ST. PETERSBURG - There is nowhere else you can get out into the wild while being so close to a major city like St. Petersburg. People have been enjoying Weedon Island Preserve's bounty for close to 2,000 years.
Nomadic peoples found this estuary rich in game and shellfish and developed an advanced culture that produced sophisticated pottery, which can still be appreciated today at the preserve's nature center.
Weedon's new Paul Getting Memorial Trail is 1.27 miles of boardwalk that takes hikers deep into the mangroves to observation platforms and a tower. Amateur naturalists can spend a lifetime trying to document a myriad of species: 104 different fish, 26 butterflies, 34 reptiles and 130 birds.
It is the preserve's waterways, the same bays and lagoons the Native Americans found so appealing, that still draw thousands of visitors each year. Paddlers can meander down the southern trail, which begins at the fishing pier (a great place to hook snook, redfish or trout) and winds its way through the mangrove islands for four miles, at one point skirting the open waters of Tampa Bay.
The mangrove islands and narrow passes will challenge paddlers of all skill levels. Accomplished paddlers will finish the trail in two hours but plan for three if you want to stop and enjoy the sights. But paddlers need not worry about boat traffic - the preserve is a no-combustion motor zone, which means the only way in or out is through arm power.
Which is just fine with Russell Farrow, a paddling guide from nearby Sweetwater Kayaks, because the quieter you travel, the more birds you'll see.
Count on seeing great blue heron, snowy egret, roseate spoonbill and the occasional osprey hunting the grass flats. If you plan to visit, make Weedon Island your first stop of the morning, because it tends to get a little hot and humid once the sun gets up in the sky.
Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat because it can get hot. Insect repellent also is recommended. To rent a kayak, stop by Sweetwater Kayaks at 13060 Gandy Blvd., St. Petersburg, FL or call 727-570-4844. You can also go to www.sweetwaterkayaks.com .
Weedon Island Preserve Cultural & Natural History Center is located at 1800 Weedon Drive NE, St. Petersburg. Call 727-453-6500 or go to www.pinellascounty.org/environment .
Terry Tomalin also published a book outlining many different adventures you can take in Florida. That can be purchased at www.seasidepublishing.com .