Thursday, October 25, 2012

Weedon Island

Everyone raised in St. Petersburg has heard of this 3,700-acre expanse of green along the western shore of Tampa Bay, and has seen at least that part of its shoreline which is visible from Gandy Bridge. But most people are not aware you can hike on it, and who can blame them? Since Weedon Island’s recreational reputation is built mostly on sea kayking and shallow-water fishing -- and mangroves make up all of its plant life you can see from afar -- it would be logical to wonder if it even has any dry land.

For any non-Floridian readers out there, mangroves are estuary trees which grow in areas that are, more often than not, submerged in salt water anywhere from several inches to several feet deep. They sit atop above-ground roots, as you can tell from this picture that was taken when the water level was lower than normal:

The shallow aquatic world around mangrove roots is home to crabs and crayfish and provides a steady food supply for droves of raccoons. Herons also come here to feed:

There is much more to Weedon Island than mangroves, however, for its interior is home to upland fields and woods:

That interior is teeming with a variety of wildlife, including endangered species like the gopher tortoise. 4½ miles of hiking trails thread through Weedon Island, leading to two inland ponds, three viewing platforms, and a 45-foot tall observation tower. They are dirt in some areas, paved in others, and where necessary (i.e., mostly around the perimeter) they use boardwalks to ensure you stay dry while slipping through the mangroves:

Although it is called an island, Weedon is actually a peninsula, tethered to Pinellas County’s mainland by a small isthmus of land south of Gandy Boulevard. A two-lane road across that isthmus is what takes you there. When I was a child, the road was dirt and dead-ended near a dock. The bulk of Weedon was known as Weedon Island State Preserve, but unless you had a kayak in tow, there was really nothing to do here.

These days the land is leased to Pinellas County and known simply as Weedon Island Preserve -- and man oh man, has the county ever upgraded things! In addition to blazing the trails and paving the road, it has built a cultural and natural history center to honor Weedon’s rich human history. Archaeological excavations on the island have unearthed a plethora of tools and pottery, plus a canoe that has been carbon-dated to be more than 1,000 years old. Many of these artifacts are now on display in the center.

To reach the preserve, turn south onto San Martin Boulevard from Gandy Boulevard, or east onto 83rd Avenue from 4th Street, and follow the signs. Admission is free. Whether you live in the Tampa Bay area or are simply visiting, you will be doing yourself a disservice if you fail to visit this wild spot in the midst of a metropolis.

Happy Trails!


  1. What a beautiful place! I've never seen mangroves before, how great to be able to observe from the boardwalk. Glad to hear about the improvements including the cultural and natural history center.

  2. Th place looks absolutely beautiful with all the greenery and the wild life around! The walkways are nicely laid out too. I would love to see those excavated pottery and the canoe.