Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Brooker Creek

Pinellas County is about the last place you would expect to find a big tract of undeveloped land. Surrounded by water on three sides and crowded with shoulder-to-shoulder municipalities, it has long been known as the most densely populated county in the state. When I was growing up in Pinellas, if you had told me it was home to a thriving wilderness of more than 15 square miles, I would have thought you were crazy...and thankfully, I would have been wrong:

Located east of Tarpon Springs and Palm Harbor, that wilderness has since been set aside and today is managed by the county. It goes by the name Brooker Creek Preserve, and even more surprising than its presence is the fact that it is larger than any of the state parks in the five-county area that stretches from Manatee to Hernando.

The preserve’s green tapestry is woven of bottomland hardwood swamps, cypress heads, oak hammocks, forests of longleaf pine, and some freshwater marshes. Enough trees shed their leaves for winter that the tapestry is not entirely green at this moment, but it is pretty nonetheless. On my visit yesterday I enjoyed the look of barren limbs against blue sky:

Contrary to what you might expect, Brooker Creek itself is not a singular waterway. Rather, it crosses the preserve in a series of channels that eventually merge before flowing into Lake Tarpon to the west. Some of them run dry during times of drought, only to get so full during the wet season that they spill over and flood the surrounding woods. Here is one of those channels as seen yesterday:

Brooker Creek Preserve’s main entrance is on the south side of Tarpon Springs Road, 2¼ miles east of East Lake Boulevard. Through that entrance is a 2.3-mile loop road with a parking lot at the 1.1-mile mark. That parking lot is where you will find access to a southward-spreading network of hiking trails, totaling just over 4¼ miles, plus an environmental education center constructed in Florida Pioneer-style architecture. The education center is at the end of a scenic boardwalk that passes under a sculpture made by Colorado artist Tim Upham:

The trails may be accessed from the sign in the parking lot or from behind the education center. It makes no difference which you choose, because the trailheads represent opposite ends of the 0.7-mile Ed Center Trail, a semi-circular path that links up with the Wilderness Trail and Flatwoods Trail…In turn, both of those link up with the Blackwater Cutoff Trail, as the Flatwoods Trail intersects its northern terminus and the Wilderness Trail intersects its southern…At one point rather far afield, the Blackwater Cutoff intersects the Pine Needle Path, which stakes out to the south and meets up with the Wilderness Trail at the furthest spot you can reach without going illegally off-trail…Oh, and I have not even mentioned the Bird Path, a short side route off the Ed Center Trail all the way back near the beginning.

Sound confusing? It probably does, but the good news is that it all makes sense when you look at the trail map and follow the numbered signs. Maps are free and can be picked up from dispensers at the trailheads.

It is worth noting that while this trail network is the only one accessible from Brooker Creek Preserve’s main entrance, it is not the only one in the preserve. There is a second preserve entrance on Old Keystone Road, which turns north from Tarpon Springs Road about 1½ miles to the west. This second entrance provides access to a northward-spreading, 10-mile network of equestrian trails, and though I have not tried to hike them, I suppose there is nothing stopping you from doing so as long as you don’t mind always being on the lookout for “horse pies.”

Lastly, a third entrance to Brooker Creek Preserve can be found on Lora Lane, which turns south from Tarpon Springs Road about a half-mile west of the main entrance. The downside of the Lora Lane access point is that there are no parking spaces, but the upside is that it leads you to a 1¾-mile path that is identified as Site W81 on the Great Florida Birding Trail.

I can not think of any reason not to visit Brooker Creek this time of year, so I encourage you to point your car in its direction as soon as you can. Happy Trails!


  1. These open wetlands are so important to preserve.. much has been lost to greedy developers filling in these lands and causing problems throughout Florida. Just look what has happened to the everglades over the years.

    Nice post and info, JDS..thanks for soap box.

  2. Your post makes me want to hike Brooker Creek. I like the photo of the dirt trail heading into the woods. I also like the sculptures by Upham. I'm going to check if he's done anything in our town. Have a great weekend with Family, John.

  3. Preserves near a population center are badly needed and it's good to see that this one is available. Looks like a lovely place to hike.