Springtime in the Forest

A group explores the Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area near Ocala, Florida. Photo by Cyndi Fernandez.

There’s nothing like a hike in the woods with friends to ease some of the stress and worry of our hectic lives. I had the good fortune to spend some time with a few of your fellow CTF supporters earlier this year at the Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

We couldn’t have wished for a more picture-perfect spring day. Gathered at the parking area off SR 326, an enthusiastic group of nine huddled over JB Miller’s LIDAR map. After much scientific chatter about the hydrogeologic characteristics of the property, Guy Marwick, an ardent environmentalist, brought us back to the reason we were all there – “Let’s walk,” he said.

With that, we hit the trail. As we ambled down a shady dirt road built atop an old railroad grade, the native plant experts among us called out the names of nearby trees. “That’s sweet gum,” chimed CTF intern Emily Hesterman, “… the one with star shaped leaves.” The facts fluttered like a passing swallowtail butterfly. It’s kind of a “weedy tree.” Its amber resin is medicinal. That’s swamp chestnut oak. “It’s a gorgeous tree with big acorns that are tasty to wildlife.”

We all stopped to inspect a high-tech well on the side of the trail. A solar-powered gizmo on top of the well transmits data to scientists at the St. Johns River Water Management District (District). It is one of many such wells used to monitor the level of water in the Floridan Aquifer.

JB, a land resource specialist with the District, led the group. He pointed out the box culverts (aka water cannons) jetting out of deep trenches on either side of the road. Water can gush through them after a rain event at high rates. Flow rates of up to 90+ cubic feet per second have been recorded at the State Road 40 bridge in the last couple of years. He said that’s “about like a first-magnitude spring.”

Naturalists Marcie Clutter and Jim Buckner kept the native plant name game going. The diverse hammock contained a dizzying array of plants with fantastical names – ironwood, dragonwood, crookedwood, devil- wood, innocence, resurrection fern, sparkleberry, deer tongue.

When Jim spotted a passerine nest that he determined had been modified by an arboreal golden mouse, I was sure these were either the most observant naturalists I’d ever met, or they were totally messing with me.

Either way, it was easy to daydream about a time when such an intimate knowledge of nature was integral to our survival.

We paused to admire a lovely oak branch that crossed the path. We marveled at the brilliant green of the spring leaves shimmering overhead. We walked along the dry creek bed, and Emily told us everything we ever wanted to know about frogs.

We made one final stop to see a huge cypress tree before parting ways. It was a wonderful morning. The group’s knowledge, good humor, and passion for protecting our natural world gives me hope for the future. I hope you’ll join us in the future when we venture out onto other lands that CTF has helped protect.

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