Dicromantispa interrupta

Dicromantispa interrupta

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

As I understand it, the Kissimmee Prairie is a physiographic province of wet-dry prairie habitats through which the Kissimmee River / C-38 flows. The upland portions of the prairie comprises a patchwork of habitats, mostly dominated by grasses and other graminoids. Saw-palmetto occurs in small patches and in larges swatches along with the graminoids. Here and there are hammocks dominated by live oak and cabbage palm.

The state park is an outstanding example of the Kissimmee Prairie. It contains numerous types of habitats from xeric uplands to possibly permanently flooded wetlands and the Kissimmee River / C-38.

Mapping resources for the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park (KPP) are wanting. The Florida Parks website does not have a map, the park is not identified on the Florida Gazetteer and Google Earth has it placed incorrectly and does not display its boundaries. Okeechobee County has a good interactive GIS mapping program, but that is still a hugely tedious way to obtain this property's boundaries.

Fortunately, the park itself provides a pretty good generalized map at a scale of 1.1 mile per inch on 8.5 x 11 format depicting trails and mileages, but you have to go there to get the map. Obviously, this situation makes it impossible to plan routes or schedules until you arrive on-site. The park map should be on the park web page.

There are over 100 miles of so-called “multi-use trails” on this 54,000-acre property. Fair Warning!!! Strong opinions ahead!!! There is no such thing in reality as a multi-use trail; it is merely a phrase that signifies nothing. If horses hoof and crap up a trail, hikers and bikers won't go there. And if mowing the tall grass on either side of a trail road means leaving deep tractor tire marks into the dirt median or road shoulder, it will make the ground too uncomfortable for bicycling. Both of these errors are being committed by KPP staff.

I encountered no trails on KPP. The so-called multi-use trails on KPP are actually dirt roads. Tractors and horses wander all over them, ruining them for bicyclists. A simple, cost-free solution would be to put bikes and peds on one side of the road and horses on the other. I don't know why KPP's mowing method tears up the ground so much, but that is not a problem on trails in other state parks, so there is no reason for it to occur at KPP.

I biked and walked ~18.3 miles on and off the park's dirt roads. Starting at the preserve office parking lot, I cycled west on Military Trail where the road alternates between good and bad stretches. Although it was good exercise, it was hard to enjoy the scenery. After ~1 mile, the road crossed a ditch and a linear hammock. Lying at the wet edge of the ditch was the first and largest alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) of the day, an 11-footer.

Another third-mile brought me to a second monster in another ditch crossing. Its head is partially submerged and thus its length is uncertain, but I believe this 'gator is about 10 ft long. Notice that both giants are in small waters. Breeding season it is, and lovely lady 'gators to be found in those sweet headwaters there are.

After another 0.4 mile of alternately good and bad biking road, I came to the Grasshopper Sparrow Trail. This is a very nice biking trail, transitioning from mesic graminoid and saw-palmetto prairie,

down into to mesic graminoid prairie, like the above but without saw-palmetto, and then to mesic graminoid / hydric graminoid prairie.

Although not part of the “trail” system, this habitat continuum extends even further downhill into the floodplain of the Kissimmee River, here a hydric marsh dominated by brushy species like sand cordgrass, wax myrtle and wild hibiscus.

Perhaps a third-mile or more of the Grasshopper Sparrow Trail road was under a few inches of water. I able to ride in the water next to the road due to the wet-packed sandy substrate, but at times the water was too deep and I had to walk the bike beside the flooded road. After seeing the 11-ft and 10-ft maneaters a few minutes before, I kept a good distance between the open water and me, and also put the bike between me and the water. You know what they say: “Don't turn your back to the water!”

After 4.7 miles, the Grasshopper Sparrow Trail ended and I took a 1.5-mile unnamed trail road through more prairie and hammock land. Then I came to a hammock large enough to have a forest microclimate, and stopped for lunch.

The stem of saw-palmetto (Serenoa repens) in north Florida nearly always grows along the surface of the ground. Occasionally one will rise upward from the ground and become a tall bush or small tree. This rarity has always fascinated me, at least in part because my circle of north Florida naturalists debates whether the reason is fire (grow upward to keep flames out of leaves and fruit) or flooding (grow upward to avoid drowning). Now, after seeing so many arborescent saw-palmettos in south Florida, methinks the primary reason might be freezing and that fire and flood are secondary. Anyway, here is an example of arborescent saw-palmettos in the lunch hammock:

Unnamed trail road terminated at Military [road] Trail, from whence I turned west onto a half-mile trail leading, I thought, out to the river. But no! There is a dire warning No Trespassing sign on it, and I could see tons and tons of freshly bulldozed trees scattered around what looked like an on-going construction site. I was disappointed because it is the park's only river access, and it was closed off for what looked like a hurricane wrack dump site. Oh, well, I will give them the benefit of the doubt and suppose that the park is actually cleaning up a previous owner's mess, and that river access to recreationists will soon be restored.

Then it was north onto the McGuire Hammock Trail. This started out as an almost invisible field road that follows the edge of the Kissimmee Floodplain just downhill from a strand of hammock that runs along the side of the floodplain. It looked like a bit of a soft grass slog, albeit reasonably doable.

After only a few hundred yards, though, a delayed disaster began. Park staff have plowed a strip of land exactly where the road trail appears to have once been.

Perhaps the trail was damaged by feral pigs? Indeed, there is a huge impact on all the hammocks in the park from pigs rooting. I saw at least 10 pigs while out there, and they were all large and fat. Remind me to take my .22 pistol and small game license the next time I go there.

Anyway, it is impossible for me to bike plowed land, so I tried alternatives. I tried pedaling through the hammock, which sometimes worked but often failed due to pig rooting topography. I tried to cycle downhill from the plowing but the bahia grass was too high and soft. Someone had driven a truck down a portion of the plowed strip, and I tried to bike within the packed ruts, but the ruts were too narrow and I kept grounding out. I tried biking on animal trails uphill and downhill of the plowed strip and hammock, but found myself getting too far from the trail for comfort.

At this point, I was a long way from the van and in a sandy and piggy quigmire. Should I go on or should I turn back? I looked at my watch - I had been out 3.5 hours, I was half-way from the van and I had 4.5 hours to go. The adventurer in me said “onward you go!” The conservative in me said “it's not so far back to known ground.” The adventurer replied “but this mess could end at any moment, maybe just a little further.” And then the adventurer twisted the knife in by telling himself the fateful words, “you can never go back the way you came, else you will see only half of what you would have.” So onward I went, and (another) death march it became.

Somewhere along this 3 miles of plowed purgatory I lost the ability to continuously pedal my bike. Mostly walking a bicycle over 3 miles of pig and disk ground is harder than you might think, especially when one runs out of water. Cramps began to set in. To make a long story a little shorter, I aborted the day's mission and mostly walked but also biked a little the remaining 7.4 miles, about half of it with the wind and sun in my face.

Too wary to photograph, I saw three flocks of wild turkeys at the edge of the Kissimmee floodplain, a 6-ft and a 7-ft 'gator missing at least 2 ft of its tail, red-shouldered hawks, a bald eagle, armadillos, several rather tame deer, a raccoon, wood storks and white ibises.

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is very friendly to horse riders, somewhat friendly to hikers, and distinctly unfriendly toward bicyclists. I recommend you go elsewhere for biking and hiking, and I recommend that the park staff member who is in charge of the bike “trails” get a mountain bike and actually ride the trails that he manages so that he sees first-hand how the bike trails could be bettered.


  1. Sorry you had a rough time out there. They do make it clear that activities are on old roads. There is one day hiking trail, relatively short, that starts and ends at the campground and gives a nice overview of habitats in and around an oak hammock with views of the prairie. In South Florida's prairies, standing water is common. It comes with the habitat. Best for hiking rather than biking.

    Cheers, Sandra Friend

  2. sandra,
    thanks for your comments. agree that hiking is better there, but only as long as horse riders continue to eschew the place.

    nonetheless, we bicycle riders pay taxes and have rights, too.

    a friend read my blog post and forwarded an article claiming that dep recreation now pays most attention to snowbird rv campers because they pay a lot more per visit than hikers or bikers. dunno if that's true.

    i am in s fl to do a caracara assessment, so am familiar with prairie flooding propensity. am wishing the wetlands on the pastures i survey had similar high quality as those at kppsp. the inundated portion of the trail was among the nicest part there.

    looked at your website - very nice.

  3. I think you are too pessimistic about your experience. I love Kissimmee Prairie, it is my favorite park and I have been camping since I was 2 weeks old. I have never seen so many different species of wildlife and wildflowers and the staff and facilities are excellent. Put on your hiking boots, relax and enjoy the experience - or don't go if getting dirty is not your thing and the park is not perfect enough for you. Don't bad mouth the park and sway other campers from visiting. It's a park not a hotel and alligators are fascinating they are not monsters.

  4. Real Hiker, I bike AND hike, and did so at this park. Generally, I bike out to the end of a trail and then hike a while, often covering 15+ miles in a day. The bike gets me to places that the average hiker never sees, and that makes the experience 'the path less traveled.' It is impossible to convince me that plowed firelanes are multi-use trails. DEP calls firelanes 'multi-use trails' all over the state, not just at this park. Please do not enable them in that lie. Anyone who bicycles along single-track trails knows that. Firelanes are only good for fire control, hunting for arrowheads, horseback riding, and 4WD vehicles. They are NOT for hiking or biking. As for the 'monster,' dude (or dudette), I was joking. Didn't my calling female gators 'lovely' clue you to that? Lighten up! Anyone with a positive frame of mind can see from my writ that I think the place is an outstanding property.