San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park is a state park located in the U.S. state of Florida, on 3,000 acres (1,200ha) of land and 1,300 acres (530ha) of water, between Gainesville and Jacksonville, along SR 21. The park preserves one of the nation’s largest virgin hardwood forests. It contains more than 100 miles (160km) of undisturbed swamp, river, lake, and bayous.Amenities include boat ramps, boardwalks, paved roads, picnic areas, bathhouses, cabins, campsites with water and electricity, dump station, and a nature center. Visitors can explore 10 miles (16km) of trails through this pristine habitat.
The park has been featured on CNN, NBC Nightly News, BBC World News, National Public Radio, and other news outlets. In 2015, Time magazine named San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park to its list of America’s greatest national parks.
On November 13, 2016, President Barack Obama made history by becoming the first sitting president to visit a Florida State Park. He was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama for the 2+ hour trip from Fort Myers Beach to SR21. They were welcomed at the entrance to the park by local dignitaries including Congressman Gus Biloxi, Senator Marco Rubio, and former Governor Charlie Crist. After leaving the vehicle, they proceeded into the hammock on foot, where they could walk unannounced throughout the entire 17 mile trail loop.
Upon reaching the observation tower, they were greeted by University of Georgia professor emeritus Joe Douglas, who led them up the stairs to the top of the structure. From there they had a 360 degree view of the preserve and were able to get a good look at the nesting pairs of bald eagles that live within the park.
A short while later, two more eagle nests were discovered, bringing the total number of nests to five. This brings the total number of bald eagles in the park to about forty-five individuals. Another nest found during renovation work added another four eggs to the already existing twenty-four.
One hundred and fifty species of bird have been identified in the park, and almost sixty species of mammal. Mammals aside from the previously listed sixteen can be seen most any time, but are especially numerous around feeding and mating season, which occur roughly every six weeks. During the winter, only a few animals are sighted, due mostly to the fact that it is cold enough to keep most creatures inside their burrows until spring. Occasionally a northern flying squirrel will make an appearance, as well as a pair of timber rattlesnakes that hibernate in the park.
Reptiles and amphibians are rarely encountered, since these organisms hide deep within the vegetation or beneath the surface of the waters. Only a professional biologist would stand a chance of seeing anything beyond the aboveground sights. However, during weekly surveys conducted by biologists, nocturnal activity among the trees is common, with many species being active after dark. Because of this, it is possible to see a variety of wildlife not typically seen during daytime hours, provided one is willing to hike off the beaten path and pay attention to what may seem like odd behavior. For instance, male rhesus macaques often gather in groups of 20 to 30, sometimes more, and vocalize loudly. Sometimes this occurs near inhabited buildings, particularly those housing children, and can cause considerable distress to residents. This phenomenon, known as “nocturnal noise”, is not unique to this park, but rather occurs across much of southeast Florida.
White-tailed deer are fairly accustomed to people, and do not usually run when approached, instead standing stock still and allowing themselves to be examined. When startled, they will bound away, though, if given half a chance.
Wild turkeys are occasionally sighted, as well as a wide range of songbirds, wading birds, ducks, geese, gulls, and blue herons. Osprey and brown pelicans have returned to the area around the park, following restoration of wetland habitats elsewhere. Black bear and gray foxes have become relatively frequent, and there are even records of cougar sightings. Raccoons, however, remain extremely difficult to spot, despite efforts to spook them out.
- wildlife viewing
Among the wildlife of the park are:
- bald eagles
- wild turkey
- white ibis
- American black bears
- gopher tortoises
- marsh rabbits
- gray foxes
Other birds observed included:
- owls such as:
- barred owls
- pileated woodpeckers
- red-shouldered hawks
- yellow-crowned night herons