Just an hour away from my home, the Serenova Tract of the Starkey Wilderness Preserve was next on my list last week for breaking in the boots. I was enticed by its purported 10.7 miles of hiking trails and 6500 acres of wilderness within an hour’s drive.
Once I began my research on this hike, it became more than a hike. A few interesting articles popped up. It seems that Pasco County had been trying extend a major road directly through the center of the preserve since the 1990s. The Ridge Road Extension dispute pits Pasco leaders, who assert that the road is critically needed as a hurricane evacuation route, against environmental groups bent on saving the wetland. For a variety of reasons, the County hasn’t received permits from the Army Corps of Engineers. The Suncoast Sierra Club has formed a thirty-four member Save our Serenova Coalition.
Well, not only was this a hike, but it was a story!
Most of the local hikes that I have completed have been in isolated rural areas. But clearly, for some of the places I visited, such as Little Manatee State Park and the Serenova Tract, development squeezes these little islands of greenery. Major roads surround Serenova on three sides. The trailhead is now directly across from a brand-new Publix grocery store.
But once I started walking down the trail here, the outside world receded. I kept thinking to myself as I passed lovely little fishing lakes, streams, and passing equestrians: “What kind of person thinks about putting a road through here?” Many of us think that this road really isn’t about the hurricane, but is about accessing more land to develop.
The scenery here IS remarkable, with towering pines and laurel oaks.
This is real Florida with wetlands, the occasional flooded trail, and the ruins of an old homestead near a tiny lake.
There are also areas that are so arid that prickly pear cactus grow. Butterflies flit everywhere, but sad to say wouldn’t stand still to have their pictures taken. At one point I traversed a field of palmettos intermixed with wild lupine that seemed to me to just glow.
So what about the trail? Well the quality of the trail markings doesn’t quite live up to the magnificence of the scenery. There are only a few signs and lots of unmarked trails. Hairpin curves on the main trail remain unsigned. Main intersections are supposed to be marked, but many of the signs were missing or broken.
I ended up losing the trail and navigating out of the preserve with my phone. I did manage to get ten more miles on my boots.
With a little work this place can and should be preserved as the world-class park that it is!
You can sign the coalition’s petition to save Serenova Tract here.