As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite things to do when I’m in a new place is to google “parks near me.” That’s how we found Stephen J. Wortham park, a great little park hiding off the beaten path in the Riverview area. We decided to ride our bikes to it, which proved to be a fun five-mile ride. Turning east out of Riverview Commons, you would follow Symmes Road, which is a great ride save the last stretch on Rhodine. You ride through a suburban neighborhood with a sizeable, smooth, not-busy sidewalk. Then, you turn on Rhodine, and then turn again once you get to it. If you’re following Google maps to get there, though, continue just past where Google wants to take you, as that’s the horse entrance. The main entrance, where you can park or ride in on a bike, is about a half mile past that.
The main area of the park includes a playground area and the trailheads, one of which is a pretty bridge over a stream. We chose that one. We walked our bikes on the bridge, and after passing a kid learning to rollerblade while his dad and (at least three) siblings looked on, we hopped back on our bikes and headed into the trails.
The trail we took went into the depths of an ecosystem known as a hammock, which means it’s a group of trees that grows in a slightly elevated area and creates an area that is markedly different from its surroundings. That, I learned, is known as an “ecological island,” a term used to describe areas like hammocks that support a micro-habitat within them.
In Florida, hammocks are often formed in areas surrounded by wetlands (pretty inescapable in the Sunshine State), and lift themselves above the wetland area since the wetlands are too… well, wet to support them. The Rhodine Scrub Preserve Loop in the park is built in one such hammock, surrounded by different types of pine trees, oaks, and saw palmettos as far as the eye can see. There are also lots of critters there, but we mostly heard them instead of seeing them.
Because of the unique ecosystem within the park, the trails are sandy. It was fun and somewhat exotic for us “northerners” to bike on the sand, though I have to admit I cause us to have to get off our bikes and walk for quite a ways. I learned that riding in the sand is much easier if you keep going.
We stopped on the trail to look around and stood on some wood stumps to get a better vantage point. It turned out that the stumps were next to the horse trail entrance that we had mistakenly happened upon from following the original directions we had. We realized how close we were to the road when we saw that, which is often an interesting juxtaposition to ponder when you’re in the middle of the woods.
All in all, it’s a nice park that’s worth a visit and a great place to get out in nature. Even when it’s hot in the summer, you can get some relief from the thick canopy that protects much of the trail. We’re planning on going back to enjoy no-cost fun in nature, and we’d love to hear about it if you’ve been there or other great local parks.