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The trail at Deep Creek Preserve wends its way through pine flatwoods.

This past weekend I explored a preserve that’s been on my bucket list for a few years. I can’t say that I had never been to Deep Creek Preserve. My volunteer instructors and I have taken our Florida Master Naturalist Program students there for years. I don’t lead that field trip, and we do only a short loop near the parking area. But I’d seen enough to know I needed to see more. For some reason, it just never seemed to happen.

This year, however, I made it a goal to hit far more trails and I’ve been very good at doing that thus far. My friend Debbie and I have been hitting up a lot of new trails. This time, as we narrowed down our shortlist of trail run locations, Deep Creek rose to the top.

We headed out on time change Sunday morning. It was a perfect morning for an adventure run — not too hot, and some dense fog, so no sun. Deep Creek Preserve is located at 10797 SW Peace River Street in Arcadia. There’s actually two entrances — the first right after you turn off Kings Highway and a second further down the road across from the Nav-A-Gator Bar & Grill at Peace River Park. We met at the entrance closest to Kings Highway.

Deep Creek Preserve is approximately 2,000 acres of land owned and managed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District. It contains seven miles of equestrian/hiking trails and an additional two miles of hiking-only trails. To the west, the property borders Deep Creek, a tributary of the Peace River.

When you arrive, there is a kiosk and a box with trail maps. The maps don’t show trail segment distances but we were able to estimate pretty well. As we planned our route we noticed at the far end of the equestrian/hiking trail was a campsite on Deep Creek. That became our goal: To the campsite and back.

The trails are marked with metal markers on trees. We found them pretty easy to follow — well, minus that little detour getting started. From the parking lot there is a public walk-through gate. After you make your way through the walk through the first thing you come to is the campground. There were quite a few campers out there. We took the road down past the campground and then followed what looked to be a trail along the fence line.

Don’t do that! It does eventually lead you to the trail, but it’s pretty lumpy getting there. The main trail is on the other side of the campground. Keep the porta potty on your right headed out and you’ll be fine. The campground is inside a small circle shaded with beautiful oak trees. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring and grill.

The first two miles of the trail are pretty nice underfoot. They’re wide, and for the most part made of hard-packed dirt. If you’re headed to the campsite on Deep Creek, the next half-mile is raked and lumpy, and the final half mile is sugar sand. But when finding the campsite is your goal, you do the sugar sand. And then expect your calves to thank you the next morning. It’s all good: Building strength, building endurance.

Much of this preserve is pine flatwoods with a saw palmetto understory. Closer to the parking area, there is some oak hammock and in the open area we saw lots of beautiful paw paw just coming into bloom, which means tiger swallowtail butterflies should be on the horizon. Beautiful paw paw is their nectar plant.

Of course, just like almost all of our natural areas, once rainy season arrives these trails will be flooded, but right now they are high and dry. There is one spot where you have to cross a small, and I mean tiny, creek. Look to the left and you will see it narrows to the point that it’s an easy hop across.

Deep Creek Preserve is open sunrise to sunset. We only explored a fraction of this wonderful place. Next time I go back, I’m going to hang a left to see what kind of cool thing are in store that way. By the way, if you’re interested in camping, a reservation is required, but it’s free. Visit http://bit.ly/2u50RoL for more information about this preserve.

Betty Staugler is the Charlotte County extension agent for the Florida Sea Grant Program and an active runner. Contact her at staugler@ufl.edu or 941-764-4346.

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