My Oh My, Myakka

This place is an eerie kind of beautiful.  It must be where movies like “the swamp thing” are made.  It smacks of voodoo and mist and mystery.  Gators and Panthers and Snakes, oh my!  Just driving in, this is a wild so foreign to me, it doesn’t even seem real. I’m here because rumor is they have feral pigs to the point of infestation.  Everyone is talking about it.  Apparently there isn’t a crowd stepping up to help with the “extermination process”.  Maybe this is the opportunity I’ve been looking for. What’s a girl got to do to bowhunt some of these unwanted oinkers?045

I pull into the Myakka State Park office and Visitor Center.  The guy I need to speak with won’t be in until later. After looking through their racks of literature, I  quickly discover I want to stay the day and explore.  Myakka State Park is huge!  Over 35,000 acres of woods, prairie, marsh and water.  The highest point is 45 feet (now that’s kind of funny).  There are two lakes in the park, one with a 140 foot sink hole, and the Myakka river runs through the park.  Myakka is one of the largest and oldest parks in Florida.  With arms full of information and a “25 things to do” sheet, I head back to the truck to make a plan.

We start with the 14 mile scenic park drive.  Meandering through the moss laden hammocks is simply beautiful.  Surprisingly there aren’t many other motorists.  We pass a log cabin pavilion available to rent, with shady picnic grounds surrounding it.  We cross a bridge and continue along through the heavy green wild to the Canopy Walk and Nature Trail.  Mental note to self, we need to stop here on the way back.  We pass through the old railroad from the 1920s and then to Big Flats Marsh. Turning left into more heavy Hammocks, and then along a strip of shoreline, I catch a glimpse of an actual campground.  The park is so thick and lush it’s hard to really know what’s out there, but there are 90 campsites out there somewhere.  Very different from typical campers lined up in the open on cement slabs. It’s so shady, I wonder how the bugs are in there? 

We approach “The Birdwalk” and I decide it’s time to stretch human and dog legs. One thing is certain, I don’t take anything for granted here.  Before my babies are out of this truck, we need to be prepared for what’s out there.  Let’s see….okay, according to the literature, we should be on the lookout for:

Bobcats—about twice the size of a domestic cat, short tail, and likely sleeping in a tree at this hour of the day.  Look up often.

Armadillos—Nine Banded, actually, can get to be almost 2 ½ feet long, and up to 16 pounds.  They look like a prehistoric football with a tail.  Totally harmless, they feed on insects, crayfish and eggs.  They are considered invasive, and a detriment to the environment.  They defend themselves by curling up into a ball of “armor” or jumping straight up in the air to flee—they can jump 4 feet high!   Look up often.

Snakes—Here we go, this is icky—there are 60 different snakes in Florida, ranging from 7 inches long to over 8 feet long, and 6 species are poisonous.  The snakes we need to be on the lookout for here are the Cotton Mouth, Eastern Coral Snake, Dusky Pigmy Rattle Snake and the Eastern Diamondback Rattle Snake.  A Southern Black Racer may try to take a bite out of you, but it isn’t venomous.  As for the Ribbon Snake, slithery looking as it is, it is also harmless.  Ok, so we have a bunch of snakes to contend with—look down often for things slinking in the grass, but, look up often too, just in case.

Feral Hogs—yup we already know about them, their behaviors and their rooting up the habitat to destruction.  I am not afraid.  Just say the word and I’m on it!

Alligators—ok, back to afraid.  Holy cow, the Gators here can get 15 foot long, they have about 80 teeth that they re-grow if worn down from eating people and pets and all that, and they can live a good 50 years.  OHHHHHHHH Gators are attracted to dogs! And my three are very good looking dogs! That means we stay away from the water, the side of the road or any low land where it could be moist and comfortable for a Gator to hang out.  And more bad news—it’s not likely to find Crocodiles north of Naples.  Not likelyLikely?  That means one or two or a hundred could wander up to Myakka to check out the hunting.  It’s possible. 

Oh, I don’t know about letting the dogs out!  I’ve sufficiently scared the crap out of myself reading this literature.  It’s an entirely different situation from hunting to be out in the wild like this without my bow or shotgun.  How do they expect us to enjoy the park if we cannot defend ourselves?  I want protection! 

Take a deep breath.  Ok. Chances are, any of these creatures will turn tail rather than confront.  Just go with that thought.  And they are not likely to be as visible at this time of the year.  It could still be a little cool for them to be out and about.  It’s probably much worse in the dead of summer.  We can do this, we’re an outdoors family.

Canopy Walkway Tower

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Canopy Walkway

Welcome to the Boat Basin and Concession area.  First is an outpost building where you can rent boats, canoes, kayaks, bikes or go on an airboat ride, a trolley ride, or pick up camping supplies, food and souvenirs.  Another hundred yards away is a huge gift shop and deli.  WHAT?  Alligator  stew?  Num!  I order lunch, sit down and people watch.  The day has turned dreary.  People are suddenly appearing out of nowhere to take shelter from the windy drizzle and get warm.  I meet a family from Norway, a couple from Germany, and 4 women from Utah.  The Gator Stew is quite popular, and really good.  Tastes like chicken.  Kidding.  The German couple are primitive camping and hiking the almost 40 miles of trails here.  They have seen some gators.  One of the Norway youths tells me about their hike to the bridge in the trees.  Horse trails and bike trails are also abundant throughout the park.  The deli becomes loud with laughter as we all share camping and travel stories with each other, passing time until the clouds dissipate.

The sun returns! I bid a farewell to my lunch friends and it’s back to the truck to find the Canopy Walkway I’ve been hearing about.

The parking lot is full, dozens of cars line the road, but I find a spot and walk to the Canopy Walkway Trail.  Although voices can be heard, the Hammocks are so thick they hide signs of movement.  I step into the lush green, seeing mounds of Spanish Moss and other plants dangling from and growing on the sides of heavy tree limbs.

By the way, did you know that there is nothing Spanish about it?  And it is not actually a moss?  And, the Spanish Moss that ends up on the ground, is probably full of chiggers?   

Still, what an eerie, beautiful place this is!  When is the Swamp Thing going to step out into the open?  Snap

Tower Top View

Tower Top View

ping pictures left and right of stunning cascades of airplants hanging from trees, I come upon a sign and entrance to the walkway. 

This 75 foot high tower structure and 100 foot long canopy walkway is the first public treetop trail in the country.  As I make my way up the stairs, wooden planks, inscribed with names, dates, and personal messages are scattered along the way.  The walkway hangs at 25 feet, which is plenty tall for me as I take a breath and begin to traverse across what looks like an Indiana Jones scene.  At the other side, I cannot help but continue the climb to that 75 foot view waiting at the top.  And wow, what a view it is.  Solid green live oak and palm trees to the horizon line from most directions, along with some prairie and wetlands.  There’s flat, and then there’s flat.  I didn’t see the 45 foot highest point anywhere.  Still, this whole experience is amazing and educational.  Because the Canopy Scientists created this walkway in 2000, Tree Foundation Researchers have been able to find out about the weevil, an invasive bug that destroys airplants, and begin combating them. The canopy is an important piece of managing and monitoring the eco system here.

I make the long trek down the wooden tower stairs, and head back to the park office. I speak to the Ranger in charge.  He doesn’t seem to take me seriously about pig hunting. He doesn’t seem to have any constructive information to share, other than they had some sharp shooters come in, and is unsure of what the status is at this point. He is talking in circles.  He is avoiding direct questions.  In other words, no, I can’t come pig hunting here with my bow.   So much for that whole idea.  Back to square one, yet again.

But my, oh my, what a treat to experience Myakka State Park!

 

 

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