For generations this 3,000-acre swath of
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.
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
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.