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

Where do you look when you hike?

By Allison Vincent

Guided program at CREW Flint Pen Strand on the Purple Trail this rainy season – summer 2021

What is your hiking personality type? Do you have one? Never thought about it? Some would say that where you spend most of your time looking while on the trail says a lot about your interests, like one of those repetitive questionnaires that asks the same question several different ways to find a pattern. For instance, is your head up in the clouds with the birds or are you flipping through your wildflower book while you crouch near the flora? Does every little insect catch your eye, or are you more the type to roll over a downed tree to see what’s hiding underneath? Whatever your type, when you’re out hiking the CREW trails you’ll find a rich assortment of interesting distractions to catch your eye, hold your attention, and spark your imagination.  

If you’re the kind of person that tends to look down while you’re hiking you can fit into several categories. For one, perhaps you’re simply clumsy and/or cautious about wildlife crossing your path – in which case I suggest finding a good hiking stick. However, you might be the type to look to the ground with intention, scanning the earth for a sign of life, whether that be a wandering turtle or a seasonal wildflower. 

CREW Cypress Dome Trails

If you have a practical preoccupation with the ground in front of you – often you’re a quick trail runner or speed hiker who doesn’t slow down for anything, except perhaps a faster runner. You’re on the right track as long as you’re moving fast enough to blur your vision of the verdant landscape surrounding you. You prefer the smells of the trees over the blast of exhaust fumes and therefore opt to test your endurance in the company of wildlife, even if you’re moving too quickly to witness them. That’s alright, because you yourself are a wild thing, gracefully caressing the ground with your quick footsteps under the canopy of trees and sky. You are a trail runner.

Swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) at CREW with CREW Trust intern Angel Kelley

Then again, maybe you’re one of the many who take their time looking at each leaf and petal, searching through the many layers of green to identify something unique in the abundant chaos. You have the ability to see hidden gems, glowing silently in the leaf litter, distinct in their ecosystem. You admire how they grow, for no one in particular, but simply because we have set aside spaces like CREW for them to do so. They blossom with their seasons, adorning the landscape with pops of improbable colors. They complete their life cycle unaided and unattended, capturing your attention if you’re one of those who seeks out their inherent beauty. You are a wildflower seeker. 

Julie Motkowicz, CREW Trust Education Coordinator, often discovers and teaches about the bugs of CREW – here she’s observing a Malachite butterfly

Then there are the unique people who find themselves seeking out the most diverse group of organisms on the planet, insects. Given that insects represent approximately 80 percent of the world’s species, it’s a fair bet that you’ll find a good collection to observe on each hike. In fact, at any time, it is estimated that there are some 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects alive. Bug nerds like you probably already know that, which is why you’re out with your macro camera lens, focusing in closely on that mother green lynx spider protecting the next generation in her silken web. You are a bug person.

Photo from past CREW Trust Strolling Science Seminar, Herping the CREW Lands (tickets on sale now)

The last predominant subcategory of those that ‘tend to look down while hiking’ includes the herpetologists. These patient seekers know where to look and also that it’s unlikely to find anything. Not to worry though; when you’re as patient and observant as those in this category tend to be, you’ll eventually be rewarded with a cool snake or mud-soaked turtle when you least expect it. That’s when you impress your friends with your reptile spotting skills and knowledge of their behavior, calming your friends’ nerves with helpful advice about how best to interact with our reptile neighbors (give them lots of space and respect). You are a herper. 

Photographer and CREW Trust volunteer Bill Zaino out shooting on the Red Trail of CREW Flint Pen Strand

Let’s not forget about those who look up to the sky for the birds. You know you’re a birder when you prefer trails with level ground or bring along a friend specifically to walk in front – so you don’t trip. Bird nerds, as you’re often called by your nearest and dearest friends, will sometimes  politely hush hiking friends not so immersed in the sport to allow you to parse out the chorus of warblers, distinguishing their unique calls. You’re an eagle-eyed scout who can often tell a species by their wing shape or flight patterns, counting the number of birds flocking with a best estimate. With all the migratory birds finding their way to or through Florida this season, you’re sure to find your way to the CREW trails soon and often. You are a birder.

Next time you’re out hiking CREW trails, take note of where you tend to look. And then try looking elsewhere to discover new interests. There are many other wonderful things to observe out hiking around the CREW Trails this winter. What do you look for on the trails? Will you try something new?

Barred owls nuzzle at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail – a resident hidden in the trees

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!

How some birds use magnetism to migrate

By Allison Vincent

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commision fieldwork – bird banding: Northern Parula

8/20/2021

We often use the phrase “hard-wired” to suggest a natural instinct or reflex – an unconditioned response that happens without thinking, that you feel deep in your bones. Migratory birds in that sense are hard-wired to navigate on long journeys – sometimes crossing continents and oceans, which for their size is a feat worthy of recognition in itself! Consider the Swallow-tailed Kite who travels 5,000 miles crossing South America, Central America, and the Gulf of Mexico spending only months in places like CREW just to turn back and do it all over again! Still, how they do it is even more impressive.

Scientists have been fascinated by the phenomenon of migration even before Darwin’s observations on the HMS Beagle and they continue to research compelling migration theories to this day. One leading explanation concentrates on the biological and chemical makeup of some long-distance migrants and their relationship to the earth’s magnetic field through an adaptation with magnetite. 

Swallow-tailed Kite over the CREW trails

Magnetite is an iron oxide crystal that aligns with magnetic north, kind of like a tiny compass needle, and amazingly it can be found in the cells of some birds. Scientists think the magnetite crystals even serve as receptors, or inclination compasses, that send directional information input to those species predisposed to this genetic variation. Studies conducted found that magnetite can be adversely affected in the birds by demagnetization either naturally or in the lab; therefore it appears that birds can still defer to their “plan b” with their powerful eyesight.

Extensive research conducted on some populations of birds, especially the Bobolink, has produced fascinating results. Through rigorous and ethically-minded scientific testing, researchers found that when temporarily demagnetized, Bobolinks lose their sense of direction. When their magnetic senses were restored they regained their instinctive migration route. 

So what happens when it’s not the researchers disturbing migratory birds’ cellular receptors? Laboratory demagnetization mimics natural disturbances in the environment, such as changes of terrestrial magnetism like earthquakes, tsunamis and even solar flares from the sun. With all the natural interruptions observed in the field, researchers continue to look for birds’ evolutionary/emergency “plan b”.

Swallow-tailed Kites resting in roost at CREW before their return to South America

And they seem to have found their answer in the most fascinating place – the cones of the eye; animals who possess cells that include iron oxide crystals may also have the ability to sense magnetic fields through vision. It appears that birds sensitive to magnetic fields have light-sensitive pigments in their eyes, known as cryptochromes, that serve as magnetic sensors distinguishing magnetic fields through color changes. 

Imagine that when a cool color, like blue or green, strikes their eyes, electrons in their eyes become energized resulting in something resembling science fiction – north and south become color-coded! When these birds look toward or away from the magnetically charged poles, their field of vision changes color from intensely colorful to lacking in extraneous color. 

Many other animals apparently also have iron oxide crystals in their cells: magnetite has been found in the heads of migratory fish, sea turtles and humpback whales. However, of all the wildlife navigators, birds so far are the best studied. 

Migration research is a fascinating field of study and leads one to wonder how widespread these genetic-based abilities have developed in other less studied birds. For instance, could our local migratory Swallow-tailed Kites also use this form of navigation? However likely it seems, thus far research has focused on migration monitoring via tracking studies. The future of research is always ripe for possibilities, so stay connected!   

White Pelicans, Woodstork, Roseate Spoonbill, and a Tricolored Heron stroll up to CREW Flint Pen Strand

Note: Two great CREW trails to observe the next magnetic migration on are the CREW Flint Pen Strand trails and the CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trails. Keep an eye out for the Bobolinks and other migrants like White Pelicans and Sandhill Cranes that have been observed on these CREW trails. 

Read more about this subject in a recent article in Nature (there’s even a model drawing for magnetoreception!)

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.

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! 

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

National Trails Day

June 5th, 2021

A Day of Service and Advocacy for Hometown Trails

Join the CREW Trust and take the #NationalTrailsDay Pledge. Millions of people have found physical, mental, and emotional restoration on trails during the pandemic.

Let’s return the favor.

Together we can care for our hometown trails and advocate for equitable access to quality green space.

Taking place on the first Saturday in June, National Trails Day® is a day of public events aimed at advocacy and trail service. 

Thousands of hikers, bikers, rowers, horseback riders, trail clubs, federal and local agencies, land trusts (including the CREW Trust), and businesses come together in partnership to advocate for, maintain, and clean up public lands and trails. 

So no matter where you are, celebrate National Trails Day and join trail lovers everywhere on June 5th! Here’s how you can get involved: 

While the CREW Trust doesn’t have a group event scheduled this year, you can get together with friends and family and make a difference on any trail. The CREW trail system with the most need is at CREW Flint Pen Strand. Bring some trash bags and a few extra hands to help pack out some of that unnatural garbage! Remember, trash collects trash, so the more we can pack out together, the longer lasting impact your work will have.

Not in southwest Florida? Check out these resources for events and needs in your area

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