Parks and some neighborhoods offer snapshots of Florida’s natural past
Slowed down by the heat, I stay local much of the summer. Walking parks I have visited often, I feel so at home it is like coming in my front door and slipping into comfortable shoes.
On the way to Venice Myakka River Park, I try to ignore the piles of pines in impending developments along Laurel Road. It looks like a “Category Five” came through.
Like rind on a block of cheese, this tiny parcel of park at the tail end of the road was almost a throwaway. It floods seasonally. But the pines, oaks and cabbage palms make it tolerable even on an 84-degree morning. You do not have to worry about getting your feet wet — or dirty. Take the paved walkway with pleasing water views on both sides. Shade for the body; balm for the mind.
Saturday morning, the Tamiami Trail in Venice can be jammed with vehicles bearing shoppers to their destinations. In summer, it is an inferno. Where, oh where, are some trees? Take Route 776 towards Englewood, turn right towards the beaches and make the first left onto Bridge Street. Make your escape into Manasota Scrub Preserve, where the boardwalk is the magic carpet to coolness. Pines and more pines clear out car exhaust and angst.
Garcia Street in Sarasota in the midst of “Plain Jane” subdivisions is just a couple of blocks long, but enough towering laurel and live oaks evoke the hammock it once was. As I walk, a couple of neighbors emerge to ask if I am okay. I know they are checking me out. They have lived here long enough to be vigilant in guarding these trees. Becky, who has been here for 30 years, confides, “You never know what ‘they’ might decide to do?”
In a park in Sarasota, I discover that a planner with imagination has built a boardwalk out into a tiny remnant of wetland, possibly a remnant of canal dug years ago to drain the land. When I look over the railing, I am amazed to see a smidgen of swamp reminiscent of the Fakahatchee Strand, the largest state park in Florida (5 miles wide, 20 miles long), where it is easy to get lost in the glory that was once natural Florida.
Parked at an office building on University Drive in north Sarasota, I am early for my appointment, so I scan the landscape for trees and discover an enchanting little walkway leading to the canopied streets of Desoto Acres, mere yards away from eight lanes of traffic. It is a model of sustainability. Residents lobbied for it so they could walk to stores. If you look hard, there is always magic to be found.
If ever you are so lucky to be around when the Myakka is in the early stages of flooding (7 feet), but Myakka River State Park is still open, you will find that the river has spread out through the park, creating enchanting watery landscapes of trees draped with massive curtains of Spanish moss. Drive through the park and stop often to look into the hammock on one side and the river on the other. You are seeing Florida’s rainy season at its best.
If you are expecting alligators, be prepared to be disappointed. On the bridge over the river, the “old reliables” posing for visitors are nowhere to be found. They have dispersed throughout the park.
Before leaving, a passing shower may provide you a free car wash.
Back home luxuriating in air conditioning, you will wonder if it was all a happy dream.
Fran Palmeri is the author of Florida Lost and Found, available on Amazon. Green Pilgrimage, a PowerPoint of her travels through Florida, is available on Vimeo on the Sarasota County libraries website.