Posted: 4:53 am Monday, August 21st, 2017
By Ann Kelly
My newest Ann-Venture may not be repeated. Not without someone else along. Now, I say that jokingly, but like all wildlife areas in Florida I go with caution since I’m the intruder here. That being said, let me introduce you to the phenomenal wild beauty of Highland Hammocks State Park.
It’s a bit of a drive from my house (just under two hours) in Highland County but well worth my trip on a Sunday morning. Heading down 75, then straight across 64 I took note of just how many bridges there were to cross over. There was the Peace River, Troublesome Creek, Horse Creek and Myakka River and so many cattle farms, Kahn Citrus, Costa Farms and actual citrus groves. It’s is just one lane in each direction but on a lazy Sunday morning a very pleasant ride.
Now, the park. Highland Hammocks State Park is one of our oldest state parks, named in 1931. The state took over in 1935 and now protects more than 9,000 acres that contain 12 natural communities like the Cypress Swamp that was the site of my way too up close and personal encounter…with a gator.The Cypress Swamp Trail is astounding in both its natural beauty and almost primeval feel. It was hushed that morning, save for the occasional bullfrog croak and birds tweeting. And a few other sounds I couldn’t quite identify but enjoyed. The rangers told me this is one of the most popular trails – but one caveat. The boardwalk eventually gives way to what amounts to a catwalk which is only a few feet wide with one low handrail to the right. I was very close to the swampy water and I’ll admit I did think twice before I headed out. Who knows what I was going to encounter? It took about two minutes to answer that question. As I paused to shoot another picture there was a tremendous splash right next to me on the left. Yep. A pretty good sized gator that I most likely startled but which gave me the scare of my life! It probably took another minute or two before I stopped shaking and made my way to one of the areas along the catwalk with a bench and sat and calmed down. But I did make it the rest of the way through and that catwalk does go back to boardwalk status. It only takes around twenty minutes to make the whole loops and the photo ops are worth it. But I would think twice before I took young children down that path, and I don’t think pets are actually allowed. But I’d also keep them away. It’s beautiful but it’s Florida. Enjoy and be aware. Highlands Hammock State Park has many areas to enjoy but another warning for this time of year. The mosquitoes were just plan nasty once that sun warmed things up. I made sure to spray myself thoroughly before hitting the Fern Garden Trail but I think the skeeters pretty much laughed at it.
For more on the park, click here and make sure to take advantage of the annual pass. It’s be best investment I’ve ever made and has given me many wonderful Ann-Ventures.