meadowlark

WaterLine photo by Capt. Josh Olive

You never know what you’ll see at a wildlife preserve. Maybe it will be an eastern meadowlark singing, like this one spotted recently at Prairie Creek Preserve on U.S. 17.

Who could have imagined the crazy challenges we are facing today? No one can predict the future. We can try to balance our contributions to the problems. But Covid is here, and we are stuck dealing with it. Let’s explore some outdoor activities (besides boating and fishing) that we can enjoy safely.

Obviously, we need to exercise caution about who we hang with and how much space we require to avoid transmission. I’ve had no problems so far, but I’ve got friends who have. These range from small to life-altering. Shutting off from all contact is dangerous because it deprives us of companionship. Most of us are social beings and require some kind of interaction. Outside activities are also choices.

We have some great trails and parks in Charlotte County and nearby areas. Our tax dollars pay for them, so take advantage and enjoy our walking or biking trails. The exercise is healthy, plus we encounter so much varied wildlife. Cedar Point Environmental Park, for example, allows us to encounter upland birds and numerous shorebirds as well. It has majestic eagles and ospreys controlling the airspace. You might be surprised at how many people you’ll see walking these areas, and check out their smiles!

Cross Placida Road and we can walk all the way through to the Ann & Chuck Dever Regional Park Recreation Center on San Casa Drive. The rec center has several options with bridges so we can watch over the creeks to observe fish and various shorebirds in their natural environments.

Out on River Road, we have Myakka State Forest and Jelks Preserve. There are several more areas east of I-75, including Sleeping Turtles Preserve North. Walton Ranch Preserve in North Port has several longer trails. Most of these are free to visit.

We also have several public beaches and parks from Punta Gorda around Charlotte Harbor by the Charlotte Sports Park and on the Cape Haze peninsula. Manasota Key offers four public Gulf beaches: Stump Pass State Park, Englewood Beach, Blind Pass Beach and Manasota Key Beach. The ones in Sarasota County even have free parking.

Our publication covers a large area, so go online to explore options close to you. We have both county and state parks and preserves for exploration. Going a little farther out, you’ll find many other options for longer weekend getaways. If you have the budget and time, our state has a great many opportunities — just look around on the internet. Many offer campgrounds; others have hotels nearby.


Another huge concept to consider is how many people are discovering our area. VisitFlorida.com has encouraged in-state travel for those who don’t feel comfortable traveling to more distant destinations. People want to get out of their cages. Our local tourism numbers were up more than 40 percent in July and August, as folks are choosing to get away from big city crowds. Our old Pure Florida marketing campaign still applies.

This reminds us that we must balance our growth with the reasons we came to Southwest Florida and continue to live here. I wish I could help our leaders understand that while new construction is important to our economy, tourism is big here. Our “off the beaten path” reputation requires we save our natural attractions and water quality. Let’s let Orlando be Orlando. We must focus on creating balances to ensure our future quality of life.

We can be thankful to our leaders for all those parks and preserved natural areas; they certainly are important steps to preserve our heritage. However, they don’t compensate for the ugly skeletons of development like Sunseeker or the other abandoned projects scattered throughout our area. These answers are challenges we need to confront and resolve ASAP! We are blessed to live in a natural paradise with this mild climate. How we protect it dictates our future.

The bottom line is getting outdoors, enjoying our open spaces helps our mental health. Social distancing is easy in wide open spaces; we can relax or exercise while breathing clean, fresh air.

Meantime, let’s go fishin’ before Old Man Winter blows in and chills us down. We have a great mackerel migration going on right now. Find time to get in on this action. There are plenty of fish and liberal bag limits — fire up the smoker and get ya some now.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.

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