10 Ways to Enjoy the CREW Trails This Summer

10 Ways to Enjoy the CREW Trails This Summer

by Deb Hanson marsh bdwalk2

Summer is approaching and our schedule of events is empty. The CREW Trust has had a fabulous fall/winter season at CREW this year with the help of our project partners, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) staff who owns and manages the CREW lands, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission biologist who monitors wildlife and habitat at CREW, and our fabulous volunteers and FGCU interns who assist with guided walks, trail maintenance, exotics removal, and many other tasks.

Since October 1st, 2012 over 6000 people participated in our guided hikes, strolling science seminars, school field trips, and special programs for CREW Trust members and the public. Thousands more explored the CREW trails on their own and have connected with the watershed in many ways.

But don’t stay away from CREW just because we don’t have many organized summer programs planned. Come on out and enjoy CREW in a whole new way on your own. Summer is a time for the CREW trails to rest. With fewer footprints along the paths, grass grows taller, wildlife ventures out, and of course – with the arrival of summer storms – the water levels rise. By October, the marsh and swamps of CREW will be wet and green and teeming with animal activity. Summer is truly the most amazing time of year to experience CREW.

So, put on your old sneakers and long pants, sunscreen and bug spray, and try one or more of these suggestions to enjoy CREW on your own this summer:
1. Go for a Treasure Hunt  – CREW is home to over 100 geocaches – hidden treasures placed out in the woods along the trails that can be located by GPS coordinates – thanks to local geocachers JunglePete and The Unusual Suspects. If you’ve never been geocaching, grab your GPS unit or smartphone, go to http://geocaching.com for info and CREW coordinates and give it a whirl this summer.

caloosa trailheads2. Take a Run – running the CREW trails is a lot more interesting than pounding the pavement or hitting the treadmill at the gym. Research shows that running outdoors gives you more exercise due to varied elevation and wind resistance, too. Plus, fresh air and proximity to trees heals and refreshes. Check out the Caloosa Trailheads Facebook page to connect with like-minded folks or find a running buddy, then come run a mile or two or ten at CREW.

3. Track an Animal – hit the trail with one purpose: to track a critter. Summer means rain and softer ground, so tracks are more easily found along the trails. Challenge yourself to locate and identify five new animal tracks this summer. Grab a track field guide or app, a tape measure and a friend, then see what you can learn about animals that come out to play at CREW during the summer.

4. Just Sit There – 99% of the time people come to CREW walk, run or bike the trails. Rarely do people go to one spot and sit still. Yet 100% of the time, if you sit still in one place for more than 10 minutes you will see, hear, and experience more critters than in three hours of hiking. So, pick a trail, find a spot, and just sit there. Watch the magic happen.

camping fire5. Spend the Night – CREW has two primitive campsites that are free and available by Special Use License through the SFWMD at http://goo.gl/5wUfJ. If you’ve never been out at CREW at night, camping can give you a whole new perspective about the place. Practice “Leave No Trace” and enjoy the quiet serenity of CREW after dark.

6. Engage Your Senses – most folks walk and look when hiking the CREW Trails. Next time you go, take advantage of the summer humidity and focus attention on your sense of smell. Every animal and plant has a unique scent. Expand your sensory experience by listening and touching, too. Just be sure you can ID poison ivy first!

7. Take the Road Less Traveled – Do you take the same trail every time you come to CREW or have a favorite that you always share with friends and visitors. This summer, take a different trail or loop. Try the Pine Flatwoods Trail at the CREW Marsh or the White Loop/Wild Coffee Trail at the Cypress Dome Trails, or if you’re really ambitious (and well-prepared with water, food, and sun protection) try to get to the north or west tram at Bird Rookery Swamp. Head a new direction and see what surprises await you.

8. Awaken Your Sense of Wonder with a Child – Rachel Carson proclaimed “If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” So, take a child by the hand and explore CREW, experience bugs and birds, get dirty and wet, spend unstructured time playing in nature. You may be surprised at how much it helps you connect, too.

CowNov.19979. Get Your Cowboy/girl On – Adjacent to the CREW Cypress Dome Trails (and connected via the White Loop) are the Caracara Prairie Preserve Trails, owned by Conservation Collier and the CREW Land & Water Trust. These three miles of trails traverse an active cattle ranch. So, put on your cowboy hat and take a hike through oak hammocks, towering pines, and some beautiful wet prairie. Be prepared to get your feet wet crossing the ditch from the Dome Trails to the Caracara Trails (Oh, and no dogs allowed – to keep the cattle safe).

10. Catch a Sunrise/Sunset – all the CREW Trails are open to the public from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset, so start your day right and head out to the Marsh Overlook early one morning this summer to watch the sun rise over the 5000-acre Corkscrew Marsh. Or, if you’re just not a morning person, try getting there just before dark to watch the sunset filtering through those billowing summer storm clouds. Either way, you’ll enrich your life and your spirit!

However you choose to experience CREW this summer, we’d love to hear from you! Share your adventures with us by posting pictures and comments on the CREW Land & Water Trust Facebook page or send us an email to let us know what you did that was new and exciting.

We’ll be publishing our fall/winter program schedule later this summer, so stay tuned…and have a wonderful time at CREW or wherever you spend your summer!

Panther Resources

Panther at CREW - 2012 (Photo credit: Bob Melin)
Panther at CREW – 2012 (Photo credit: Bob Melin)

Below are additional resources and information related to panthers for our Strolling Science Seminar participants.

  • Florida Panther Identification Guide – a 20-page identification guide by Florida Defenders of Wildlife
  • Statement on Estimating Panther Population Size  – written by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission panther team
  • Panther Safety Tips – what to do if you encounter a Florida panther
  • Panthernet.org – Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s “multidisciplinary interactive website on the Florida panther and its southwest Florida environment, designed for everyone interested in learning more about the state’s official animal. It includes the latest information and activities on the natural history of the Florida panther, its habitat, threats to its survival, and history and conservation efforts.” Lots of research papers here…
  • Panther Sighting Registry – use this page to report a panther sighting, especially any sightings north of the Caloosahatchee River.
  • Mountain Lions in Arizona – 10 minute video by Arizona Game and Fish – talks about population estimates – mentioned by Marc Criffield during the panther seminar.
  • Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge – US Fish & Wildlife Service Panther Refuge website
  • Friends of Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge – website for the non-profit friends groups for the Panther Refuge

Butterfly – Dragonfly Resources

Daggerwing by GELThe following are resources related to butterflies and dragonflies that were mentioned during or suggested by participants or the leader of the Dancing Colors and Tigers of the Sky Strolling Science Seminar held on March 8, 2013 at Bird Rookery Swamp. Enjoy.

If you have other to add, please do so in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

Books/Field Guides:

Butterflies Through Binoculars by J. Glassberg

Dragonflies Through Binoculars by S. Dunkle

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by D. Paulson

Scholarly papers:

Sexual Selection and the Evolution of Butterfly Mating Behavior by R. Rutowski

Odonata Listservs:

“CalOdes Sightings CalOdes” <CalOdes@yahoogroups.com>

“TexOdes Odes” <TexOdes@yahoogroups.com>

“Southeast Odonata” <se-odonata@yahoogroups.com>

“dragonfly listserve” <SoWestOdes@yahoogroups.com>

“great lakes odes” <gl_odonata@yahoogroups.com>

“NE Odonata” <neodes@yahoogroups.com>

“Odonata-l” <odonata-l@listhost.ups.edu>


Return to Strolling Science Seminar page here.

Snake Resources

Below are additional resources and information related to snakes for our Strolling Science Seminar participants.

The CREW Strolling Science Seminars are supported in part by a Public Outreach Grant from the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP). The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program is a partnership to protect estuaries in southwest Florida from Venice to Estero Bay.

Return to 2012-2013 Strolling Science Seminar page.

Bat Resources

Rafenesque’s bat (Photo credit: FFWCC)

Below are additional resources and information related to bats for our Strolling Science Seminar participants.

Bat Conservation International – http://www.batcon.org/

Florida Bat Conservancy – http://www.floridabats.org/

Books you may like:

Bats of Florida – by Cyndi and George Marks

Walker’s Bats of the World


Go back to 2012-2013 Strolling Science Seminar page

The CREW Strolling Science Seminars are supported in part by a Public Outreach Grant from the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP). The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program is a partnership to protect estuaries in southwest Florida from Venice to Estero Bay.

Saw Palmetto Season Brings Illegal Activity to CREW

Saw palmetto berries on bush

It’s summer.

It’s hot.

It’s humid.

And it’s saw palmetto berry season.

That means there’s a lot of new activity in CREW – and some of it is illegal.

Saw palmetto berries are the fruit of the saw palmetto plant (Serenoa repens). Saw palmetto is the predominant understory plant in CREW’s pine flatwoods communities. The berries, which ripen in late summer, are an important food source for wildlife – especially the threatened Florida black bear.

They are also used as an alternative medicine by over 2 million U.S. men to treat benign enlargement of the prostate, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. That and other markets for the berries bring berry pickers to CREW each summer to harvest these fruits, which bring from 10 cents to $3.00 a pound, depending on scarcity and conditions each year.

Evidence the pickers are active

Berry picking on CREW lands is illegal. CREW lands are owned by the South Florida Water Management District and are designated as a Wildlife and Environmental Area (WEA) by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The regulations for CREW prohibit the taking of any plants or plant parts, including saw palmetto berries which are a significant wildlife food source. FWC law enforcement officers do patrol the area regularly.

These lands are managed specifically for water and wildlife, so when berry-pickers illegally take berries, it disrupts food supply for animals that the CREW land managers and biologists work so hard to protect.

The berry-pickers were busy at CREW today. Our land manager discovered full berry bags and collection buckets all along the Cypress Dome Trails. The CREW staff then went out and helped to collect all the berry bags we could find, along with all the picking gear (and trash) left behind.

Full berry bags

If you are hiking on CREW lands during the next month or so and see anyone picking berries or if you see bags or other evidence of berry-picking, call the FWC Hotline at 888-404-3922. The more feet and eyes out on the trails during this time, the better – for the bears and all of CREW.

Wildlife Wednesday: A Time for Kites


Photo by Dan Rimar

In these hot, humid days of summer most of us humans try to stay indoors or in the shade to stay cool. But if you happen to step outside and gaze to the sky – especially at CREW – you may just witness one of the most spectacular sightings in all of southwest Florida. Swallow-tailed kites (Elanoides forficatus) migrate to Florida from Brazil each spring to build nests and raise their young throughout our summer rainy season.

As August arrives, these graceful kites can be seen more often in groups flying overhead, often feeding their young, and staging or gathering in large communal groups as they prepare for their 3000-mile journey back to Brazil. The adults and their young offspring (just 2 months old) will head south again in mid-August and we won’t see them again until late February to mid-March. We’ve been seeing them in groups of 20 – 25 regularly at Bird Rookery Swamp and in smaller groups of 12 – 15 around the CREW Marsh Trails and field office. Those groups will get larger as the month goes on, until one day soon when they all head south again.

So, if you want to get a last look at these magnificent birds, head on out to one of the CREW Trails early one morning soon. Listen for their piercing whistles and watch their pre-migration antics. It’s worth every minute of your time!

To learn more about swallow-tailed kites, go here.


Wildlife Wednesday: Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake – Sistrurus miliarius barbouri – photo by Brenda Thomas

Pygmy rattlesnakes are commonly seen at CREW, especially during the late summer months of August and September. We seem to always have them hanging out by our office on the ramp leading up to the door. While small, pygmy rattlers are venomous and can produce a painful bite if provoked.

They feed on frogs and mice. Average adults are from 12 – 24 inches long. They are common in lowland pine flatwoods, along lakes and rivers, near marshes and  prairies, and here in southwest Florida are often seen along canal banks or curled up in a mulch bed or by a door frame.

It’s always a good idea to wear closed-toed shoes while hiking or when working in the yard if you have suitable habitat nearby. Being aware so as to avoid stepping on one protects both you and the snake. If you ever see one, you will marvel at the beautiful color and pattern of its scales. The best thing to do when you encounter a pygmy rattlesnake is to give it the respect it deserves, and leave it alone.

To find out more, go to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Online Guide to Snakes.

Pollinator Partnership

We hope summer is treating you all well. It’s quiet time at CREW, while the rainy season sets in and the tourists are away, and it’s been a couple of months since our first Strolling Science Seminar series ended with a delightfully enlightening session on Pollinators led by FGCU professor, billY Gunnels. In that session billY told fascinating stories of plants and animals – both generalists and specialists – and their quest to achieve pollination, one of the most important biological processes on our planet. Aside from the obvious ecosystems that need pollinators, we humans also depend on pollinators for food, drink, fiber, and medicines.

But worldwide there is “evidence that pollinating animals have suffered from loss of habitat, chemical misuse, introduced and invasive plant and animal species, diseases and parasites.” (http://www.pollinator.org/pollination.htm) Because one of the goals of the CREW Strolling Science Seminars is to inspire people to engage in some form of citizen science, we wanted to share this pollinator resource we’ve come across recently – the Pollinator Partnership. Their mission “is to promote the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education, and research.”

You can use their resources to learn how to plant a pollinator friendly garden, to get involved with pollinator monitoring, to use pollinator-promoting farm practices, to volunteer, and much more. Learn the natural history and current research on bees, hummingbirds, and other important pollinators. Of course, billY might have a different thing or two to say about honeybees! 🙂

There’s even a planting guide for the Outer Coastal Plain Mixed Province, which includes most of Florida. So check it out and help all the pollinators out there do their jobs. After all, our ecosystems and our food sources depend on them!

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