TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. - Tarpon Springs - After a rough week at the office, I like to wind down and relax in one the largest continuous wilderness preserves in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area. Brooker Creek Preserve, so named for a small, meandering stream that bisects the property, spans some 8,700 acres of pine flatwoods and freshwater swamps. Home to dozens of threatened and endangered species, Brooker Creek is also a favorite field trip for school-age students who take advantage of the preserve's state-of-the-art environmental center.
Roughly seven miles long (north to south) and one-half mile wide, Brooker Creek lies in the middle of one of area's fastest-growing suburban locales. But officials have taken great care to preserve the natural integrity of this wilderness, and as a result, it is not uncommon to see white-tailed deer, wild turkey, bobcat and even otters.
The preserve also has a 1.5-mile, self-guided hiking trail that begins at the end of Lora Lane, located a half-mile east of East Lake Road. A small footbridge spans the creek and will keep your feet from getting wet.
The trail off Lora Lane is open from sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year.
Four other designated hiking trails start at the education center, ranging in length from .7 miles for beginners to four miles for seasoned hikers. There is no better place to wind down at the end of the day. As the sun goes down, you are bound to hear the barred owls calling: Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?
Just sit back and watch the sun set over the pine trees, thankful that you are here.
by Terry Tomalin, Tampa Bay Times outdoors editor