The 12-mile loop is dry. The section between points “B” and “E” has several washouts where it may be muddy after rain.
The entire 12-mile trail is clearly marked with letters to help you gauge your distances. The Purple trail connects CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail to the CREW Flint Pen Strand trails. The Purple trail distance is 3.1 miles to the main parking lot at CREW Flint Pen Strand starting from the intersection above point E. The Purple trail is still wet, with few higher dry sections.
Be aware that alligators will warm themselves on the trail. Please do not attempt to force them to move when you pass.
Trails are dry. The Purple Trail which connects to CREW Bird Rookery Swamp is still muddy toward the end of the trail. This trail is often the last to completely dry down.
The Red, Yellow, Blue and Orange Trails experienced wildfire (3/26/22) and the SFWMD are in the process of repairing the firebreaks.
Check HUNT DATES. Hunting takes place north of CREW Flint Pen Strand trail systems. Please stay on the designated trails. The trails are narrow and winding with some sand and roots/rocks.
Trail distances are calculated from the Main parking lot. The Purple trail hike is 3.1 miles to CREW Bird Rookery Swamp and 3.1 miles back. If you choose to hike the “loop” of CREW Bird Rookery Swamp trail, you will add 7.5 miles to your distance.
Check with Allison@CREWtrust.org to make sure your membership is current so you can take advantage of early registration for all CREW Trust programs.
Member’s only week is starting October first this year, so be sure to mark your calendars and check back often to CREWtrust.org for more information on all our programs.
Back by popular demand – the Fall and Spring Wildflower walks with Roger Hammer. Enjoy new birding programs and carnivorous plant Specialty Walks. A whole new line-up of Strolling Science Seminars, exciting new family friendly programs and overnight experiences.
Members will have the first week in October to sign up ahead of the general public. Stay on the lookout for our pop-up programs throughout the year, such as our seasonal Wet-Walks and Moonlight tours.
CREW Trust Season of Events will go on sale at 8 AM, October 1st, 2022. General admission will begin on October 9th at 8 AM.
With the long end-of-year holidays, kids need healthy and fun activities, things they can do with their families and friends. If they’re visiting Florida in December, this is the perfect time of the year to introduce them to the world of nature. The weather is fine for all kinds of outdoor activities. And the four different CREW trail systems offer a variety of sights, sounds and experiences.
But some kids have little experience with the great outdoors. Worms, spiders and other creepy-crawly things may intimidate them. They may resist getting wet or muddy. And they might find trees, trails and rocks uninteresting. Given a choice between playing outdoors or playing a video game, some kids would opt for the indoor game.
Some kids just need an introduction to nature. They need exposure to the physical world in order to learn to be comfortable in it. The adults in their lives can show them how to love nature and be safe in it. Nature promotes healthy growth by encouraging kids to be active. It’s also good for their imaginations, stimulating curiosity by introducing them to new and different experiences. Just being outside in our gorgeous Florida winter weather makes everyone, kids included, feel better.
So how can you persuade your kids to come outside with you? We have some suggestions.
Prepare before you load up to hit the trail. Before you take the kids on a CREW hiking trail, share your own enthusiasm about what they might see, hear and experience in the woods. Keep your research simple, and note anything that seems to capture their interests. If they express an interest in spiders, help them do a little research to figure out where and when they might see a spider in the woods. Early morning sun at any of our CREW trails illuminates spider webs and makes them look like jewels adorning the bushes. Choose one particular web and study its construction with your kid, explaining how the spider builds its webs to capture its prey. The Green Lynx spider is a bright shade of green and can be found on many trails.
Tell your kid what he or she is likely to see in the woods. Here in Florida’s forests there are Florida panthers, black bears, bobcats and other mammals, as well as too many birds and insects to name. Address any fears they may express. You can explain, for instance, that Florida’s panthers and bears are shy and can smell you from a long way away, so it’s easy for them to avoid us. If your child is fascinated by panthers, bears and bobcats, show them how to look for the tracks of these animals on a muddy or sandy trail. We have a dazzling array of butterflies in Florida. The beautiful white peacock tends to fly low to the ground so they’re easy to spot. You may also be lucky enough to spot the striking zebra longwing, the Florida state butterfly. Show your kids the photos here and help them look for these colorful treasures in the woods.
Devise a simple game or set a few easy goals for your time outdoors. If your kid is reluctant to touch things in the woods, you can create a simple scavenger hunt that they can complete through observation. Give them a checklist to allow them to check off each item as they spot it. Keep it simple; don’t name a specific bird. Just list “bird” as one of the things they can look for. Other things you can put on the list: worm, bird’s nest, flower, animal track, and big tree. Or you could announce that whoever spots the first bird or butterfly during your outing gets a special prize.
Parents, prepare for your kids to play in the mud. Bring clean clothes, extra shoes and water to wash their feet.
Model good behavior for your kids. Explain the “Leave No Trace” principles to them and make sure you take any trash home with you. It’s important that kids learn to respect nature, so explain to them why we don’t feed animals in the wild. This is especially important in Florida where every pond or lake is likely to house an alligator or two. Feeding them destroys their natural fear of humans and encourages them to approach people. Alligators are fascinating to watch but teach your kids to do so from a distance. In Florida’s public parks and nature preserves, it’s illegal to pick plants or to remove anything, so encourage your kids to take photos instead of collecting wildflowers. Take the things you need for safety (bug spray, hat, sunscreen, lots of water) and explain why you’re putting them in your backpack. Let the kids choose a snack.
Before you go, take a look at the CREW website (CREWtrust.org) and decide which of our four trail systems would provide a good introduction to nature for your kids. The rainy season has ended and most of our trails are now dry. If you want to experience the magic of walking through a cypress forest on a boardwalk, consider Bird Rookery Swamp. The red trail at Flint Pen Strand offers easy hiking through pine flatwoods and a prairie where you may spot some deer or even a red-headed woodpecker.
Your child may be excited to get outdoors if you allow him or her to bring a friend. Recognize that kids usually walk at a slower pace than adults and allow them to linger over things that interest them. Most of all, enjoy yourself. Show your own curiosity about things you see. Your enthusiasm for nature in all its varied forms will be contagious.
At the CREW Project, we’ve got four different trail systems for hiking, biking, running and just enjoying the outdoors.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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”.
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!
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!)
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?
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).
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.
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.