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
  • 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

Summertime at CREW

By Allison Vincent

Scarlet Hibiscus at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail

What should I expect on the CREW Trails this summer?

Water! You may have heard us say this before, but I’ll say it again here, CREW is ALL about water!

As rainwater accumulates on the ground, absorbing and leaching through the ground surface down through the porous limestone rock and into the aquifer, it replenishes the groundwater and restores the aquifer. 

Lakes around CREW Flint Pen Strand trails

We won’t see that water again until we either turn on the faucet, or visit the trails after the water table rises above the surface. That’s also the point when we describe the trails as, “inundated with water” and you should prepare for a wet walk. 

“It’s always amazing how that point of saturation seems to break the ground surface overnight in CREW, as the aquifer literally fills up and overflows on the trails.”

CREW Trust executive director Brenda Brooks

Saturation happens at different times throughout CREW because it is such a large watershed with 60,000 acres of land. After that stage, we start to see the next step in the cycle of water through the CREW lands, called sheetflow. 

Sandhill Cranes grazing around CREW Flint Pen Strand marshes

You may want to take a moment this summer when you’re out on the CREW trails to celebrate the rainy season because wet trails mean fresh drinking water, flood protection and numerous other benefits for humans and wildlife that frequent this corridor of Florida. 

Reclaimed water is the second phase of our drinking water extracted from underground aquifers (Bonita Springs Utilities)

CREW Trails

CREW Marsh trails: 

American Bluehearts at the CREW Marsh trails

On the northern side of the CREW Marsh watershed, you’ll find the CREW Marsh trails. These trails will remain dry, for the most part, the longest of any trail system, as most of the sheetflow from the CREW Marsh will slowly trickle southwest. However, smaller seasonal marshes along the ecotones of the trail will fill up around the same time as the CREW Marsh and flow over the trails. Once the water level is above the ground surface, expect to consistently get your feet to ankles wet on these trails. The Red trail that hugs the CREW Marsh will fill up first, along with the Green trail as they both border the largest accumulation of water, our 5,000-acre sawgrass marsh. 

CREW Cypress Dome trails:

Nesting Swallow-tailed Kite at CREW Cypress Dome trails

Areas of the Green trail near the cypress dome and almost all of the Wild Coffee trail will become increasingly inundated with water as the water table rises. If you hike the Wild Coffee trail and portions of the White trail, expect to get wet up to your waist at its highest and wettest point. Other sections of the White trail will pool water and increase the likelihood of getting your feet wet. The crossover from CREW Cypress Dome trail to Caracara Prairie Preserve trails will require you to ford across a small canal. This area can fill to waist height, so be prepared to get very wet. Caracara Prairie Preserve includes one elongated marsh crossing and several areas of the trails become inundated with water. 

CREW Flint Pen Strand trails:

Barred Owl at CREW Flint Pen Strand trails

Take a walk along the bumpy berm of the Red trail, left behind by the canal excavation constructed to direct water through the early farmlands once present in CREW Flint Pen Strand. Trails bordering the Kehl Canal, headwaters for the Imperial River which runs to the Gulf of Mexico, are a great place to watch water levels rise as we get more into our rainy season. Check out the Yellow trails north and south along with the Red trail to get a view of the Kehl Canal. Or hike east on the Orange and Purple trails, where you can see some of the impact of the hydrologic restoration (link to previous article) designed to restore and slow the sheet flow over the surface of the land, giving it more time to soak in and replenish the aquifer. All of these trails will eventually be underwater, especially in the marshes surrounding the lakes. 

CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail:

CREW Trust volunteers walking around a gator tail at CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail

The trails here were constructed on a historic railroad tram, which continues to provide a raised trail above the surrounding swamp. The low dips will fill with water and require crossing.

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