Three local nature preserves in a single day

We are planning to take the new tandem kayak out for its maiden voyage on Tuesday. It looks like we are going to take it out to Princess Place Nature Preserve, which is home to Pellicer Creek and its related estuaries. This is a sprawling estuary system that leads all the way up to Matanzas Inlet (though I am pretty sure I do not have the upper-body strength to make it that far). We live in a kayaking paradise – there are hundreds of places nearby to kayak (not kidding).

In addition to checking out the kayaking options, we hiked a couple trails there, including one that followed along the big water and one that went to a natural spring.

The trail along the big water had parts that were clearly underwater in high tide. We had to hike through a lot of mud. I understand now why everyone talks about timing tidal rivers and creeks when going out on kayaks. The landscape can be wildly different going out from coming in.

Most of the path looked like a maze of palmettos. There were quite a few armadillos in the area, including one that was the size of a dog. It’s a perk to living in Florida… The trails are full of mostly friendly dinosaurs.

Open water with golden sawgrass.

We also stopped by Long Creek Nature Preserve and the Bulow Plantation Nature Preserve, which I have written about before (see Hiking to the Ruins of a Plantation torched by Seminoles). There was the essential stop for BBQ in between. Here is an osprey nest along Long Creek.

This is Bulow Creek, another beautiful estuary, which feeds into the Halifax River (Intracoastal Waterway) several miles south of us. Plenty of alligators here, judging the number of warning signs.

The forests around the Bulow Plantation Ruins are full of ancient trees. It’s a magical place.

One of the big differences between Florida and places like California is that Florida practices controlled burns in its natural spaces to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. You can see evidence of that on the trees in some areas.

The evolution of fire ecosystems is a fascinating topic to me. Environmental activists nowadays like to treat controlled burns as if they are a controversial topic, but this is an ancient practice that was also used routinely by indigenous people across several continents:

Prior to European colonization of the Americas, indigenous peoples used controlled burns to modify the landscape. These controlled fires were part of the environmental cycles and maintenance of wildlife habitats that sustained the people’s cultures and economies. What was initially perceived by colonists as “untouched, pristine” wilderness in North America, was actually the cumulative result of these occasional, managed fires creating an intentional mosaic of grasslands and forests across North America, sustained and managed by the original Peoples of the land base.

Radical disruption of Indigenous burning practices occurred with European colonization and forced relocation of those who had historically maintained the landscape. Some colonists understood the traditional use and potential benefits of low intensity, broadcast burns (“Indian-type” fires), while others feared and suppressed them. In the 1880s, impacts of colonization had devastated indigenous populations, and fire exclusion became more widespread; by the early 20th century fire suppression had become official U.S. federal policy. Understanding pre-colonization land management, and the traditional knowledge held by the Indigenous peoples who practiced it, provides an important basis for current re-engagement with the landscape and is critical to correctly interpreting the ecological basis for vegetation distribution.

Authors such as William Henry Hudson, Longfellow, Francis Parkman, and Thoreau contributed to the widespread myth that pre-Columbian North America was a pristine, natural wilderness, “a world of barely perceptible human disturbance.” At the time of these writings, however, enormous tracts of land had already been allowed to succeed to climax due to the reduction in anthropogenic fires after the genocide of Native peoples from epidemics of diseases introduced by Europeans in the 16th century, forced relocation, and warfare. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans had played a major role in determining the diversity of their ecosystems….

When first encountered by Europeans, many ecosystems were the result of repeated fires every one to three years, resulting in the replacement of forests with grassland or savanna, or opening up the forest by removing undergrowth. Terra preta soils, created by slow burning, are found mainly in the Amazon basin, where estimates of the area covered range from 0.1 to 0.3%, or 6,300 to 18,900 km² of low forested Amazonia to 1.0% or more.

There is some argument about the effect of human-caused burning when compared to lightning in western North America. As Emily Russell (1983) has pointed out, “There is no strong evidence that Indians purposely burned large areas….The presence of Indians did, however, undoubtedly increase the frequency of fires above the low numbers caused by lightning.” As might be expected, Indian fire use had its greatest impact “in local areas near Indian habitations.”

The best playground ever:

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