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! 

Early Settlers in CREW

Europeans & Early American Settlers, the history of land use and its effect on our water resources and wildlife in CREW
Lakes of Flint Pen Strand

Water management in Florida today has evolved from the lessons of the past, as well as from changing philosophies about natural resources and the environment. Early Native Americans in Florida altered the land by building settlements, cultivating fields, building mounds, establishing transportation routes, and digging canals and fish ponds. European explorers and settlers arrived in the 1500s, but much of Florida, particularly the central and southern regions, remained relatively undeveloped until the last decades of the 19th century. Significant increases in population and tourism were contemporaneous with new development and developers directly and indirectly caused significant changes to the natural landscape and resources of the state (Purdum et al.).

Europeans & early American settlers:

The history of Florida’s human settlement for most of the past 14,000 years has been shaped by water. When Spanish explorers arrived in Florida in the 1500s, an estimated 350,000 Native Americans were living throughout the state almost exclusively near water filled regions (Bureau of Archaeological Research). At the time of the European contact in the late 16th century, the Spaniards identified the people of Southwest Florida as the Calusa. The Calusa occupied the coastal zone, however their political influence and trade network extended inland to the Lake Okeechobee basin.

Settlement of Lee County really began in the years following the Civil War. Government land surveys seeking out areas for settlement were also completed during this period, although CREW area surveys were left incomplete due to the “impracticable” nature of the swamp. Ultimately, even though people had lived in Florida for thousands of years prior to 1900, their overall impact had been minimal.

Lakes of Flint Pen Strand where majority of research was conducted. Photo by John Lane

Historical & archaeological research at CREW:

Archaeological research on the CREW lands, which includes approximately 60,000 acres, have uncovered no prehistoric or historic artifacts (Halperin et al.). However, archaeologically significant sites were identified adjacent to the CREW lands near Lake Trafford and several potential sites with historical resources were identified within the CREW project. Even though archaeological research uncovered no diagnostic artifacts and given the limited excavation done, it is reasonable to assume CREW would have been used for hunting and gathering activity by prehistoric peoples. Feel free to contact the CREW Trust or the Bureau of Archaeological Research if you discover a possible historical/archaeological site.

The early 1940s aerial photographs show limited cultural activity within the CREW project and by the 1970s, only a partial ditch system was in place. The Flint Pen Strand canals were more recently constructed, as evidenced by the dirt and rubble leftover from excavation. Some time after 1970, 12 to 15 homesteads were established in the slightly higher eastern part of the CREW project. The sites appear to have been selected based on slight elevations and access via the dirt trails. Almost nothing remains of these homesteads except abandoned power poles and a thin scatter of debris (Halperin et al.). 

In 2010, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) began steps to restore hydrologic functions within the CREW Flint Pen Strand area (Blog: History of  Flint Pen Strand: Part Two), just another example of Floridians actively seeking ways to preserve, protect and restore water resources in more recent years.

Environmental choices & change:

Since 1900, Florida has seen substantial changes in land and water use. General consensus viewed Florida as having too much water and as a result, many Floridians were focused on drainage, flood control and navigation (Purdum et al.). Historically, water resources were seen primarily for human use and therefore were controlled and modified to suit our needs. Now, the value and sustainability of our finite water resources are clear. Land managers (SFWMD) today are concerned with water quality protection, water supply and ensuring natural places like the CREW watershed are under protection and preserved for future generations (Purdum et al.). 

Bibliography

Halperin, Christina, et al. “Cultural Resources Survey of the Corkscrew Marsh Tract of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, Collier County, Florida.” C.A.R.L. Archaeological Survey, vol. Bureau of Archaeological Research, no. June, 2002, p. 42.

Purdum, Elizabeth D., et al. “Florida Waters.” A Water Resources Manual from Florida’s Water Management Districts, vol. Florida Water Management District, no. 1, 2002, p. 120.

History of Flint Pen Strand: Part Three

Restoration of the Wetlands

By Nan Mattingly, CREW Trust Volunteer

Dwarf Cypress trees on the Yellow Trail North

So how do you restore a wetland? First, you study the proposed land to see if it is still functioning as a wetland. If it’s not, you remove structures (houses, roads, bridges, berms) built on the land that interfere with the natural flow of water. You also must remove a lot of debris like fences, toilets, tires, appliances, and boats just to name a few. The South Florida Water Management District, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the CREW Trust have put thousands of hours into cleaning up CREW Flint Pen Strand (FPS).

photo taken during SFWMD work in 2000

To prepare and carry out an effective restoration, you need to know the history of the land. Are there any irreversible changes in the wetlands? You must figure out how to go around them or work with them to achieve your goal of a functioning wetland. You should also consider the causes of the degradation of a wetland and address those. There is no use restoring the wetland if it’s going to revert to its malfunctioning state.

Evidence of homestead sites still remain

You also must think ahead. Are there any plans by local, state, or federal government or private landowners that would affect your wetland? Not only do you have to study the wetland itself to figure out how to repair it, but you also must consider the surrounding area and what impact the restoration may have on neighboring property.

Pine forests intermix with wetlands throughout Flint Pen Strand

Then decide what your objectives are for the newly restored wetland. At FPS, the goals were to restore some of the original pathways for flowing water; restore the ecosystem because native trees and plants naturally help slow the water, giving it more time to soak into the aquifer; provide natural flood protection; and identify and protect habitat that is crucial for the wildlife that live there. Florida panthers and have been spotted at FPS and because they need thousands of acres to roam, I’m sure they appreciate the forests and saw palmetto habitats that support their primary food source, white-tailed deer, at FPS.

White-tailed deer roaming the marshes of south Flint Pen Strand

Finally, you monitor the success of your restoration project and maintain for the long term.

Restoring a wetland is a complex process and the SFWMD continues to work hard at FPS. Part of the process at FPS has been the removal of non-native and invasive species. If you hike the red trail and come across a forest of spooky-looking trees, many of them lying on the ground, you’ll see the results of killing hundreds of invasive melaleuca trees. With their papery white bark, the dead melaleucas look like a forest of ghosts. In addition, CREW volunteers have assisted with the removal of invasive plants such as caesar weed and earleaf acacia (a never-ending job). Consistent stewardship can only succeed with collaboration and community support. The ongoing long-term success of the CREW project is a result of many hands-on deck, especially from people like you. The support you give through membership and donations secures the future of this project and others for generations to come.

CREW Trust and FGCU Service Learning partnership in action

History of Flint Pen Strand: Part Two

Restoration of the Wetlands

By Nan Mattingly, CREW Trust volunteer

Hydrologic restoration within the CREW Project in April 2000

Have you ever considered what your life would be like if you didn’t have easy access to water or if you had too much around you?

Restoration of the wetlands of the CREW Flint Pen Strand (FPS) has addressed both issues. Efforts to develop FPS lands for residences since the 1950s reduced the ability of FPS wetlands to function. If water has no place to linger, which is what you need to recharge the aquifer where your drinking water comes from, it must go somewhere. 

Without a functioning wetland, water will traverse the FPS lands without stopping and seek lower levels, ending up in the yards and homes of the lower-lying areas of Bonita Springs. Many residents recall a particularly bad year, 1995, when Tropical Storm Jerry flooded east Bonita Springs in August. Just when residents were beginning to return to their homes in October, Hurricane Opal inundated the same area and did more damage. Flooding continues to hamper east Bonita Springs residents even today with the most recent being Hurricane Irma in 2017.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) took on the responsibility of restoring about 5,400 acres of the wetlands of FPS. In some flood-prone areas, a variety of structural changes designed to improve the flow of water and thus reduce flooding have been tried, including ditches, canals, and channels. SFWMD decided that removing roads and culverts as well as treating invasive vegetation would be most effective and less costly to restore the wetlands and let the wetlands do what they do so well – collect water, filter it and let it soak into the aquifer. 

The FPS hydrologic restoration project is a slow and labor-intensive effort. The project is ongoing but we are seeing results today thanks to the continued efforts of the SFWMD. Sheet flow (inland water that flows toward lower coastal areas) that once crossed FPS land is now invited to stick around and help recharge the watershed that the 60,000-acre CREW Project exists to protect.  

The hydrologic restoration at FPS helps to assure that you’ll have access to water. It also helps to protect the residents of Bonita Springs from flooding. So, the next time you hike one of the FPS trails, take a moment to consider all that the CREW lands do when it comes to water and the flood protection that it provides.

Flint Pen Strand 2019

Scientists in the Field

Kathleen Smith with Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is the lead wildlife biologist for the CREW WEA.

by Allison Vincent

CREW Trust Communications Director & Volunteer Coordinator

There is a lot of science that happens at CREW. Did you know that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) employs two full time wildlife biologists to perform wildlife monitoring throughout the CREW project? Their research combines in-depth field work, data collection and long-term trend analysis to detect changes over time in animal and plant species because of land management activities.

Photo-monitoring, established at CREW in 2005 with additional sites added since then, is just one of many fascinating projects that take place in the interior lands of CREW. Stationary photo points are in three units of CREW where the Majority of the land management activities take place: Corkscrew Marsh, Cypress Dome Trails, and Flint Pen Strand.

FWC wildlife biologists Kathleen Smith and Lauren Plussa navigate the fire-breaker roads developed by the South Florida Water Management District through CREW Flint Pen Strand.

FWC biologists use a standardized data collection method at each photo point throughout the process. Starting with a map of the photo points, they embark early in the morning to beat the heat and the summer storms. On the route through north Flint Pen Strand, a swamp buggy is needed to reach interior photo points and a pole saw is required to clear and navigate the thick midstory of fast growing Florida foliage.

Lauren Plussa clears the overgrown path for our buggy to pass and for hunt permit holders that may use the same trail during the upcoming hunt season.

There is a lot that goes into photo-monitoring. The most important component involves photographing the vegetation in the exact same spot, twice a year (wet season and dry season) over an extended period of time. For each photo, biologists place the camera on a platform at a fixed height, and then using a 16.5-foot rope, biologists walk a field helper to the end of the rope, placing that helper at the same fixed distance away from the camera in each photo. This field helper holds a sign with the number and cardinal direction of each photo, as well as a vegetation measuring stick that measures the height of the surrounding vegetation. These photos serve as representative snapshots of vegetative changes on the CREW lands over time.

Biologists also use a densiometer which looks like a concave-shaped mirror that reflects the canopy cover above them to determine the density of tree canopy and mark changes in canopy density over time.

After collecting the data they return to the comfort of the office field station to compile the results and compare this year with previously collected data. The post-field work analyses is the more complex and time-consuming part of field work, but it provides a complete picture of the vegetative changes over time on the CREW Management Area

Not a wildlife biologist, but want to make a difference in the conservation? You can collaborate on an array of citizen science projects that contribute invaluable data to our understanding of the world. Here’s a curated list of organizations requesting your help:

  1. SciStarter provides a database of more than 3,000 vetted, searchable projects and events.
  2. NASA’s citizen science projects are collaborations between scientists and interested members of the public.
  3. Citizen Science at NOAA– There are dozens of citizen science projects within NOAA that provide opportunities for people to engage in scientific investigation.
  4. Join in the Smithsonian Research Mission– Depending on your interests, you can help sustain species around the globe and even solve mysteries of the planets and stars!
  5. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission– Citizen science is a smart, collaborative strategy that enhances the FWC’s ability to conserve Florida’s diversity of fish and wildlife species and their habitats.
  6. Nature’s Notebook – Nature’s Notebook is an off-the-shelf program appropriate for scientists and non-scientists alike, engaging observers across the nation to collect phenology observations on both plants and animals.
  7. Globe at Night – Globe at Night is an international citizen-science campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution by inviting citizen-scientists to measure & submit their night sky brightness observations.
  8. Collect Weather Data – CoCoRaHS (pronounced KO-ko-rozz) is a grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow) in their local communities.
  9. BioBlitz – A BioBlitz is an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. 
  10. Christmas Bird Count (CBC) – participate in the largest and longest citizen science count of birds in the world. 
  11. iNaturalist – Love learning about the outdoor world? Let iNaturalist help you identify species while also contributing to a worldwide collection of scientific observations.
  12. IveGot1 – Help FWC track and manage the populations of nonnative and invasive species by reporting sightings with photos via app, phone call, or online report.

Trees – why do we love them?

photo by Anthony Eugenio

Volunteer Perspective Series

Written by Nan Mattingly

          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.

Partner Spotlight

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)

SFWMD Prescribed Fire at CREW Cypress Dome Trail

You may already know the general story of the CREW Project. In 1989, a conservation minded group of go-getters banded together to protect the land that makes up the CREW Project today. What you may not know is how the land was chosen and how the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) emerged as the primary land owner and land manager of the CREW Project’s 60,000 acres.

In the 1980s, after several years of drought caused wells to go dry, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners applied to the state Save Our Rivers Program land acquisition program (later becoming the Conservation and Recreational Lands Program (CARL) and now known as Florida Forever), asking the state to purchase Flint Pen Strand for a water recharge area to ensure a better water supply for southern Lee County. 

At the same time, National Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida also asked the state to purchase Bird Rookery Swamp to protect the southern and western edges of the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. 

The state looked at both applications and noticed that the two parcels of land were near each other. They studied the area further, discovered there was an entire undisturbed watershed system and determined that the whole system needed to be protected.

Parcel by parcel, the National Audubon Society, Lee and Collier counties, and the state began acquiring parcels within the watershed. The state turned over land management duties to the SFWMD after acquisition. The SFWMD manages their lands to support continued or improved water flow for the benefit of Lee and Collier County citizens.

It is truly a cooperative effort and the key to our success has been partners like the SFWMD. The CREW Trust thanks you!

Earth Day April 22, 2020

For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day remember the phrase: “think globally, act locally” with these Citizen Science projects you can start today in your own backyard!

Nature’s Notebook

Discover and document changes in nature near you. Nature’s Notebook is an off-the-shelf program appropriate for scientists and non-scientists alike, engaging observers across the nation to collect phenology observations on both plants and animals.

Globe at Night Globe at Night is an international citizen-science campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution by inviting citizen-scientists to measure & submit their night sky brightness observations. It’s easy to get involved – all you need is a computer or smartphone & follow these 5 Simple Steps!

Collect Weather Data CoCoRaHS (pronounced KO-ko-rozz) is a grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow) in their local communities.

BioBlitz A BioBlitz is an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. At a BioBlitz, scientists, families, students, teachers, and other community members work together to get a snapshot of an area’s biodiversity.

Why is the grass long? Our answers to a few Summer FAQ’s

It’s SUMMMMMMERRRRR!

For us, it’s a much needed break from our season schedule. We’re off scouting new trails, leading a few field trips and heading off on vacations. Summer is slow for us, which can be frustrating for people trying to reach us in the office (where we rarely are) or via email (which we don’t answer on vacation). Because of this, check out our answers to a few summertime Frequently Asked Questions.

Why aren’t there any guided walks scheduled during the summer?

The majority of our visitors are seasonal, but that isn’t the only reason why we offer our guided walks November-April. Those months are also when most of our volunteers are here and we depend on their expertise and generously donated time to lead those hikes. Other reasons are trail conditions and weather. With storms almost every day, lightning is a big deterrent for us scheduling programs during the rainy season. And the trail conditions vary daily and can be wet, muddy, have tall grass – or all of the above.

What are you doing this summer?

Everything we can’t do during season. We are planning next year’s programs, working on reports, and creating new programs for our volunteers, local students and visitors. We’re also doing some major projects. Last summer we walked the first potential Flint Pen Strand trail once a month to monitor how deep the water will get (waist deep for those of you that are curious). This summer we are hard at work re-routing a section of that proposed trail, installing trail markers, improving trail conditions and scouting out additional trails so that everything is ready to go when the South Florida Water Management District opens the trail.

The grass is getting long. When will you mow the trails?

This one is a VERY frequently asked question. We, meaning the CREW Trust staff and volunteers, do not mow the trails. The trails and surrounding land are managed by the South Florida Water Management District. So why is the grass long? There are two main reasons. First, mowing is not a land management priority. Now that some of the rain has come, our land managers are working to complete prescribed burns before the land gets really wet. They are also working on other land management projects that take up their time. The second reason is that, as the water levels rise, the ground gets softer. As we head further into rainy season, the mowers will not be able to get back into the trails without getting stuck. That is the case now in sections of the Cypress Dome Trails, and will be soon in sections of Bird Rookery Swamp. Remember, the land is there for water first, wildlife second, and our enjoyment third.

Bear print

I saw game camera pictures on your website but when I visited I didn’t see any animals. Why is that?

We didn’t pay the animals that day. Just kidding. Kind of. Part of seeing or not seeing animals has to do with the time of day you are on the trails. Early morning or late evening is best, and when you want to hide from the scorching hot inferno of mid-day SWFL summer, the animals do too. The other part is simply luck. We do see more animal tracks during the summer, and part of that could be because we have less people on the trails, or because some of the areas that the animals frequent have too much water so they are looking for dryer areas. Or maybe they finally got our check cashed.

I can’t do (insert favorite thing) on the trails because of trail conditions. When will I be able to do (insert thing)?

Think of this disruption of your favorite thing on the trails (walking disrupted by boot-sucking mud, biking disrupted by long grass) as an opportunitiy to try something you haven’t tried before. Head out with your friend and wade through the Wild Coffee Trail at the Cypress Dome Trails. Slosh along the edge of the marsh at the CREW Marsh Trails and use a field guide to identify all of the blooming wildflowers. Grab a kiddo (or just be a kid at heart) and take photos and identify all the tracks in the mud at any of the trails. Pretty soon rainy season will be over, the water will go down and the mud will dry up and you can go back to your normal favorite trail activities.

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