So here’s an observation after two weeks on the road: most of the people we have met so far in the campgrounds circuit don’t know about Highlands Hammock State Park (Sebring, Florida). That’s too bad. This 9,200 acre-park is a jewel that is here because of the visionary action of Margaret Shippen Roebling who fell in love with and wanted to conserve this sea of green – a stand of virgin live oak, cypress, palmetto, sweet gums – in the midst of a prairie.
She bought the land and in 1931, created the park. The unique ecosystem got the attention of FDR who sent the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) here in 1933 to build the roads, trails, and buildings, many of which are still in use today.
We biked and hiked along many trails. The boardwalk through the Cypress Swamp Trail (here on the right) sits on the bed of one built by the CCC in 1933. The day we walked it we watched an egret wading through the swamp, catching fish and completely undeterred by our presence. One of our camp neighbors said he had found an alligator sunning himself there a day earlier.
But the stunner was the Ancient Hammock Trail, which takes you into the middle of a virgin hammock (loosely defined as a slightly elevated area where the underlying limestone depression accumulates rich organic materials that support a forest of deciduous trees). This trail is dominated by several live oaks that are at least 500 years in age (Peter is shown standing next to one of these giants here). The park rangers point out there is one carcass of a live oak (on a separate trail) that has been proven to be 1,000 years old. Anyway, wild orange trees, over 40 feet tall, compete with sweet gum trees alongside the live oak, with everything reaching for the sky. In sections, the palmetto is so thick you can only hear and smell the vibrant and teaming forest and I wondered, “what is that in the brush moving, calling, and running that I can’t see?” It is a spirit-filled world and Peter was in his element.
We stopped at the CCC museum and met the volunteer guide who, upon hearing we were from New Hampshire asked if we knew where Walpole was. It turns out when he was a kid in upstate New York in the 1940s, he raised chickens which he purchased in crates as baby chicks from Hubbard Farms, breeders in Walpole, NH. The chicks arrived by train, chirping incessantly, all the way to their new home in his chicken coops. And now, fast forward to 2015 and we were the first people he’d met who knew about Hubbard Farms.
More Florida surprises to come…