Town Chronicle

Myakka River State Park is Sarasota County’s playground




The bird walk, currently being rebuilt, is partially open. COURTESY PHOTO

The bird walk, currently being rebuilt, is partially open. COURTESY PHOTO

One of the oldest and largest state parks is just about an hour away from South Sarasota County.

Myakka River State Park, home to the Myakka River, includes acres of unspoiled wetlands, prairies, hammocks and pinelands.

There’s plenty to do here — boating, fishing, canoeing and kayaking are popular water activities. On land, hikers and cyclists have miles of trails and backroads to discover.

Prior to 1850, English maps listed the river as the Asternal River on English maps. It has been said that a Seminole Indian told a surveyor in the 1850s that the name of the river was Myakka.

Between the 1850s and the 1930s, cattle grazed in the area. In 1910, Bertha Palmer relocated here from Chicago. Between 1910 and her death in 2018, she bought much of what is now Sarasota County. The wealthy society widow raised cattle and swine.

One of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s initiatives during the Great Depression was the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put people to work. The CCC developed the park on about 17,000 acres that were purchased from Palmer. Myakka is one of eight Florida State Parks developed by the CCC during the 1930s.

TOP: Myakka State Park rents kayaks to visitors. RIGHT: An alligator family congregates under the bridge. COURTESY PHOTOS

TOP: Myakka State Park rents kayaks to visitors. RIGHT: An alligator family congregates under the bridge. COURTESY PHOTOS

Myakka River State Park finally opened in 1942. In 1985, the state legislature designated the Myakka River a Florida Wild and Scenic River. It is the only river in Florida to be recognized with this special status. The act provides for preservation and management of the 34-mile portion of the river within Sarasota County.

Famous for its alligators, the park is also home to many forms of wildlife, including deer, bobcats, snakes, turtles, manatees, wading birds, raptors, songbirds, migratory birds, ducks and more. But you must be patient and also, as Elmer Fudd would say, “vewy, vewy qwiet,” or you are likely not to catch these furry, feathered and scaly park residents in action.

A word of caution: Alligators can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour on land and 20 miles per hour in the water. Although they do tire quickly on land, they can go a long way in the water — so visitors would be wise to stay out of it. Besides the obvious reasons for not messing with wildlife, federal law forbids any interaction with wild animals — including feeding them.

 

 

Wear sturdy footwear and watch where you walk in order to protect your feet from rocks, insects and snakes. But don’t be fearful: The animals would prefer not to meet you. Besides proper footwear, park visitors should arm themselves with water, sunscreen and a protective hat. And don’t forget a camera.

The park’s canteen was partly destroyed by Hurricane Ian, but it does have a good supply or hats, souvenirs, cold drinks and ice cream. There is also a food truck-type setup where you can pick up a snack or some lunch.

The popular Canopy Walk was destroyed by the storm and is currently under construction. Similarly, the bird walk is partially open while workers rebuild it in total.

 

 

The Myakka Trail includes a 38.9-mile hiking loop trail maintained by the Florida Trail Association. Trails include shady live oak/palm hammocks, sandy pine flatwoods, sunny dry prairies and marshes teeming with life. The park also provides about 12 miles of horse trails.

You can rent a bike or a kayak there as well as take a tour on the Myakka River Queen (when the water level is high enough). Tram tours run 10:30 a.m. and 12:30, 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday. Tours last about an hour.

The park features three campgrounds with 90 campsites. Each site is equipped with 50-amp electrical service, water, a fire ring and a picnic table. The sites in Palmetto Ridge also have sewer hookups. A dump station is located near Old Prairie Campground. Laundry facilities are available in Old Prairie and Palmetto Ridge campgrounds. All campsites are within 40 yards of restroom facilities with hot showers.

Cabins are also available for rental. Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance. For reservations, visit the Florida State Parks reservations website or call 800- 326-3521 or TDD 888-433-0287.

Myakka also has three group/youth camp- ing areas that are available for nonprofit, organized groups to rent (Scouts, school groups, etc.). Bathroom and water facilities are available. No electricity is available. Each of the three sites holds up to 20 people and six tents.

Fishing with a Florida freshwater fishing license is allowed. Fishing licenses are not sold at the park. You can purchase them at www.MyFWC.com or local retailers.

Although there is no fishing pier, anglers often fish at the Upper Myakka Lake and Myakka River. Good spots include behind the South Pavilion, the Log Pavilion and near the Clay Gully Pavilion. Many people choose to fish from the bridge.

If you choose to fish, be careful: The local alligators often steal the bait.

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