Sharing the Trails with Alligators

If you hike near water in Florida, chances are pretty good you’re going to see an alligator at some point. Those of us who are on the trails a lot are used to it, but it can be scary if you haven’t had much experience sharing the trails with these reptiles. Something that’s important to remember is that a healthy, wild alligator will most likely want nothing to do with you; so the best course of action is to just ignore them and let them go on their way. Alligator attacks in Florida are extremely rare. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission there have only been twenty-four fatal alligator attacks in Florida since 1973. Statistically, you’re more likely to be killed by a cow than you are an alligator.

Alligators are ambush predators. That means they lay in wait, hiding beneath the surface of the water or near the water’s edge, then they quickly strike their prey. Never get closer than thirty feet from an alligator. Their striking distance is about fifteen feet, and they’re lightning fast when they want to catch their dinner!

The only safe way to get photos like this of an alligator is with a telephoto lens. You’ll often see videos of people getting dangerously close to alligators, hoping to get a memorable photo of one. This is definitely not advisable. While an alligator may seem docile and uninterested in you, they are wild and dangerous animals and deserve plenty of respect and distance.

A mama alligator with babies like this is the most dangerous kind of alligator, and you want to stay as far away as possible so she won’t feel the need to protect her adorable offspring.

So what do you do if you’re walking along and come upon an alligator in the middle of, or near the edge of the trail? If the alligator doesn’t seem to want to carry on and get itself back to the water, the best thing to do is just wait it out from a safe distance. Try walking heavily toward the alligator (but not too close!) and see if it will move off the trail. If it doesn’t, and you can’t pass safely, you’ll just have to turn around and leave it alone. Remember, this is his home. You’re just a guest.

Should you be afraid of alligators? It might help to remember that alligators have a very slow metabolism. That means they really don’t need to eat as often as you might think. In the wild, it’s common for them to only eat about once a week. The best way to avoid an alligator attack is to always assume there are alligators in any body of water in Florida. Most alligator attacks happen at the edge of bodies of water. Alligators are especially drawn to dogs, so never take your dogs where alligators may be present. They’re much more likely to turn and go away from full sized humans, but a smaller person or a dog could look like prey to them. Just be vigilant and respect their space, and you’ll be fine. Many alligator attacks are the result of alligators that have been fed by humans. These alligators learn to associate people with food, and that’s a death sentence for the alligator. A nuisance alligator will most likely be put down, and we don’t want to see that happen.

Alligators are an awesome part of life in Florida. We share our home here with about 1.25 million of them! The best thing we can do is be educated and learn to enjoy them, from a very safe distance.

Ochlockonee River State Park

A trip through Florida’s Big Bend area and into the panhandle is like a trip back in time.  Urban sprawl has yet to infect this remote area of the state.  Taking a drive across the 220 mile long Big Bend Scenic Byway will take you through miles of longleaf pine forests and along fabulously undeveloped white, sandy coastline.  I didn’t know before I went, but apparently a detailed brochure exists to help you navigate this incredible highway and really take in all it has to offer.  It can be found here: http://www.floridabigbendscenicbyway.org/sites/default/files/media/docs/Byway-Guide-20120319.pdf

A drive down the scenic byway is one of many things we did while we were in the area.  We visited several state parks within a couple of hours of Ochlockonee, but here we’ll focus on this one incredible state park.  I realized I was pronouncing it all wrong when a kind ranger gave me a tip to say it right.  He said it’s O-Clock-Knee.  Now you know.

Welcome to Ochlockonee!  Driving down route 319 near the tiny town of Sopchoppy, you’ll end up here at the park.  If you’re planning to camp here for awhile, it may be helpful to know that the nearest Walmart is about forty minutes away in Crawfordville.  The nearest store is a Dollar General, about fifteen minutes away.  There really is nothing around here!

Continue reading “Ochlockonee River State Park”

What is there to do?

You could drive around the state looking for brown signs indicating scenic areas and parks, or you could check out some of this info I’ve gathered here for you.  I’ve spent an awful lot of time seeking out some of the best (in my opinion) places for exploring nature in Florida.  This is not a list of every specific place to explore, but a list of ways for you to find those places for yourself and go explore.  There are a lot of great resources available for finding things to do.  It’s not always easy to find those resources though.  This is a list of some of my favorites.  I hope you’ll find this compilation helpful.

Continue reading “What is there to do?”

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