If you want exercise, or to get some in depth information about the land, flora and fauna of the “real old Florida” you’ll want to visit Highlands Hammock State Park near Sebring Florida. If you are in or around Sebring Florida, Highlands Hammock is only about 6 miles from Sebring city hall, and just a couple of miles off Highway 27 west of Lake Jackson.
We’ve friends that paid their $6 per car, per day, fee and walked some of the many trails in the park, including the Cypress Swamp Trail. The Cypress Swamp trail presents to the visitor a huge cross section of plants, birds and wildlife. Much of this trail is up on a boardwalk and allows access to Charlie Bowlegs Creek and the sights to be seen there.
For our first trip to Highlands Hammock State Park we opted to take the guided tour tram rather than the walking tour.
We took the tram tour because one of the members of our group wasn’t terribly comfortable walking any distance. Also, we have found that unless you know a good deal of information about the object or place you are visiting before you arrive, you often only get a view of the “surface of the water”. Taking the tour allows a guest dive below, gets the visitor into the depths of detail, and gives, for us at least, so much more information and a more pleasant first visit than a self guided walking tour could.
2-3′ of change in land level makes a huge difference.
For example, we learned how a rise in land level of 2-3 feet in the park caused a dramatic change in the foliage from one native plant / tree species to another.
Our eyes were opened about details in the park by the knowledgeable guide. His presentation is much more fascinating than I have the ability to write about it here, I assure you.
Many stops were made throughout the park and in sections not open to the public normally. At some stops we could de-tram, if so desired, for a moment or two to stretch. More importantly each stop was where the guide would provide in-depth information about just why that spot was significant, this information adding to the info he was broadcasting to us in the tram as we drove along.
I cannot say enough good things about our tour guide. He had been a volunteer in the park for many years, was intimate with the park and the park back roads, and all land, foliage and creatures that may be seen on the tour. Our guide was absolutely full of fascinating information about Highlands Hammock State Park, clearly loved the park and was proud to tell us visitors about it. These volunteer guides are a park treasure as far as we are concerned.
Highlands Hammock State Park since 1931
This park, was created in 1931 after a “grass roots” campaign by locals, and members of government that saw the treasure for the future that the hammocks held.
In March 1931, the 1,280 acre park opened. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs to put young men back to work. Thousands of CCC boys went to work laying out trails, clearing forests, and working on conservation-related projects throughout the country https://www.floridastateparks.org/learn/history-highlands-hammock
Our guide spent some time at various spots in the park showing us some “alien invaders”. Wildlife, both flora and fauna, have invaded the park over the years. A family of “cute little” wild pigs cavorted down the roadway in front of us for a spell. Yes, cute, but then, they’ve become a park nuisance, and we were told and shown why.
In an effort to reduce the park population of wild pigs, exotic measure have been used over the years – most not so successful. One method that seems to be generating success is large pig traps. The circular fencing of one of them can be seen in the photo below.
There are a lot of animals native to this part of Florida: Gators, of course, black bear, deer, possum, skunks, bobcats and panthers are just a few of them. All, some or none can be seen on your tour depending on how lucky you are.
Some park species are not welcome. Here’s a photo of another invader to the park.
In the Cyprus swamp, this park invader displays a brilliant green counter-point to the grays, blacks and murky water colors in the swamp. Teams of park people enter various areas of the park periodically, and physically remove invader species, and this is one of them targeted for removal before it spreads further.
Epiphytes in Highlands Hammock State Park
We learned a bit about epiphytes. They are, according to Google dictionary,
a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic, such as the numerous ferns, bromeliads, air plants, and orchids growing on tree trunks in tropical rainforests.
I was of the opinion earlier that the beautiful wreathes of Spanish Moss cascading from the live oaks everywhere you look in south Florida, were parasitic.
Showing visitors around Sebring, I’d point out these lovely trees and intone “yup, that Spanish Moss is killing those trees”.
Nope, it’s not. Spanish Moss is an epiphyte, and can even, on a blistering Florida afternoon with the southern sun blazing, help shade the leaves from that sun.
There is one section of the park, not normally open for the general public to visit, that for some reason is a “go to” place for Black Headed and Turkey vultures to congregate and overwinter. There were hundreds of them in the gray, apparently lifeless (but really just winter dormant) cypress branches overhead as we motored slowly past.
On both sides of the road, for about 1/2 mile, the vultures lurked in the trees in great numbers. And then, the height of the land rose a couple of feet, and we moved from swamp to pine forest, leaving the vultures home and that section of Cypress swamp behind.
Back at base camp there are comfort stations, the CCC museum, a gift shop that also sells snacks, and lots of maps and information should you decide to take a walking tour instead of, or as well as, the tram tour.
If you’ve visited Highlands Hammock state park and wish to comment you certainly can, below. Thanks.