In the 60,000-acre Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) Project, you’ll find a wide variety of trees. The stars of the show are bald cypresses that dominate Bird Rookery Swamp and slash pines found throughout the CREW Project, as well as red maples that provide vivid color to the predominantly green and brown landscape. Of course, you’ll also see many sabal (or cabbage) palms, our state tree. All of the trees in CREW help filter and protect the water that soaks into the aquifer that spans Lee and Collier counties. This aquifer stores the water that we need for just about every aspect of life in southwest Florida.
Aside from their contribution to our vital water supply, trees in the CREW Project also provide a myriad of less visible services that enrich and improve our environment. Some of those services are:
Natural air conditioning: when you walk under a canopy of mature trees (which you’ll find in all four CREW trail systems) you immediately notice a drop in temperature, as much as six to eight degrees. That’s a real gift in the summer months. (Trees strategically planted to shade your house can lower your electric bill by as much as 15 %.)
Habitat for wildlife: bird watchers can delight in the variety of birds on show among the trees, from colorful songbirds to impressive raptors (hawks, vultures, crested caracaras, etc.) to charming wading birds such as great blue herons, ibises, and egrets. CREW lands also attract fascinating seasonal visitors such as swallow-tailed kites and wood storks. Florida panthers, bears, bobcats and others rely on heavily forested areas for concealment of their dens and for hunting grounds. And if you see a mature tree that is missing a long chunk of its bark, bears may have been using that tree to scratch their backs.
Capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions: trees are the most efficient carbon capture machines in the world. Through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide and store it in their leaves, stems and roots. That carbon provides some of the energy that trees need to grow and leaf out. Carbon dioxide traps heat in the environment, so the trees in CREW can help lower the temperature in surrounding areas. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, all the vegetation in the U.S. (especially trees) absorbed 11 % of carbon emissions in 2017.
Rich, refreshing environment for hikers: CREW offers four trail systems, all of which feature some trails that are lined and shaded by mature trees. When you’ve hiked deep into the woods, the lush, cool and green atmosphere created by trees is more invigorating than a session at the gym and more reassuring than a session with a therapist.
All of these practical reasons for appreciating trees are sensible and important. But it may be the natural grace and beauty of trees that most attracts us to them.
1st place in our #stayathome contest is an alligator track from CREW Bird Rookery Swamp by Patty Pushcar! If you have out of town guests interested in seeing a real and wild American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), CREW Bird Rookery Swamp is the place! https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/reptiles/alligator
2nd place in our #stayathome contest comes from Anthony Eugenio of a common arthropod, the Lubber Grasshopper. If you’re seeing them on the trails this time of year, there are smaller, black, with an orange, red or yellow line running from their face to their tail.
1st place in our #stayathome contest comes from a former FWC biologist and current Conservation Collier Environmental Specialist, Molly DuVall at our CREW Cypress Dome Trail Gate 3 Campsite. While we miss Molly, we appreciate that she still enjoys the trails and camping at CREW in her free time!
2nd place of our #stayathome contest comes from Anthony Eugenio at our CREW Marsh Trail Gate 5 Campsite. Campsites are still not open, but when available, they are enjoyed one group at a time. Primitive camping under the stars with only a fire ring and picnic table. Nature at its best!
7.) Sunrise or sunset from one of the four trails
1st place in our #stayathome contest is a sunrise and moonset over CREW Flint Pen Strand by John Lane. Spectacular, John! CREW Flint Pen Strand is our newest trial system and the only one in Lee County. https://crewtrust.org/flint-pen-strand-2/
2nd place in our #stayathome contest comes from CREW Trust volunteer, Dick Brewer at CREW Flint Pen Strand. Dick is a wealth of knowledge and has contributed significantly to the educational resources available on our website. We cannot succeed in the work we do without volunteers like Dick. https://crewtrust.org/crew-trail-guides-educational-materials/
8.) Equestrian activities at CREW Flint Pen Strand or CREW Dome Trails
1st place in our #stayathome contest comes from Jennifer Law at CREW Flint Pen Strand Trails. Did you know that horseback riding is available at CREW Flint Pen Strand and CREW Cypress Dome Trails? You’ll still need a free special use license from the South Florida Water Management District, but it is well worth it based on the number of equestrians using the trails. Thank you, Jennifer! https://crewtrust.org/horseback-riding/
9.) Bicycling with friends at one of the three CREW trails
1st and 2nd place in our #stayathome contest go to Dick Brewer! Bicycle riding the 3 of our 4 trails, especially CREW Bird Rookery Swamp, is a favorite activity for many of our volunteers and visitors. The other 2 trails available for bicycling are CREW Cypress Dome and CREW Flint Pen Strand.
10.) Walking your leashed pet at one of the four CREW trails
1st place in our #stayathome contest comes from Cash and Molly! Dog walking is encouraged at all 4 of our trails as long as they are on a short (6’) leash – the safest option for you, your dog, and wildlife!
2nd place in our #stayathome contest comes from John Lane at the CREW Marsh Trails. We are so happy to see our furry friends and their owners using the trails safely. Protect your pets while at home and on the trails. https://myfwc.com/media/1892/protect-your-pet.pdf
Like our Facebook page @CREWtrust if you’re interested in future events.
As part of ongoing efforts to help prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 and protect public safety, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) will temporarily close the all CREW trails, effective at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 4, 2020.
Closure includes Bird Rookery Swamp, Flint Pen Strand, Cypress Dome and CREW Marsh trails.
The District follows the lead of local governments that have issued Safer at Home orders in their communities and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Florida Department of Health.
We want everyone to know that all four of the CREW trail systems- Bird Rookery Swamp, Flint Pen Strand, Cypress Dome Trail, and CREW Marsh Trails are all currently open. We are updating our website daily with current information regarding their status. So get out to the trails soon, just be sure to keep a 6-foot distance between yourself and others. As always, your donations and support are greatly appreciated, so bring a few extra bucks to drop in the donation box on the trails. Stay well everyone!
As the water dries down at CREW’s Flint Pen Strand trails, an abundance of wading birds have become regular visitors to the lakes. You can access the lakes two different ways: by hiking from the Main Parking lot or parking in the smaller Lakes Parking lot adjacent to the lakes. If you want to see these birds arrive early for sunrise or later for sunset. Take your time approaching these flighty hunters and you will be rewarded with views perfect for unbelievable photographs. For some inspiration, take a look through this collection from CREW Trust volunteer, Bill Zaino’s recent photos capturing White Pelicans, Roseate Spoonbills, Woodstorks, Tricolored Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Limpkins and Greater Yellowlegs .
Written by Allison Vincent, communications director
Starting a new job can be challenging. The first year of work is like an anthropological research project, studying the behaviors of a faraway culture. Many things are ordinary; check email, print labels, write blog posts etc.. but some things are exciting and new, like hiking down long trails alone early in the morning.
I’ve never really hiked alone and I find the experience makes me feel both mindful and vigilant. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve frozen mid-step to over-analyze a crooked stick down the trail from me to make sure it’s not a snake. In fact this has happened enough times that I’ve taken to calling them snake sticks, out of respect. Before moving on, I should add that I like snakes but didn’t come across quite so many of them in previous position.
These wriggly wandering sticks have done more than stop me in my tracks. They’ve helped me realize that my overactive imagination has resulted in many animal misidentifications. For my first few weeks at CREW whenever I would simultaneously see a shadowy figure in the palmettos and hear the crunchy noise of foot-steps I’d automatically assume it was a bear or panther too close for my comfort. There’s been more than one instance when I’ve started whistling or said something original like, “Hey, Bear! Or whatever you are, I’m walking here”.
Thankfully, with time on the trails during these purposeful work-hikes I’ve come to accept many of my false assumptions about wildlife. Now I expertly breeze past snake sticks without a missed step and huff at shadowy palmetto bushes. I know where to look for the wispy pink flag that marks the entrance to check the water gauge, a regular job detail during the rainy season. I carefully move the oak tree limbs aside to find the single-file path that wanders through tall grasses to find a post that marks the water depth and I think, ‘This is an awesome job’.
Purely by chance a series of college hikes, and second grade field trips, overlapped in the same week, giving this observer a first-hand look at some of the timeless similarities and funny differences between these two age groups.
The bus dismount goes about the same for both groups. Some faces clearly display their inner thoughts, that they actually have no idea they were going for a hike in the middle of a 60,000 acre watershed. Quickly though they are reassured by the guide that they are in good hands and that staff know the way back to the bus. As the students all breath in the fresh air, they generally relax and enjoy the introduction.
College students ask questions and make observations that are quite cerebral in nature, where as the second grader is more hands-on and scientific in their approach:
Most second graders want to pick up and touch everything. They get muddy, and when they’re hot, jump in a puddle or pour water on their heads.
Whereas most college students wouldn’t volunteer pick up an insect or touch soil samples, even if it was directly handed to them.
The talented teachers and experienced CREW Trust staff teach the perspective groups about a range of topics from observational details about wildlife and plant species to the benefits of prescribed burns, water quality in Florida aquifers, and what exactly is a Cypress Dome.
The second grader often asks authentic, unprovoked, and funny rhetorical questions about the immediate world around them.
A college student tends to represent a broader knowledge and asks worldly and provocative questions, leading to some interesting discussions with classmates.
Guide says: Guess who likes eating these berries?
Concerned student asks: What do I do if I see a bear?
Guide responds: Well, first of all you probably won’t. But if you do know you’re lucky. Then look big and walk away slowly. You can wait until it leaves and continue your hike. Oh, and hike with a parent or friend.
Florida summer is particularly hot and buggy, but staff points out it’s also the time of year we see water-loving flowers in abundance and say goodbye the youngest Swallow-tailed Kites migrating to South America. The point of all this is to see these things first hand, to push personal boundaries and make a connection with the wild spaces around us.
Second graders will apply their experience in the classroom and start to connect the bigger picture of watersheds and wildlife habitats to conservation projects.
College students may give back, volunteer, or spread the word to friends.
Getting back on the bus, regardless of the age group, students walk away with an awareness of the land and the role they can choose to play through conservation.
No one wants to accidentally step into a fire ant mound, and the since the ants nest in disturbed areas with a lot of sunshine, the edges of the trail are their preferred nesting spots. Once one ant bites, it releases a pheromone that tells all of the other ants to swarm. It’s difficult enough to brush the furious ants from your own boots/socks/pants so just imagine the impossible task of quickly removing them from your pet’s fur.
Staying in the middle of the trail also helps minimize the chances that your curious pup will encounter any reptilian friends that are sunning on the sides of the trail. And a leashed pet also lets other trail users know that you, the owner, are respectful of everyone out there, including the wildlife.
If you are concerned about mosquitos, please do not use mosquito spray designed for humans. DEET is toxic for dogs and can make them very sick. Instead, opt for a mosquito spray designed for dogs or an at-home mix of essential oils.
We also recommend packing a pet first aid kit in your backpack before heading out for a hike. It should include things like a cold pack, gauze, bandages, tweezers, antiseptic and insect sting relief pads. If you do have a medical emergency on the trails, call 911.
And, after your hike, do a post-hike pet check at the car. We recommend checking your dog’s paws for any debris or wiping their paws with a wet cloth.
You aren’t the only one who will get thirsty hiking the trails. Just imagine hiking a mile in a fur coat – that is how hot your pooch is going to get in our glorious sunshine and high humidity and he/she cannot sweat to cool themselves off. Pack water for both yourself AND your pooch and bring along a collapsible water bowl to make drinking easy for your pet.
Worried about carrying everything? Consider purchasing a pack for your dog. There are a lot of options on the market and a good-fitting pack can help your dog share in carrying your supplies.
Also, if you are packing a snack to keep your energy up, pack a snack for your pup as well. Hiking is hard work and everyone, including your dog, needs a break in a shady spot with a tasty snack.
Pack out what you bring in – even poop
Ahhhhh, the pet waste debate. Ask any frequent hiker at our trails and they’ll tell you all to often the scat they are identifying so eagerly isn’t from bobcats or panthers – it’s from dogs.
Leaving your pet waste behind isn’t just a nuisance for other hikers who may step in it – it’s also dangerous for wildlife. Dog waste can contain harmful bacteria which can affect wildlife or end up in our water. And, if your dog happens to ingest feces that was left by other dogs on the trail, they can get sick with diseases such as Parvo or parasites including tapeworms.
Take dog waste bags with you and pick up after your pet. You’ll also need to transport that waste to a garbage can, so plan accordingly. Because the CREW trail systems are primitive, they do not have trash cans and all guests are expected to follow the Leave No Trace principles.
Good behavior goes a long way
There are multiple user groups at each trail system, including horses and bikers at the Cypress Dome Trails and birders and photographers at all trails.
If your dog needs to work on their manners, meaning, if they bark a lot and may distrub birders, you may want to head to the trails during off-peak times. Birders and wildlife photographers usually hit the trails very early in the morning so, if you want to avoid any angry glares or shushing noises, head out later in the morning. If your pet doesn’t like crowds, check to see when programs are being offered at the trails and avoid hiking during programming times. And, if you are unsure if hiking is right for your pet, try short walks around the neighborhood and note how they react to other dogs and people. They’ll likely react to people, wildlife and other dogs on the trails the same way so, if they need more time to work with you on manners, take that time before heading out to hike.
And owners, good behavior on your part is key. When you see other hikers, step to the side and guide your dog so they do not venture close to other hikers, who may be leary of dogs or uncomfortable around them. When we all get along on the trails, everyone benefits.
Know before you go
Before heading out to the trails, check out the trail maps and descriptions, user groups and trail conditions on our website. Once you arrive at the trails, note your GPS location in case of emergency and take note of any wildlife warning signs.
We suggest taking photos of the snakes that you may encounter on the trails, which are on a poster at the kiosks. We have several venomous snakes that your curious pup may encounter along the sides of the trails or off the trails (but we certainly hope they do not venture off the trail).
It’s also important to note the route you plan to take on a map and make sure that the distance you plan to cover fits the fitness level of yourself and your dog. Short hikes are a great way to start enjoying the trails and slowly build up both your endurance and your dog’s.
One of our favorite spring wildflowers is blooming! We spotted – and smelled – the first pawpaws blooming last week along the edges of the flatwoods in the Cypress Dome Trails and the CREW Marsh Trails.
Pawpaws are important for several reasons beyond their beauty and smell. First, they are a host plant for zebra swallowtail butterflies. Second, the fruit they produce is a delicious foodsource for many animals including gopher tortoises.
Want to learn more about CREW wildflowers?
Additional resources to help you find and ID southwest Florida native wildflowers include: