Monday, October 10, 2011


For generations this 3,000-acre swath of Pasco County was part of the vast, now-defunct Conner Ranch.

In 2003 it was acquired by the Southwest Florida Water Management District “for preservation of natural systems, groundwater recharge, water quality and flood protection,” according to the district’s web site.

And in 2009 it was opened to the public as Conner Preserve, a name which gives a respectful nod to the history of the place.

There are a number of ecosystems here, including cypress sloughs, marshes, forested sand hills, and pine flatwoods. And of course, there are some open fields that in years gone by were cleared to provide grazing land for cattle, though they account for a much smaller portion of the property than you might expect. The following picture gives you an idea of the scenery that awaits you along Conner’s trails. It was taken in the winter, so keep in mind that those trees in the foreground are usually green, not skeletal-looking like they are here:

There is certainly no lack of trails, since more than 20 miles of them spread out across the preserve. Some are open for hiking only while others are mixed use, meaning they are designated for some combination of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian, with the permitted uses appearing on signs at each trail segment. In all, 16 miles are for hiking only while 1½ are for bikes and 5+ for horses.

Most of the sand hills are found across Conner’s northern tier and are sure to appeal to fat tire enthusiasts. Their ups and downs present a bit of a challenge on a bike, but the slow-you-down effect of the sand presents an even bigger one. The hill below is quite a bit taller than it appears in the photo, and the image in the second photo is the view from the top.

There were three deer in that field when I took the picture, but unfortunately, they dashed to the woods just before my shutter clicked.

Speaking of deer, I have never been to Conner without seeing any, and that should clue you in that this is a good place to look for wildlife. Turkey appear to be common because one morning I saw their tracks all along the southern boundary, then on my way out I watched one jog down a trail near the northern boundary. Conner is said to have a sizeable coyote population, and I might have happened upon evidence of their activities when I found this deer leg lying on a side path one morning:

One of the preserve’s features is particularly appealing: a hilltop campsite shaded by oaks. It is considered to be a primitive campsite because it lacks electricity and running water, but with three picnic tables, three fire rings, and a standing grill, I don’t believe the word “primitive” really applies. Pitching a tent here and staying overnight would give you a chance to experience the Central Pasco countryside in a way few others ever do.

One piece of Conner might be called developed: a 25-acre parcel leased by the Bay City Flyers, an organization that uses it to fly remote control model airplanes. It includes a pavilion plus two 100-foot long roofed shelters, and the structures are visible when you first step through the preserve’s lone entry point. Some people might think that the leased parcel detracts from the wilderness experience, but don’t let yourself be one of them. The animals don’t mind the structures, so why should you? And in any event, it accounts for less than one percent of the preserve’s property.

A printable trail map can be found here, but I must warn you that it is very inaccurate. Conner has numerous trails that do not appear on it, and as if that weren’t enough, the campsite is located in a totally different spot than the map indicates. The map makes it look you have to turn left and then go past three side paths before coming to the campsite, when in fact you need to turn left and then take the first side path on the right.

Do not allow that to dissuade you from visiting, however. This is a place worth seeing and its trails are wide and obvious -- as opposed to the kind that become indistinct and peter out, as if daring you not to get lost. Conner’s entrance is on the south side of State Road 52, just over four miles east of U.S. 41 and 6¾ miles west of I-75. If you use Ehren Cutoff to come from the South, the entrance is about 1½ miles west of where it ends at 52.

Happy Trails!


  1. Thanks for coming by my blog. Looks like a great place to hike around. Love your sunset picture--nature never fails to astound us. Mickie :)

  2. We have several preserves own by the South Florida water management Dist. that we enjoy hiking. I don't mind paying taxes for preserving lands such as these.