My 5-day-off period is in full swing. Wednesday I visited Highlands Hammock State Park (HH), an acclaimed unit within the state park system that I have long been looking forward to visiting.
As you may know, I like to print and carry with me an aerial of the place when I hike or bike or paddle. It is difficult to relate the trails on HH website's simple map to the Google Earth image of the park due to the dense hammock canopy. Nonetheless, the trails and their lengths are depicted on the park map:
All the trails in the hammock proper are either paved drives
or are boardwalks and catwalks,
I slipped off the trails a little here and there.
To the north of the hammock forest lies a bike trail thru pine flatwoods habitat. Two, much rougher horse trails are depicted on the north side of the park map. I found a cross trail (logging road) connecting the north bike route with the next-north horse trail and rode it for awhile.
Few if any horses have been there lately so the trail is not all torn up and crapped out. This is where I got my real exercise for the day. The other trails could hardly be called exercise, 'cause I don't bike fast thru beautiful old growth hammock. I figure I hiked ~1.5 miles and biked another ~8.5 miles that day.
I pity the people in the family campground, as the park's main drag is unpaved and runs thru the middle of the campground. I suspect campers get a fair amount of road dust. Bad planning, that.
The “exit” sign located at the intersection of Park Loop Drive and CR 634 cannot be seen by drivers exiting the loop from the south. I got confused trying to exit and made a wrong turn, and had to go around the loop again, which was annoying. I saw other drivers pulling over and trying to figure that one out, too. This situation could be fixed by moving the sign.
It is such a beautiful place. I am surprised there were so few people wandering its trails. Perhaps a benefit of visiting on a weekday?
Ok, now let's get serious about exploration and adventure in and around HH. There are over 9000 acres owned within this park, yet only a fraction of that is open to the public via park facilities. Looking at the locale using Google Earth, you can see a lot more forestland around those facilities, with the implication that much (many? Most?) of it is also within park boundaries.
9000 acres of wild land to explore seems like a terrific opportunity for naturalists-in-exile, but you gotta know where the boundaries are. Nope, you cannot get a map of HH property boundaries from the Florida Parks website. Highlands County does not have an interactive GIS system, so you cannot get the boundaries from their property appraiser. Google Earth shows only 3800 acres of the park, as does my Florida Gazetteer. But surely some of that interesting forestland adjacent to park “boundaries” is publicly owned?
It would be nice to return to HH with a local naturalist that is very familiar with the place.