Our local paper, the Sarasota Herald Tribune, began covering the county and state parks in the area. Because of these articles, my husband and I have visited almost all of them over the past few months.
We took canoes up the rivulet called South Creek that runs through Oscar Shearer. Nice and shady on a warm Florida morning. Oscar Shearer has miles and miles of trails - we encountered an owl and eagles while hiking one of them. Another day a red fox, a hawk and deer. And you always find the torn up areas from wild pigs that have come through. They sure can uproot an wide patch of land.
We met Ranger Rick down at Carleton Preserve who is almost singlehandedly whipping those several acres into shape. Two deer greeted us at the entrance to the visitors center - which is a cabin - and seemed in no hurry to move away.
Rye Preserve was not a very appealing hike - it would take the skill of nature photographer Clyde Butcher to find the beauty in this small interior space - but it's the home to many species of bird and wildlife, none of which we saw. We did find canoeing on the Little Manatee that runs through very very charming as outdoors writer Tom Becnel said.
We drove up to the Alafia River State Park one Sunday morning. The park is young and the trails aren't well developed. It's a cylist's paradise if you are interested in rough terrain- lots of hills from the abandoned phosphate mines. But hiking was rough on our legs and our greyhounds' paws.
We noticed that just up the road from the park is Alderman Ford Park, also located on the Alafia. It's a private park in Hillsborough with a 3 mile loop of a trail through undeveloped land. There's a creek alongside the park and picnic areas and parking at both ends of the loop. And there's gymnastic equipment placed at intervals along the trail. All the fun stuff from junior high - the balance beam, the chin up bars.........
You won't find the wild life here that you'll find at Oscar Shearer or Myakka River State Park - it's too pretty and well maintained. But after tearing our legs up on the rough trails at Alafia, it was a welcome relief to have a paved path through rough Florida landscape that was smooth enough to bicycle and even skate. Our greyhound Ginger loved having a cool creek along the trail - she kept dipping her sore paws into it.
Both the Alafia River State Park and Alderman Ford Park are in Hillsborough County just 45 minutes up the road.
For many of us, our county and state parks are the closest thing we have to wilderness in that they are preserved eco-systems.
For me, spending time in these places has become the pause that refreshes.