Just northeast of the Lake Manatee Reservoir in Manatee County, undisturbed areas of native habitats provide an example of historic Florida palmetto prairie, pine flatwoods and scrubby flatwoods communities.
The District’s Gilley Creek Tract, part of the Edward W. Chance Reserve, gives Manatee County residents an opportunity to see Florida the way it used to be.
“We have a very good example of an old historic Florida ecosystem at the Gilley Creek property,” said Will VanGelder, District senior land management specialist.
According to VanGelder, populations of Bachman’s sparrow, burrowing owl and the threatened Florida scrub-jay are well established at Gilley Creek.
“Gilley Creek provides the opportunity to see many species that occur in this area interacting within healthy native habitats,” said VanGelder.
The 5,800-acre property protects the main branch of Gilley Creek, which is one of the main tributaries of the Manatee River. The creek flows into the Lake Manatee Reservoir, which serves as the primary drinking water source for Manatee County. Formerly a cattle ranch and farm that had been converted to pasture with row crops, hardwood hammocks are still found along the creek channels and wetlands, as well as areas of native upland that remain undisturbed.
Gilley Creek is open daily from sunrise to sunset for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding on its 12 miles of designated trails. Short sections of trails may go through areas leased for cattle grazing, so be sure to exercise caution and stay on marked trails. Cattle serve a management function on the property and should not be disturbed. Be prepared for wet hiking too. Some trails are excessively wet during certain times of the year. Bring your own drinking water because there is no water available at the property. A portable toilet at the main entrance is the only restroom facility at the tract.
You can access Gilley Creek for fishing from the property. Contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for license requirements.
The entrance to the Gilley Creek Tract is north of Lake Manatee on CR 675, about a mile and a half north of SR 64. A grassy parking area is on the east side of the road, just north of the Gilley Creek bridge.
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.