Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sawgrass Lake

In New England, maples grow on lakesides that are home to moose. In Florida, they grow in swamps that are home to alligators, including this young one I happened upon yesterday:

We are fortunate that one of the largest maple swamps on Florida’s Gulf Coast is found in Sawgrass Lake Park. Given its location, and the 1.1-mile boardwalk that winds through it, this maple swamp also ranks as one of the state’s most accessible for people on foot:

But there is more to Sawgrass Lake Park than swamp, as proven by the hammock forest that covers the higher land of its northern segment. A trail loops through the hammock under a canopy that is lovely as can be:

Meanwhile, the westernmost boardwalk ends at an observation tower overlooking Sawgrass Lake itself (which, admittedly, is more pond than lake):

In addition to abundant populations of reptiles and amphibians, all variety of waterfowl can be seen in this preserve. Birds of prey are also plentiful, from fish-eating ospreys to mammal-eating owls. Described as “one of the premier birding sites in Florida” by, this is a designated stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail.

Botany buffs are sure to enjoy Sawgrass Lake just as much as birdwatchers, for in addition to multiple species of maple and oak, you are able to get close-up views of aquatic plants like duckweed and spatterdock. In many places the forest is lush with ferns:

You have probably seen this place even if you’ve never paid a visit, because its eastern boundary abuts I-275 as you enter St. Petersburg from the north. You would recognize it as that big spread of woods, fronted by tall cypress trees, that sits on the west side of the interstate immediately south of the Gandy Boulevard exit.

I have long felt that Pinellas County maintains one of the best county-run park systems in the nation, and Sawgrass Lake solidifies that opinion. For starters, the park preserves a wild oasis in the middle of the state’s most densely populated county…On top of that, its wetlands serve both man and beast by functioning as a natural cleaning system for water flowing to Tampa Bay…Plus, they act as flood protection for the surrounding city…And most importantly, the park provides people of all ages and abilities with convenient access to a place of natural beauty.

Establishment of the park came to fruition in the bicentennial year of 1976, when a cooperative management agreement was reached between the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Pinellas County Parks & Conservation Resources Department, and Pinellas County School Board. The reason for the latter to have a seat at the table becomes clear when you see the John Anderson Environmental Education Center, which is located here and includes a laboratory, classroom, and taxidermy displays of local wildlife; it hosts a myriad of educational programs for elementary school students, plus some for grades six through twelve:

To get here, turn north on 25th Street from 62nd Avenue North and continue to the end. Admission is free. Happy Trails!


  1. What fabulous nature and scenery you have in your area! Thanks for visiting my blog. Hope to see you back there soon.

  2. such an enchanting place to walk and that boardwalk through the trees is fabulous. Enjoyed seeing the alligator

  3. Nice alligator! We have a North and South Alligator Rivers in the Northern Territory - but we only have crocodiles!

    Stewart M - Australia