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.

Introduce children to the outdoors at CREW 

By Nan Mattingly

CREW Trust environmental education programs brings all ages to the CREW Trails

With the long end-of-year holidays, kids need healthy and fun activities, things they can do with their families and friends. If they’re visiting Florida in December, this is the perfect time of the year to introduce them to the world of nature. The weather is fine for all kinds of outdoor activities. And the four different CREW trail systems offer a variety of sights, sounds and experiences. 

But some kids have little experience with the great outdoors. Worms, spiders and other creepy-crawly things may intimidate them. They may resist getting wet or muddy. And they might find trees, trails and rocks uninteresting. Given a choice between playing outdoors or playing a video game, some kids would opt for the indoor game.

Some kids just need an introduction to nature. They need exposure to the physical world in order to learn to be comfortable in it. The adults in their lives can show them how to love nature and be safe in it. Nature promotes healthy growth by encouraging kids to be active. It’s also good for their imaginations, stimulating curiosity by introducing them to new and different experiences. Just being outside in our gorgeous Florida winter weather makes everyone, kids included, feel better.

So how can you persuade your kids to come outside with you? We have some suggestions.

Kids plot out the route at CREW Marsh Trails

Prepare before you load up to hit the trail. Before you take the kids on a CREW hiking trail, share your own enthusiasm about what they might see, hear and experience in the woods. Keep your research simple, and note anything that seems to capture their interests. If they express an interest in spiders, help them do a little research to figure out where and when they might see a spider in the woods. Early morning sun at any of our CREW trails illuminates spider webs and makes them look like jewels adorning the bushes. Choose one particular web and study its construction with your kid, explaining how the spider builds its webs to capture its prey. The Green Lynx spider is a bright shade of green and can be found on many trails. 

(photo of Green Lynx spider)

Tell your kid what he or she is likely to see in the woods. Here in Florida’s forests there are Florida panthers, black bears, bobcats and other mammals, as well as too many birds and insects to name. Address any fears they may express. You can explain, for instance, that Florida’s panthers and bears are shy and can smell you from a long way away, so it’s easy for them to avoid us. If your child is fascinated by panthers, bears and bobcats, show them how to look for the tracks of these animals on a muddy or sandy trail. We have a dazzling array of butterflies in Florida. The beautiful white peacock tends to fly low to the ground so they’re easy to spot. You may also be lucky enough to spot the striking zebra longwing, the Florida state butterfly. Show your kids the photos here and help them look for these colorful treasures in the woods.  

(photos of white peacock and zebra longwing butterflies)

Devise a simple game or set a few easy goals for your time outdoors. If your kid is reluctant to touch things in the woods, you can create a simple scavenger hunt that they can complete through observation. Give them a checklist to allow them to check off each item as they spot it. Keep it simple; don’t name a specific bird. Just list “bird” as one of the things they can look for. Other things you can put on the list: worm, bird’s nest, flower, animal track, and big tree. Or you could announce that whoever spots the first bird or butterfly during your outing gets a special prize. 

Parents, prepare for your kids to play in the mud. Bring clean clothes, extra shoes and water to wash their feet.   

Mud and everything in between at CREW Cypress Dome Trails

Model good behavior for your kids. Explain the “Leave No Trace” principles to them and make sure you take any trash home with you. It’s important that kids learn to respect nature, so explain to them why we don’t feed animals in the wild. This is especially important in Florida where every pond or lake is likely to house an alligator or two. Feeding them destroys their natural fear of humans and encourages them to approach people. Alligators are fascinating to watch but teach your kids to do so from a distance. In Florida’s public parks and nature preserves, it’s illegal to pick plants or to remove anything, so encourage your kids to take photos instead of collecting wildflowers. Take the things you need for safety (bug spray, hat, sunscreen, lots of water) and explain why you’re putting them in your backpack. Let the kids choose a snack.

Before you go, take a look at the CREW website ( and decide which of our four trail systems would provide a good introduction to nature for your kids. The rainy season has ended and most of our trails are now dry. If you want to experience the magic of walking through a cypress forest on a boardwalk, consider Bird Rookery Swamp. The red trail at Flint Pen Strand offers easy hiking through pine flatwoods and a prairie where you may spot some deer or even a red-headed woodpecker.     

Your child may be excited to get outdoors if you allow him or her to bring a friend. Recognize that kids usually walk at a slower pace than adults and allow them to linger over things that interest them. Most of all, enjoy yourself. Show your own curiosity about things you see. Your enthusiasm for nature in all its varied forms will be contagious.    

At the CREW Project, we’ve got four different trail systems for hiking, biking, running and just enjoying the outdoors. 

These are a few of my favorite CREW Trails 

By Allison Vincent

Pine Lily

CREW Trust Executive Director Brenda Brooks always says that she doesn’t have a favorite CREW Trail, but instead a favorite place at each one. Since I first heard that comment I have occasionally wondered which is in fact my favorite. After close to three years exploring the diverse CREW trail systems, I’ve found a few of my own favorite places that keep pulling me back for more, surprising me with their fierce beauty. Perhaps you’ve had the same thought as you’ve explored various CREW trail systems, that excitement of walking through your favorite place on the trail.

CREW Cypress Dome Trails

While we may not have traditional seasons in Florida, we do have seasonal indicators, like the first blooming pine lilies of the fall mixed with the purple liatris starting in September. I love finding these flowers along the CREW Cypress Dome (CDT) Green and White Trails, catching the eclectic variety of contrasting wildflowers lining the elegant long straightaways. 

CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail

To find my favorite place at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail (BRS), you’ll have to hike the whole thing, so if you’re down for the distance this is a full 12-mile loop. In fact, if you hike the whole thing and you’re considered a Looper cause let’s face it, you have to be a little loopy to do that (in a good way)! I recommend starting the loop clockwise, so after crossing the boardwalk and past the curve north at the large lakes, head west (or left) at the only fork in the trail. At this point, you will see a new “you are here” sign at trail marker B (don’t forget to hydrate). 

Now comes the fun and exciting dance I like to call the alligator-side-step, part of the enthralling section heading west between trail markers B and E . I think it’s best to get there early because the early bird avoids the alligators. After all that side-stepping, it’s quite relaxing to take a break at the lake, next to trail maker E. Sit, relax, enjoy a snack break – you’ve earned it! For those long-distance hikers willing to continue, you’re in for a treat, as this next portion is my favorite place on the trail, which you can also access from CREW Flint Pen Strand’s Purple Trail! For those of you ready to call it a day, trail marker E makes for a great turn around point. 

Are you still with me? Good! This section is amazing! Continue walking toward the northwestern curve of BRS, from trail markers E to D. This is a beautiful place where your eyes get a break from the sun under the dense verdant cypress trees arching high above. Preludes to this section are foreshadowed earlier along the trail, with the first cathedral-like corridor of cypress trees buffeting the raised railroad bed between amber swamp water on either side. Still, nothing compares to the density of this northwestern section of enormous cypress stands mixed with pond apple, maples and magnolia trees. Stop and take it all in!

The northwestern curve of the loop trail, which is essentially as far from civilization as one can get on a trail around here (outside of the Fakahatchee), will transport you beyond your day to day existence and allow you that moment of pause that happens at a truly beautiful vista. However, this place has no mountain view; instead it boasts a sensational overload of lively trees dripping with color, screaming with cicadas above and choruses of frogs below; mix in the whispers of warblers and you’ve got yourself (arguably) the best show in town. Reaching this far corner of wilderness is an empowering experience not for the faint of heart.  

CREW Flint Pen Strand Trails

Another of my favorite places is located at CREW Flint Pen Strand, on the section called the Yellow Trail North. During the rainy season this is like one huge lazy river- so splash in the seasonal sheet-flow of water cascading through the dwarf cypress forest, which starts just north of where the trail stops hugging the Kehl Canal. The dendrochronologist (tree lover) in me wonders at these cypress trees’ diminutive stature; with basically nothing to hold themselves up, they hold on. How they hover on spindly, sometimes hollow trunks buttressed by their neon-lichen painted skirts exploding with cardinal tillandsias swinging from their branches baffles my mind! I highly recommend you return to this trail at least twice a year, once in the rainy and once during the dry season to appreciate the dwarf cypresses and their fragile-by-appearance-only buttresses surviving in the sugar-sand, waiting for the waters to return, but thriving nonetheless. 

CREW Marsh Trails

At CREW’s oldest trail system, the CREW Marsh Trails (CMT), you’ll always find a diversity of ecosystems, wide open trails and a little more infrastructure than at the other trail systems. However, at CMT it’s the single-track section that winds through the pop-ash and oak trees of the southwestern loop on the Green Trail that captures my heart. My favorite way to navigate to this favorite place along the Green Trail is to approach it from the north. Head past Suzanne’s Pavilion, past the south-facing Blue “short-cut” Trail and around the dry gopher habitat until you’re forced to walk single file. That’s where the trail narrows and the trees grow. Enormous oaks dwarf your tiny little human body and give you that sense of wonder that accompanies forest exploration. Slosh through the muddy water in the wet season and revel in the brightly colored mushrooms reaching from the fallen limbs overwhelmed by carpets of green moss, resurrection ferns and “troll ponytails” (AKA shoe-string ferns). This is a trail that gives the sensation of forging a new path, as you carefully plan each step – looking up, down, side to side with every single step.

It’s special to take pause and stand witness to the innumerable special places at CREW. Maybe appreciate that place where ecotones exemplify the jargon that defines them (an ecotone is a transition area between two biological communities) such as enjoying that first overflow of water spilling from one marsh to the next during the rainy season. Take your time and you may find that you like to see the early wildflower buds ready to bloom, knowing what they will become, so you can plan your next hike to correspond with the future flowery-fireworks show! Whatever your favorite place or thing may be at CREW, we’re glad you continue to come back for more throughout each Florida season.

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!

Wet Walk 101

by Allison Vincent

CREW Flint Pen Strand trail during the rainy season

Walk the seasonally wet trails of CREW for an education in watersheds! Join our education coordinator, Julie Motkowicz on any of the four upcoming Wet Walks – each at a different trail location. We’ll give you a list of what to wear and what to pack at the bottom of this, but first we want to go over a few “W’s”, such as why would I ever want to take a wet walk?

What is the appeal of a Wet Walk?

One of the many joys of a wet walk

Imagine hiking down a lazy river, one with pure nature surrounding you, shading you from the sun and cooling your calves with the fresh rainwater from the days before. Have a picture in your head? This genre of adventurous outings never gets old. Plus, it has a feeling of accomplishment, like reaching a summit, when you complete an out-of-your-comfort-zone wet walk, no matter how many times you’ve been in the swamp.

What about alligators, or worse, mosquitos?

While we can’t ever guarantee that you’ll have a mosquito-free hike, or never see an alligator sunning, we can guarantee that you are only on the menu for one of those top Florida predators’. So bring some bug spray just in case and try to enjoy the prehistoric majesty of our resident dinosaurs. They’ll leave you alone if you leave them alone.

What if you’re not ready to go it alone? 

School groups at CREW Marsh trails

The excitement of a wet walk is fanned in a group of like-minded enthusiasts and you can benefit from the interpretation of our guide and the comfort of camaraderie. This otherworldly feeling can be yours, all within a relatively short drive to one of the CREW trails this summer.

So, what should I expect, you ask? 

To get wet, for one! Verdant landscapes with bromeliads and various air plants, quiet soundscapes muted by water, and probably very few reptiles (sorry, not sorry). 

CREW trails wet walk tour

Lastly, what to wear and what to pack:

  • We recommend wearing old sneakers – always close-toed, as they drain and dry more quickly than hiking boots. However, if you are more comfortable in boots, that’s just fine. Steer clear of waders and tall water-proof boots, as the water inevitably finds its way over the ledge and they’re heavy. 
  • Long pants that dry quickly are going to be more comfortable than heavy pants or shorts. 
  • Long sleeve shirts will help protect your skin from brushing against plants and from the sun on the return journey when the rays are more harsh. 
  • Hat
  • walking stick – if you don’t have a walking stick we will provide one
  • camera in a waterproof bag
  • Pack enough water for the wet walk, sometimes splurging on a flavored electrolyte pouch in your water will save the day. 
  • Bring snacks too, in case you need a little pick-me-up to move those quads through the extra weight of the water. 
  • The rest is up to you! 

Why do we like hiking?

By Allison Vincent

photo by John Lane at CREW Flint Pen Strand trails

Ask two people this question and you’ll likely get two different answers. The more time you spend on the trails with various hikers, the more you realize the diversity of interest out there. For instance, musical types enjoy learning bird calls, giving them the super power of observing birds without actually seeing them. Biologists do something similar while studying frog chorus size to estimate populations of a frog or toad species. Then there are the fitness-focused hikers, geocaching expeditionists, wildflower experts, camping enthusiasts, photographers, herpetologists, and forest bathers. No matter your reason for exploring CREW trails and beyond, there are some benefits that we all experience no matter what our super power is:

1. Hiking is an activity that fulfills introverts and extroverts alike. Many people looking for solitude will easily find it on the trails. And yet there’s always a strong social connection among hikers when you reach out for support and connection. Hikers wishing to explore trails with others can readily find opportunities through social media groups, meet-ups, and organizations like the CREW Trust. Many volunteers and guided program participants say they enjoy spending time with like-minded, outdoorsy friends and go on to experience exciting adventures together. Not to mention that hiking is about the least competitive sport around which lends itself to some excellent unconditional camaraderie. 

CREW Trust Volunteers hiking the loop at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail

2. Hiking brings you deep into the beauty of nature and allows you to disconnect from the stress of everyday life. There are many documented health benefits from spending time in nature, including improving mental health through stress reduction. Focusing on mindfulness during a hike can serve as the eco-antidote to tech burnout. You can multiply those benefits by a strengthened connection to land preservation efforts, like those of the CREW Trust, and you have a healthier lifestyle, all starting with a simple hike!

photo by Bill Zaino at CREW Flint Pen Strand

3. Hiking is for life-long learners. Nature education can range from learning about wildflowers, birds and animals to the nuances of the water levels in a watershed like the CREW Project. Each subject may deepen your appreciation of your surroundings. That’s why we meet such a diversity of interests among hikers. Stop and talk with the next passer-by and ask what they’ve seen and what they hope to see next – they may surprise you!

Guided walk at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail

4. Hiking is relatively inexpensive. Throw on an old pair of walking shoes just like Grandma Gatewood, the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail, and you’re ready to hit the trails. It certainly helps to have a small backpack with room for the basics, such as water and snacks, but beyond that anything else is just icing on the cake.

CREW Marsh overlook at CREW Marsh trails

5. Hiking heightens all the senses, especially taste. How could I conclude without mentioning how much better food tastes after a hike? Especially cake. . .yum, cake! While you’re being frugal on your hiking excursions, you’re burning extra calories, so why not occasionally splurge on some delicious flourless chocolate cake or whatever you fancy after a long excursion deep in the forest!

photo by Michael Hushek of Swallow-tailed kite enjoying a water break at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail

Whatever your pace on the trails or whatever originally brought you outside, there’s always a new way to interpret nature. Keep pace with the many opportunities at the CREW trails by liking our social media pages on Facebook and Instagram and make sure you’ve signed up to receive the monthly newsletter (sign up at the bottom of the home page of the website). The best way to stay in the loop is to become a CREW Trust member for $25 or more. We’ve also recently added QR donation codes at each trailhead for those guests who don’t carry cash. Either way, you support the trails – thanks! Your involvement with CREW is preserving land and wildlife in your community. See you on the trails!      

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.

Stop and Smell the Wildflowers at CREW!

by Nan Mattingly, CREW Trust Volunteer

Here in southwest Florida we have the luxury of enjoying wildflowers year-round. October is a good time to bask in the colors and elegant shapes of all kinds of wildflowers. Look at this stunning October standout:

photos of pine lily

You’re likely to see this two-foot slender stalk topped by a single bloom in pine woods and savannas. It grows from a bulb that can lie dormant for years and suddenly appear after a fire. Its vivid color will draw your eye to it as you walk many of the CREW trails. Last year was a particularly good year for pine lilies – we had a wealth of them at the CREW Marsh Trails. Please don’t be tempted to take one home – leave it for others to enjoy.

photos of Chapman’s blazing star

Another striking flower that will catch your eye with its light-lavender colored blooms is one of the many varieties of liatris, a member of the aster family found in North America. In southwest Florida, there are a few varieties of liatris, but you’re mostly likely to find “Chapman’s blazing star” at CREW, a plant that typically features five or six spiky blooms on one plant. It’s another flower that blooms well after a fire, and it makes a great pollinator food source, attracting a profusion of butterflies, bees and even hummingbirds. 

photos of Florida paintbrush

photos of green lynx spider

This showy violet-colored flower resembles an artist’s paintbrush. Its large flat-topped blooms are incredibly attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. If you’re lucky, you might spot amongst its fluffy clusters a green lynx spider, who prey on the insects attracted to the bloom.

photos of lopsided indiangrass in bloom

photos of a skipper butterfly

When you visit one of the four CREW trails, don’t overlook the grasses. Lopsided Indiangrass is not very distinguished in summer but in fall it produces tall, dramatic flower spikes that last a few weeks. It’s called “lopsided” because the tufts grow on only one side of the stem. Look for this grass in sandy soil and dry flatwoods. Its soft yellow appearance attracts several species of skipper butterflies.    

photos of sugarcane plumegrass

photo of clouded skipper butterfly

Another tall grass that blooms in fall, sugarcane plumegrass is topped by golden plumes. It can reach 30 feet in the open but it’s more typically no more than eight feet tall on any of the CREW trails. Sugarcane plumegrass likes our trails that border the sawgrass marsh habitats. It’s also a favorite host for the clouded skipper butterfly.     

In October, Brenda Thomas, director of the University Colloquium at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), will share her knowledge of and love for wildflowers on a special tour at the CREW Marsh Trails. Unfortunately, that tour is already sold out, but you can visit any of the CREW trail systems in October to experience your own wildflower walk. Take photos of your favorites and share them with us on Facebook and Instagram! 

Wildflower photos taken throughout CREW this Fall

Kids on the Trail

Volunteer Perspective Series

by Nan Mattingly

Does your family have cabin fever?

The CREW Land & Water Trust has a solution – four trail systems that offer you and your family a chance to get outside and get a breath of fresh air while staying safe from the coronavirus. Granted, the Florida summer is hot and you may get your feet wet, but we promise it’s worth it! Here are some tips to keep you and your family safe and healthy and hints about what you might see.

Before you go:

— Choose your destination: check out for descriptions and locations of all four trail systems. Each one is unique. Pick the one that suits your family best. Study the trail maps and plan your hike using the mileage indicated for each trail.  

— Fill your backpacks: each hiker should have a backpack with water, a snack, a face covering, and a safety device like a whistle. Kids can make their own personal alarms in the form of a “wildlife shaker” – an empty can filled with a few coins or pebbles and sealed with tape.   

— Gather items for the group: sunscreen, extra water, bug repellant, binoculars, and maybe even a picnic lunch. A cell phone is handy for taking photos and is also good to have in case of emergency. Bring a trash bag so you can carry out leftover food and trash. Leave no trace of your presence on the trails.  

— Dress like a pro hiker: everyone should wear close-toed shoes, a hat and long pants. If it’s been raining, trails are sure to be wet, so old tennis shoes make the best footwear.

— Plan your departure time: in the summer heat, you might want to kick off early, or you could wait till the heat loses its intensity around 4:00 p.m. All trail systems are open from dawn to dusk. Check the weather just before you leave home and reschedule if lightning is predicted.   

At the trailhead:

— Take a minute to scan the kiosks at each trail system – you might find some useful information.

— Take a photo of the trail map on the kiosk or pick up a copy of the trail map from the brochure rack.

— Take advantage of the porta-potties at the trailhead since there are no facilities on the trails. Pro tip – bring a small roll (without the cardboard) for emergencies. 

On the trail: 

— Walk slowly and use all your senses. Big things like trees, marshes, larger birds such as herons, vultures, hawks, otters, rabbits, etc. are easily spotted but take time to look for smaller things like butterflies, spiders, grasshoppers, and dragonflies. Note their unique characteristics and colors as well as their behaviors. Birds are most active in the early morning and late afternoon.

— The CREW project is home to larger animals, too, but you’re very unlikely to encounter any of them on the trail. Most of them avoid intruders (that’s you) in their habitats. You might see the flash of a white tailed deer running away from you. If you get to see any of these elusive larger animals, consider yourself lucky! 

— Picking flowers, seeds and plants is not allowed. Take a picture instead and use your photos to identify interesting things you’ve seen. 

— A special note about CREW Bird Rookery Swamp: this unique habitat, an old cypress logging swamp, is home to many alligators. Occasionally gators sun themselves on the trails or along the sides of trails. Be alert and don’t feed them or do anything to provoke them. Use good judgment and turn around if necessary. Walking dogs here is not recommended.           

A note to parents: you’re the hike leader. Keep a close eye on your group and make sure everyone stays in the middle of the trail (fire ants live on the edges). Teach your hikers good trail manners – courtesy to other hikers and consideration for wildlife. For example, wildlife shakers or whistles should be used only in case of a real emergency because the noise will upset the inhabitants of the woods.  

During this pandemic, we’re all safer outdoors than inside but we still have to observe good health practices. Everyone in your group should have a face covering, and they should be worn when you encounter others on the trail. Maintain a safe distance (at least six feet) from hikers not in your group. When other hikers are walking toward you on the trail, have your group move to one side of the trail to help maintain an appropriate distance. Follow local guidelines and check to make sure the trails are open before you go.  

Despite the heat, this is a great time to get acquainted with CREW trails and banish that cabin fever!

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