Just off busy US 19 in Hernando County’s Spring Hill is a quiet oasis of bird-watching trails and teal lakes, waiting for naturalists with binoculars and fishermen with hand-launched boats to discover its beauty.
It’s the Weekiwachee Preserve, a rich mosaic of habitats including several miles of Weeki Wachee River frontage, portions of the Mud River, dense hardwood swamps, freshwater and saltwater marshes, and pine-covered sandhills.
Kim DeVary, land use specialist for the preserve, said the property is a popular destination.
“The preserve is a site on the Great Florida Birding Trail, and on any day you can see hikers looking for birds,” said DeVary. “The property has enough wetland areas to draw a variety of species. If you’re willing to hike, there’s a lot to see.”
Birds aren’t the only wildlife. The preserve is also known for its Florida black bear population.
“The bears are shy,” said DeVary, “and they tend to stay in the forest, but they’re out here.”
The preserve’s many small lakes have freshwater and saltwater species of fish. Boating and fishing on the lakes is allowed, as long as you bring a boat that is small enough to carry. There are no boat ramps, and the banks are too unstable for trailers. Electric trolling motors are allowed, but no gas-powered engines. Bicycling is permitted on designated bike trails around the lakes. Hikers can enjoy another 4.3 miles of marked dirt trails.
The preserve is open daily from sunrise to sunset. You’ll usually have more than a mile to hike or bike from the gate at Osowaw Boulevard into the preserve where the birding is best. But on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, the District opens the gate and you can drive into the preserve and park at the end of the paved road.
There are limited picnic facilities in the park and no drinking water, so be sure to pack your own water supply when you visit. A handicap accessible vault toilet is on the site.
Each issue of WaterMatters features a different District property ready for you to explore. These public lands are close to home and are free or very inexpensive to use. Visit the District’s web site at WaterMatters.org/recreation for more information.