Tag Archives: St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

Stop and smell (or eat) the Sparkleberries

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

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Sawtooth palmetto lining a natural levy above the Sopchoppy River.

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150I was walking with my wife the other day and I asked her, “Did Tallahassee always have so much fall foliage?” She assured me it did.  I guess I remember seeing red and yellow leaves in past fall seasons, just not so widespread.  Ever since I went with Kent Wimmer to shoot a dimensions segment on the Florida National Scenic Trail, I can’t help but notice it everywhere.  You don’t get vast expanses of orange and red, like you do in New England.  Instead, we get these great red and gold highlights popping out of the green.  Why had I not been paying more attention to it before? I guess, just like with the salt marshes that had looked like “just a bunch of grass” to me, I don’t always notice a good thing until I get a camera on it.

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Shepherd Spring is a nice spot to sit and reflect.

The depth of my obliviousness went beyond foliage.  The trails we walked with Kent and the Student Conservation Association (SCA) volunteers were just off of roads I’ve been driving for years.  The woods that filled the distances between destinations contained the Cathedral of Palms, and Shepherd Spring.  Those are both in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  A little to the west in Wakulla County, it takes just a few moments to drive over the Sopchoppy River on 319.  But then, a couple of weeks ago, I spent a couple of hours walking alongside it, eating sparkleberries growing by the trail.   It made me think about what I might be driving by when I visit family in Miami or Tampa.  This state has a huge diversity of ecosystems, and I’m realizing that although I’ve lived here over thirty years, there is a lot of Florida that I know nothing about.

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Taking a stroll in the Cathedral of Palms. A slight variation in elevation makes this ground a little damper, giving palm trees an advantage over surrounding hardwood trees.

“It’s a lot different than a lot of the other trails in America.” Said Sean Ogle, Field Support Coordinator for the Florida Trail Association, “I’d say it’s the only place that has this many different types of ecosystems in such a small area.” The trail starts in the Everglades and passes through forests, palm stands like the Cathedral of Palms, and along lakes, rivers, sink holes, and salt marshes. The Florida Trail Association web site is a good resource for finding what trails are near you or to plan a trip.  The FTA and its chapters across the state (the Apalachee, Suwannee, Panhandle, and Choctowhatchee chapters fall within the WFSU TV & FM spheres) maintain the trail using mostly volunteer labor.  That includes the students that the SCA sends here from all over the country and locals like George Weaver, the Sopchoppy River trailmaster who guided us in the video.

I can’t wait to see what else I might have been missing out on. You can tune in to dimensions later this month (or check back here) to see my next EcoAdventure, probably in some place I’ve zipped past a million times…

Don’t know what to bring when you go hiking?  Check out this video with the FTA’s Kent Wimmer.
What would you like to see as an EcoAdventure?  Let us know what you’re doing out in the unpaved places of North Florida, we might want to tag along.