32nd Annual FNPS Conference Field Trips

We're All Over the Map
By Cindy Liberton, 2012 FNPS Conference Committee

For many traveling to the annual Florida Native Plant Society Conference, it's all about the field trips – exploring new territories and seeing how the ecosystems are expressed in a different part of Florida.

We have something for everyone this year, from the intrepid trekker to the cultural enthusiast.

Conference Field Trips

Preserving the Hydric Heart of Florida

We start with the Green Swamp and its huge mosaic of uplands and wetlands. Four rivers, the Hillsborough, Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha and Peace, reach out to provide much of central Florida’s water supply. The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) has purchased approximately 110,000 acres, known as the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve. When combined with another 63,522 acres of adjoining publicly owned land, there are about 172,988 acres of the Green Swamp under public ownership. An additional 6,000 acres of privately owned land are protected through conservation easements. Major funding came from Preservation 2000, Save-Our-Rivers, and Florida Forever.

The three trips to this region are led by those who know where best to see its special character. Thursday's Sandhill trip will visit a successful restoration site with those who restored it, taking 200 acres from Bahiagrass to high-diversity native groundcovers. A concurrent wetlands trip will experience the opposite aspect: marsh, wet prairie, wet flatwoods, swamp, hydric hammock, cypress pond and more. On Sunday, the Wildflower Special in Tract C is a tour of the best spots to see blooms. 

The Hillsborough River Paddle Trip will immerse you in one of the rivers originating in the Green Swamp. A designated Florida paddle stream, and one of the best wildlife rivers in Florida, it goes through an extensive floodplain with almost no signs of civilization along it.

Preserving the Heart of Florida through Local Government Action
We will also celebrate the success of our counties in preserving lands and bringing them to the people; the counties of the Tampa Bay area are rich with parks and preserves. The paths in Alderman Ford Park wind along the Alafia river, and the Lettuce Lake Park boardwalk takes you to a shallow lake within the Hillsborough River popular for its ancient cypresses and limpkins. The Brooker Creek Headwaters Preserve embraces its watershed, and is managed for threatened plants and animals such as the hooded pitcher plant, southern pine lily, and gopher tortoise. Upper Tampa Bay Park features coastal and near coastal ecosystems including nicely managed flatwoods, coastal hammock, salt marshes, and mangrove swamps.

Up in Hernando County, Cypress Lakes Preserve has lakes of many kinds, but it is remarkable for the diversity of its natural communities, and its efforts to manage its uplands of scrub and scrubby flatwoods.

Conservation and Restoration Efforts

In Polk County, Lake Marion Creek centers on a scrub island surrounded by hardwood swamps and seepage streams with short ecotones. This conservation area is a joint project by Polk County’s Environmental Lands Program, the SWFWMD and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to protect headwater areas of Lake Marion and Reedy Creeks, which supply the Kissimmee River, the Everglades and Florida Bay.

Those who visit the Little Manatee River South Fork Track Scrub Restoration will see how a scrub and scrubby flatwood habitat was restored to protect listed species and reintroduce species such as the Florida golden aster. The Cockroach Bay Restoration Area field trip highlights one of the premier ecosystem restoration efforts ever performed for Tampa Bay, one of a series of projects being performed for the bay.

Our trip to Circle B Bar Preserve, a birder’s paradise, has easy walking trails through oak hammock, freshwater marsh, hardwood swamp and along the shore of Lake Hancock. This property was acquired by the SWFWMD as part of a massive project to protect and improve water flows and water quality in the Peace River. The Connerton trip will show you mitigation at its best; an amazing effort that relocated full-sized trees a development site to frame a swamp environment that now mimics a natural one in every way.

If you’re into the nuts and bolts of restoration, you’ll want to attend the Restoration Workshop at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Brooksville Plant Materials Center.  This research facility seeks to improve availability of native seed sources and planting materials for restoration use. You’ll learn about seed establishment techniques and equipment used to restore and enhance plant communities in Florida. 

Our State Parks Preserve the Heart of Florida

If you join us at Hillsborough River State Park, you will experience one of the eight original Florida state parks. Developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936, the park features a mature hardwood forest where you can expect to see stately oaks dripping with epiphytes and a varied understory. It also features a series of small rapids in the Hillsborough River, a rare feature for west central Florida.

Discretely tucked away behind busy U.S. 19, in Port Richey, lies Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park, a linear park bordering four miles of pristine coastline on the Gulf of Mexico. Consisting of approximately 4,000 acres, 3,200 of which are of wet or submerged land, it has ten natural communities in addition to ruderal and developed areas.

The Heart of Florida's Cultural Treasures

We are thrilled that Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales and the Florida Aquarium in Tampa have opened their doors to our guests! Bok Tower Garden has added science to the historic grace of its gardens with the Rare Plant Program and its Endangered Plant Garden. The Florida Aquarium portrays the natural water systems of Florida in its exhibits and works hard through its Center for Conservation to respond to threats to ecosystems and animals in distress. 

Exploring the Human Landscape

From ancient to contemporary, landscapes have been crafted by the people who live within. The Indian Mounds Tour takes us to Pinellas County to see a nicely preserved and restored mound and a mound complex that is in the midst of a battle between preservation and active recreation forces. Pinellas Point Temple Mound, an 800-year-old Tocobagan Indian site, is a preserved and restored mound complex with ancient red bays, live oak, saw palmettos and slash pines. Maximo Park and Archaeological Site is nearly 9000 year old as a series of mounds continuously inhabited until contact.  It features remnant shell mound plant species and a gentle profile. It is a study of the complex interactions that can occur when urban meets a natural landscape and ancient ruins. 

Fast forward to today to Jim Smith's Landscape, where you will see one of the most significant native gardens in Central Florida. Property owner Jim Smith, in an all out effort, built extraordinary butterfly and all native gardens on his 10-acre property. You will also see extensive restoration to the flatwoods ecosystem; a testament to what private landowners can achieve.

Field trips fill quickly: Register for Field Trips on line at http://fnps.org/conference/

 Image Sources (in order of appearance) and Useful Links:

Green Swamp - Jim Philips

Hillsborough River State Park

Circle Bar Ranch Preserve - Sandra Friend

Little Manatee River South Fork Track Scrub Restoration Map - FNPS

layout and compilation by Laurie Sheldon


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