Monday, January 16, 2017

Myakka River State Park

Myakka State Park in Sarasota is one of Florida’s oldest and most diverse state parks. Myakka’s 58 square miles contain two shallow lakes , a portion of the Myakka River and a beautiful combination of dry prairie, wet lands and forest.
Great Blue Heron on the shallow lake.

The Park was developed in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program that was part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal initiative.
Fred and I visited on a warm December day. We enjoyed the drive out route 72 past citrus trees and horse farms. We arrived at the gate, paid our entry fee and drove slowly down Park Drive to the Visitor Center. The road is paved and winds gently for 3 miles through a Spanish moss draped forest past camping areas and the Nature Trail.  We stopped at a rest area near the bridge to walk back and admire the large alligators soaking up the sun at the edge of the Myakka River.
The Myakka Outpost was our destination. We were lucky to find a parking spot in the tree covered lot to the rear of the Outpost. A Park Ranger had warned us against parking near the water in the morning or late afternoon. Oddly the black vultures that inhabit the park have developed a taste for rubber.  They enjoy feasting on windshield wiper blades and we didn't want ours to become an appetizer.

The Outpost is where the Visitor Center is located. There are wildlife exhibits as well as videos that explain the complex eco-system that makes up the park.

We were interested to learn about the controlled burn program as the fires were blazing on the day of our visit. In the past fires ignited by lightning burned regularly on the prairie. Once the land was settled measures were taken to control those fires which resulted in an overgrowth of shrubs and trees that made the prairie disappear. Endangered plants and animals are  thriving in the prairie environment now that the burns are allowed to take place albeit in a controlled manner.
The Outpost is also home to a restaurant, a large nature themed gift shop, canoe kayak and bike rentals, as well as ticket booths for Air-boat rides and Tram tours.

We signed on for the one o’clock Air-boat Ride and boarded the Myakka Maiden. The parks air-boats are large, the park claims they are the worlds largest. The Myakka Maiden’s aircraft type propeller was powered by a 1975 Cadillac El Dorado engine. The engine had no trouble pushing us across the shallow lake. We didn’t set any speed records but it was a smooth enjoyable ride. Our Captain Richard is also a Park Ranger. He had an interesting presentation and seemed happy to answer our questions. Richard’s knowledge of the lake and it’s inhabitants was extensive. He pointed out native plants, birds and animals and also told us of the non native fish and plants that have invaded this part of Florida.

The Nature Walk is a flat sandy trail.
The airboat tour is about an hour. We motored, or is that aired, across the lake to the shallows where the water is only about 18 inches deep. It was a little unnerving to see and hear the splash of the water as alligators got out of the way of the approaching boat. Richard told us that the alligator population of Myakka lake is estimated at 500-1000 of the beasts. We saw several large alligators sunning on the river bank, a flock of Roseate Spoonbills, Sandhill Cranes, Anhinga and the occasional Great Blue Heron.
We returned to the boat basin and walked upstairs to the Pink Gator Cafe to enjoy a lunch of Alligator Bites, French fries, Iced Tea and Carrot Cake. The restaurant serves cafeteria style with pagers to notify you when your cooked food is ready. We enjoyed our lunch on the outdoor second floor patio that overlooks the lake.

74 feet to the top of the Canopy Walks tower
Bellies full we headed down Park Drive to Myakka’s Nature Trail.  The nature trail is 1 ½ miles long and is a flat sandy path through live oak and palm hammocks decorated with na variety of epiphytes. The trail includes Myakka’s famous Canopy Walk. It is made up of 2 towers the taller of them is 74 feet above the forest floor. The towers are connected by a moving bridge. The view from the top is spectacular providing a birds eye view of the forest and the lake. Black vultures soared by on wind currents circling overhead.
The park also includes a wooden Birdwalk that stretches out over the water at the eastern shore of Upper Myakka Lake. We left that walk for another day.

Myakka River State Park
13208 State Rd 72
Sarasota, Florida
(941) 923-1120