The Starkey Wilderness Preserve is one of the largest undeveloped tracts in Pasco County and protects sensitive environmental areas in the fast-growing western portion of Pasco County. The preserve consists of three tracts:
The preserve is the culmination of foresight and cooperative spirit of individuals and governmental agencies working to carry forth “one man’s dream.” The park is named after Jay B. Starkey, Sr., who purchased the land in 1937 and then developed a cattle ranch and timber operation. In 1975, Mr. Starkey donated several hundred acres to the District, initiating the concept of permanently protecting the land and its resources for future generations.
The Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park is a regional park managed by Pasco County that features a paved trail that connects to the 42-mile Suncoast Trail; picnic shelters; hiking, biking and equestrian trails; a primitive campground; and camping cabins.
The Serenova and Anclote River Ranch tracts are managed by the District for passive nature-based outdoor recreation activities. These tracts have limited amenities and provide visitors a more rustic outdoor experience.
The Serenova Tract is a favorite for horseback riding with trails that wind through all major natural communities on the preserve. Equestrian/group and primitive camping are also available at Serenova.
The Anclote River Ranch Tract can be accessed from the hiking trails in Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park and provides visitors the opportunity to experience the natural beauty of the preserve with little sign of human presence. No trails are marked on the Anclote River Ranch Tract, but visitors can hike on the existing unmarked trails and roads.
The prominent natural communities within the preserve are pine flatwoods, cypress domes, freshwater marshes, stream and lake swamps, sandhill and scrub. The 2,300 acres of wetland communities in Serenova combine with the wetlands in the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park to form a connected 6,000-acre wetland ecosystem spread throughout approximately 18,000 acres of conservation lands. Public acquisition of these lands has maintained this large wetland system as a functioning intact ecosystem. This vast network of scattered wetlands become interconnected during periods of high water levels and serves as a vital life cycle linkage for many wetland- dependent species.
Like many District properties, the preserve serves as a natural buffer for one of the region’s main freshwater resources, the Pithlachascotee River. The lands protect water quality by acting as a natural filter of surface water as it flows across the landscape into the Pithlachascotee River and its main tributary, the Anclote River. The Preserve also serves as a recharge area for a regional well field operated by Tampa Bay Water that is an essential component of the multi-county water supply system that supplies drinking water to the greater Tampa Bay area.
Another less visible benefit of these lands is the vital link they play in assuring that the Gulf of Mexico receives the clean fresh water that is needed to maintain the long-term health of the coastal estuaries. Without a source of clean fresh water, the estuaries could not serve as the vital link in the life cycle of numerous species of birds; aquatic plants, such as seagrass; and popular fish species, such as redfish, sea trout and mullet.