Many of us are looking for ways to be active while also staying socially distanced from others. That is why Sarah Phinney started a ‘Walking Club’ to highlight some hidden, and some not so hidden, trails across the Tampa Bay area that are great places for you and your family to check out.
Visit Celery Fields in Sarasota County this weekend. The site, encompassing more than 300 acres, draws birders and people looking to break a sweat by climbing the 55-foot mound that some jokingly call “Mount Celery.” Here’s everything you need to know before you visit.
Where is it?
What’s the history?
The site of Celery Fields was historically a sawgrass marsh. In the late 1800s, Bertha Palmer purchased the property and surrounding land. Lynda Becherelli, Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Specialist III, says Palmer and her sons decided it could be used for farming and set up an agricultural experimentation station. They grew different crops to see what would be best suited.
“I’ll bet you can probably guess from the name of the site that celery was the chosen crop,” said Becherelli.
Celery was still being produced here until the early 1990s. Then, Sarasota County purchased the property with the idea of it being a stormwater management facility because the natural hydrology of the site drains 3500 acres around the area.
“It’s a natural place for water to be collected during big rain events or storms,” said Becherelli.
The restoration unintentionally turned Celery Fields into a birding hotspot. Becherelli says visitors have traveled from all over the country, and the world, to see a particular duck.
What is there to do?
Aside from birding, there are seven miles of trails at the Celery Fields. More than a mile is on the mound, jokingly called “Mount Celery,” in the central cell. It was created by dredging the agricultural waste out of the bottom of the lakes during the restoration of the area.
“The Ringling bridge and this mound are it if you want to climb up something in Sarasota County,” said Becherelli.
All visitors park at the central cell, but it’s an easy walk to the boardwalks and trails in the south cells. There is a crosswalk with flashers that allows visitors to safely cross Palmer Boulevard to get there. Click here for a map.
“For the birders, the south cells are by far more popular. For the fitness folks, the central cell is where they want to be,” she said.
Sturdy shoes are a must, especially if you plan to climb the mound.
Why I am hearing roars?
First-time visitors may be a little confused (and concerned) to hear some roars during their morning walk. No, lions and tigers aren’t roaming the mound!
You’re hearing the animals housed at Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, which is less than a half-mile away from Celery Fields.
“Morning is the right time of day to hear the lions and tigers roaring over there as they’re being fed,” said Becherelli.
If you’re interested in seeing the animals up close, Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary is open noon to 4 p.m., Friday through Sunday.
When should I visit?
Celery Fields is open 6 a.m. to sunset. It can get busy on the weekends, so it's best to arrive early.