strand is considered pine flatwoods. A pine flatwood is a type of ecosystem that needs a fire every 3-5 years to maintain its plants and animals. Fire returns nutrients to the soil, maintains understory plants for animals like birds and gopher tortoises, opens up new space for plants to grow, and overall is the “checks and balances” for many ecosystems. Frequent small fires prevent large, destructive fires, which is why our Land Managers practice “prescribed fire”. Unfortunately, wildfires can help the spread of invasive species of plants. Land managers and CREW Trust volunteers will closely monitor invasive species encroachment to prevent their spread.

What do animals do during fire?

Most larger animals like deer, bear, and panthers will simply move away from fire, while birds can easily fly away. Smaller animals like snakes, rabbits, and mice will seek shelter underground, usually in gopher tortoise burrows.

Are all the plants dead?

Some native plants may have died, but most of them will come back better than ever! Think of fire as a big haircut, promoting new, healthy growth. Just give them a few short months and you’ll see a lot of verdant changes. This is a great time to go hiking and observe how fire impacts our landscape!

What is the difference between a wildfire and a prescribed burn?

A prescribed burn is a fire that is intentionally set in specific conditions by fire professionals. At CREW, prescribed fires are conducted by SFWMD and FWC. A wildfire is a fire that either begins naturally (by a lightning bolt) or by accidental or intentional arson. An unplanned fire may affect nearby buildings, become large and destructive to plants/animals, and pose a threat to humans.

What can I do to help?

Always report illegal activity such as arson, UTV/ATV use, drones, unpermitted vehicles, unpermitted camping, etc. to any of the following: 911, the local non emergency number (239-477-1000 Lee, 239-252-9300 Collier), or the FWC hotline (888-404-3922). The CREW Trust staff and SFWMD staff do not respond to reports of illegal activities, so please direct your reports to the appropriate agency previously listed.
Support the CREW Trust’s mission by spreading the word about us or donating to us (www.crewtrust.org/donate). Environmental education is the best defense against preventable environmental destruction so please support our efforts to inform and engage with the community.

Will there be educational opportunities regarding fire?

Yes! Please join us for an interpretive hike along the affected trails at Flint Pen Strand for a unique experience post-fire. Observe the response of plants and animals displaying their resiliency to and dependence on fire. 


May 4th, 2022 at CREW Flint Pen Strand Trail: In the Footsteps of Fire – Hike in the footsteps of fire to see a miraculous rebound of the Flint Pen Strand landscapes as flora and fauna return to the crispy trails. Register here – https://footstepsoffire.eventbrite.com

The CREW Project: Meeting a basic human need

By Allison Vincent

Hydrologic restoration results in better natural water flow at CREW Flint Pen Strand

In general, the human mind operates at an exponential pace, keeping time with the flow of society. We tend to have trouble slowing down and observing the different habits of other living things. Likely, that is because it can be difficult to notice these other forms of life living in our human-centric culture, but it can be done closer to home than you might think. 

Think about your first memory of being in a forest, nature preserve or park. You get outside seeking adventure, and whatever you’re expecting, it pales in comparison to the real thing. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to see something that is actually majestic – like a white-tailed deer with a strong prancing grace and huge skyward-facing rack of antlers, or some Everest-high clouds rising above a flat Florida landscape. 

Oftentimes it’s these personal connections that make these natural places special to us as individuals and it’s only through time and experience that we realize the significance is more than it seems. You’ll be glad to know that accompanying the vistas and wildlife along the CREW trails, there’s a long-range plan in effect, one that looks to our universal need for water and the protection of watersheds.

Watersheds are everywhere, get to know yours at CREW!  

CREW Trust leads seasonal walks through our watershed, at CREW Flint Pen Strand

Forward-thinking people have for generations set aside huge swaths of land, like the CREW Project, for future generations. These public lands benefit the present inhabitants of an area manyfold, while also protecting our ongoing needs. The need for water, one of Maslow’s seven basic needs, is met by protecting the CREW watershed where many southwest Florida’s residents get their drinking water.

A unique mixture of partners divide up the roles of preservation at CREW. Land management falls to the primary land owners, the South Florida Water Management District (the District for short) which takes on the arduous role of long range planning – taking into account the complex needs of people and wildlife. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) pursues in-depth and long ranging scientific observation projects focused on CREW’s native wildlife. The non-profit CREW Trust expands public access to the lands through a 36+ mile network of trail systems and provides environmental education to our community through contributions via membership, donations, sponsorships, trail visitation, and volunteerism.

Whatever first brings you to wild places like CREW, or even if you never visit, every single resident in this region of southwest Florida contributes to and benefits from the foresight of protecting CREW’s lands for water. The 60,000+ acre watershed that makes up CREW is permeable – under all those pretty wildflowers and trees that we enjoy on hikes, water soaks through – purifying it through the limestone rock and storing it in the aquifer below.  

Make a connection with CREW

Maypop passionflower with two small visitors

Hiking along the CREW trails, listen for the erratic yet hypnotic buzz of a bee hive you could easily miss in the rapid pace of society. Instead, allow yourself to pause and listen; search for the pixelated movement of wings, coming to and fro from the hive epicenter. It’s not like bees often stop to look at us either, but humans are capable of slowing down to witness another life form. FWC biologists do it all the time at CREW and we are all capable of this broader understanding; that’s why we’ve made it easy to practice your observation skills at CREW. 

Whatever brings you to the CREW trails and if you only remember one important thing from this article remember this: alligators love suntanning as much as Floridians. Seriously though, your contributions- through your tax dollars, your membership with the CREW Trust, or your visits to CREW trails with friends and family – are making a difference for generations to come.

Thank you!

Controlling invasives with biology at CREW

By Allison Vincent

Lygodium Microphyllum

Have you ever been out on the trail, any trail, and that friend that knows a thing or two about invasive species points out a few for you? He or she discusses the threat they pose to the native ecosystem that they’re encroaching on and you wonder, what can we do about it?

One highly successful way of managing invasive species is to employ a biological control agent, using other living organisms to help control invasive and non-native species. It’s a way of reacquainting invasive pests – such as Old World Climbing Fern or Lygodium microphyllum – with their natural enemies to provide natural and sustained population reduction. In the case of Lygodium, the enemy is the brown Lygodium moth (Neomusotima conspurcatalis) which has been successfully used in Florida since 2008.

It’s time-consuming and difficult to get official approval to use biological control agents, but it’s worth the wait. Some agents have proven to be very successful and without unintended consequences. Biological treatment studies often extend for decades before hitting the ground, assuring that there are no negative impacts beyond their intended use.

You may have noticed technicians at the CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trails lately distributing state-approved biological control agents near pockets of a certain species. They hope to limit the expansion of Lygodium from the area – a tall order, as it is one of the worst invasive species, crowding out many native plants and habitats for wildlife. Management of this invasive plant using traditional strategies, such as mechanical and chemical treatments, has proved difficult and expensive, with limited long-term success. Enter biological control agents.

Without natural competition, invasive plants like Lygodium will inevitably wreak havoc on an area not ready for its intense growing cycle. Each fertile leaflet has 133 sori – or the frilly bits on the fern – and each sori has 215 spores! Multiply those numbers to find that each fertile-female leaflet may spread 28,500 spores into the surrounding area (Volin et. al, 2004). It doesn’t stretch the imagination to picture the fern-filled scene should the invasion go untreated. Every invasive plant spreads through different means and in the case of Lygodium, the female portion of the plant with her fertile spores does the work. Other common invasive plants, like Caesar weed, spread by other vectors, such as wildlife and humans. Caesar weed has a particularly sticky bur containing lots of seeds, so be sure to trash those burs that make it home with you after a hike.

Trail camera photo of Florida black bear covered in caesar weed “burs”

But how do the land managers, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) in the case of CREW, go about treating such a powerful invasive plant? Well, they fight fire with fire, sometimes literally, as prescribed fires, after other biological and chemical treatments, have been known to increase the successful die-back – or sustained control of plant spread – both above and below the ground. Many times land management uses a combination of mechanical, chemical and biological control to yield the best results.

In the case of Lygodium, the biggest observable impact in the long-term comes primarily from biological control and, in particular, those brown Lygodium moths. While other species have been introduced and had some success in destroying Lygodium, the brown Lygodium moth has unleashed the biggest disaster for this invasive plant.

Neomusotima conspurcatalis, the brown lygodium moth

It all starts with little caterpillars, who feed on fern leaflets causing browning of leaves and breakdown of entire Lygodium plants. Female moths lay an average of 136 eggs during her short life span – the life cycle of the moth from egg, through caterpillar and pupa to adult, is only about 30 days. Researchers observing the impact of testing sites over 4-6 months found that moth populations increased, and noticeable caterpillar feeding damage in the form of browned-out patches of Lygodium became apparent. Good for us, bad for Lygodium.

Throughout the history of CREW, biological control agents have been used as one element of a three-part approach to treat the invasive Melaleuca quinquenervia tree on the CREW lands. You can still see the process in action in the “Melaleuca graveyard” on the Red trail of CREW Flint Pen Strand where large stands of trees were treated with a combination of mechanical and chemical treatment. Later, biological control agents were added for long-term success – if you look closely you can still see weevils and psyllids, the Melaleuca-loving biological control agent.

We all benefit from the long-term research studies on biological control agents. Through partnerships with leading wildlife agencies and the SFWMD, land managers for the CREW lands hope to see similar results, like the sustained success on throughout the state. There will always be a need for invasive treatment, but with each step we take toward restoring our natural Florida environment, everyone benefits.

CREW Flint Pen Strand lands under preservation for future generations to enjoy!

What’s so invasive about that plant?

by Allison Vincent

Urena lobata, Caesar’s Weed

When you visit the CREW lands you’ll come across invasive plant species, and whether you’re aware of them or not, they’re there! Some invasive species are beautiful, like the caesar weed, and you might find yourself wondering why the land managers have it out for them. What could a few plants possibly do to impact the broader ecosystem? 

Let’s begin with a few definitions, because invasive species are best understood by discussing the meaning of native and non-native and their interactions with humans. The scientific community agrees that native species wandered into an area naturally and long ago – some time during or after the mid 16th century at the time of European contact with the unexplored land across the Atlantic – either by wind, sea, birds, animals or other natural factors. As species expand or contract their native territory, they go through a process called “range change”. The native species then go about the process of adapting to the changed ecosystem, which in geographic terms was a feat considering that much of Florida was once the bottom of the ocean. 

Non-native species, on the other hand, are introduced to a new environment either intentionally or by accident. The distinction in defining invasive takes non-native issues one step further because invasive species, in addition to being introduced by humans, often pose an environmental or economic threat and may cause harm to humans.

Still, what exactly is so negative about the impact of these invasive plant species, given they all make oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide? These tough questions are outlined by land management professionals who rely on current science to categorize the level of impact invasive species have on lands they manage, like the CREW lands. For instance, some invasive species, like the Melaleuca tree, will overtake wetlands and absorb an inordinate amount of water if not treated, which is exactly why they were brought to southwest Florida – to drain the  swamps. 

Melaleuca tree at CREW Flint Pen Strand

In turn, land managers use mechanical, chemical and biological control efforts to manage the spread of invasives, because without naturally occurring factors that limit their impact – like weather, diseases or insect pests – invasive species can disrupt the balance of the ecosystem they’ve supplanted, often out-competing and displacing the native species. The reduction in biodiversity can adversely impact wildlife and alter natural processes such as fire and water flow, all of which directly affect the human population which relies on those same resources.

Let’s talk more about the unintended impact that invasive species have on human populations, specifically in south Florida. Primarily, invasives threaten remaining wetland environments that provide a freshwater recharge of our drinking water sources in the underground aquifers. Native species have had time to adjust to the particular conditions of the Florida environment, so when the wetland composition goes from a natural state to a place overrun with counterproductive species, some of our basic needs – like water and safe shelter – are drastically affected. 

Protecting these wetland areas provides habitat for wildlife that in turn generates billions of dollars a year in expenditures by wildlife enthusiasts, hunters and anglers. The financial benefits of preserving the complicated ecosystems of south Florida are well documented and worthwhile. Without the wetland environment to slow the flow of rainwater so that it can be absorbed into the ground and replenish the drinking water supply in the aquifers, Florida would not be able to sustain its current significant population, much less what we expect to see in the future. 

The CREW Project began watershed preservation in the late 80s and the CREW lands will continue to be preserved in perpetuity. Several large scale projects, like the hydrologic restoration project completed at CREW Flint Pen Strand and the ongoing CREW Marsh trails restoration focused on carolina willow, provide visible examples of the land management process you can witness in person on the trails over time. The 60,000 acres of CREW preserve land for water retention, wildlife and all the other ways these important resources overlap. To protect this land and the water it stores for the next generation we all must partner to fund this preservation, to protect it, and to educate everyone about it.

Youth hiking CREW Flint Pen Strand through hydrologic restoration area.

Horseback Riding on the CREW Trails

By Allison Vincent, CREW Trust Communications Director

Equestrians at CREW Cypress Dome trails

Have the equestrian trail rules changed? Not exactly, but there has been some need for clarification. The CREW lands, managed by the South Florida Water Management District in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commision (FWC), have designated two trail systems available for riding. Two equestrian access points are available to riders, including one at CREW Flint Pen Strand main parking lot for the Yellow trail North and South, and the other at CREW Cypress Dome trails. Trails were designated for equestrian use based on several parameters, including the impact horses have on various ecosystems, including sensitive wetlands. 

To help make these rules easier to navigate for our equestrian riders, the language was updated on the special use license (SUL), the permit required to ride, including a map with more specific instructions for each trail location. Additionally, for the protection of the preservation lands, especially the wetlands, brown signs have been installed along the trails at CREW Flint Pen Strand aimed as a last effort to remind riders of the boundaries patrolled by FWC law enforcement. 

You might be wondering why aren’t all the trails accessible to equestrians? This is a complicated question, but ultimately it comes down to the long-term protection of the 60,000-acre watershed and the role preservation plays in the recharge of the local aquifer where our drinking water is extracted. Understandably, horses cause more disturbance to the land on which they tread than the average hiker, especially in sensitive areas throughout much of the CREW Flint Pen Strand trails. Which is why hikers won’t find equestrian riders in wetland and marsh areas such as the new Purple trail and lakes area of the CREW Flint Pen Strand trails, nor will they ever be seen on the CREW Bird Rookery Swamp tram. However, when you share the multi-use trails available to horseback riders, like the Yellow trails North and South, please be sure to yield to the horses.

Thank you to all our equestrians for pulling permits and staying on the designated trails. Your cooperation ensures the conservation of these CREW lands for future generations. We hope you enjoy the equestrian trails at CREW Flint Pen Strand and CREW Cypress Dome trails. 

Permit Required:

  • Learn pertinent information about equestrian riding trails by going to crewtrust.org/horseback-riding
  • Permits provide you with legal permission from the South Florida Water Management District with the Special Use License
  • Register yourself through the SUL page and pulling permits becomes quick and easy

Discing, shredding, prescribed fire and other disruptive yet helpful things at CREW

By Allison Vincent

Pine trees and understory growth after a prescribed burn at CREW Flint Pen Strand

Some recent guests on the CREW trails have inquired why they’re torn up? The long-range plans and efforts of the South Florida Water Management District (the District hereafter) can be a challenge on initial view, as “discing” and “shredding” projects can resemble hog damage or really knobby ATV tires wrecking havoc, both of which land managers set out to prevent. So why are they seemingly adding to the destruction? 

These tracks of discing and shredding are in fact intentional and well-planned measures designed to prepare for upcoming prescribed burns or chemical treatment, ultimately preventing vegetation from getting out of control. Vegetation can include non-native plants, shrubby understory, or native plants and trees that have grown out of balance with historical norms. Forestry science is behind the land management plans in place and its driving force is the long-range preservation goals of the CREW project. 

Even though the trails look less than ideal when torn up and the rough patches can make hiking and biking more difficult, just remember why CREW is here in the first place. It’s all about the water. These efforts benefit the watershed where we get our drinking water. Also, it’s good to think of the hierarchy of needs throughout the CREW lands like this: it begins with water and land management, then comes preserving habitat and then recreational opportunities for everyone.

Let’s discuss the management process we’re looking at on the trails. In order to perform a prescribed burn the District team must get approval from the state of Florida. Often this overlaps with an annual shredding plan, replete with maps and intensity, to clear the ground of any obtrusive vegetation before burns are scheduled. The burn prescription is based on several environmental factors, such as wind speed and direction, humidity and the burn history in the area. 

Assuming the burn prescription was approved the team, formed from several agencies including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC hereafter), must then coordinate their efforts and communicate their plans with the surrounding community. Working from a burn map (or planning map), the lead manager will direct the team to burn the fire line. In constant communication, the team stays on the fire from start to finish, following up the next several days for safety and reporting. 

Ultimately, the goal is to decrease the amount of understory vegetation in the CREW project, to prevent wildfires from getting out of hand, and encourage healthy native species growth. Many native fire-dependent species exist in the CREW lands, including the Slash Pine trees and Saw Palmetto which have evolved to withstand heat and benefit from fire. Prescribed burns also benefit the wildlife native to CREW, including the gopher tortoise, which prefers some open scrub to the encroachment of the long-living Saw Palmetto.

Hopefully, the next time you see the process or after-effects of the land management efforts to preserve these lands you will have a better understanding of their long range intentions. If you would like to learn more about this process, there are a few great resources found here. Always feel free to reach out to our office or that of the District with your questions.

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