I am always on the lookout for easily accessible places to get out into nature. Much of my job entails leading other people outdoors and teaching them more about what they’re seeing. I’ve found in my years with Extension that if someone can touch, smell, see, and feel something for themselves in a wilder ecosystem, they are much more likely to care about and protect it. If an interesting trail or ecosystem is nearby and easy to reach, I can take school groups or Master Naturalist outings there, exposing more people to these experiences. Gulf Breeze has a wealth of these natural resources, especially the large stretch of hiking trails and waterways that entail the Naval Live Oaks portion of Gulf Islands National Seashore. The City of Gulf Breeze has also done a great job providing residents with recreational opportunities. These include facilities for competitive and recreational sports along with nearly 1,400 acres set aside for conservation. Shoreline Park North includes ten athletic fields, ten tennis courts, a skate park, volleyball and basketball courts, a disc golf course, and a community center. Shoreline Park South is less sports-oriented and more focused on nature. This section has a boat ramp, fishing pier, swimming area, and covered picnic pavilions. Between the north and south sections are public trails—including paved walking areas and a loop trail for wheeled vehicles. There are numerous off-road wooded trails with benches, plant identification signage, and trail markers. On the west side are a dog park and the newest amenity, a wetlands boardwalk. The accessible 0.3-mile-long elevated boardwalk runs just south of the dog park and over the coastal wetlands, bending along the shore to another entrance/exit at the intersection of Colley Cove and Williamsburg Drive. Making its way through the wetlands, the trail winds over open water, thick grasses, and under shaded canopy. A pair of our recent freshwater wetland Master Naturalist students are working with the city to design and produce several educational signs, which will highlight the plants and wildlife typically found along the path. While on my short visit to the trail last week, I saw several animals enjoying the area, including a pair of slider turtles and a ribbon snake. Numerous birds were with sight and earshot, and nests dotted the treeline. Due to tall trees growing near the shore and easy access to the water, ospreys are common in the park, as well. A bat house has been mounted on a big magnolia tree near the entrance to the trail, so hopefully bats will utilize the shelter and help manage insect populations on the trail. December has been mild so far–take some time during the busy holiday season to go take a peaceful stroll along the water this month!
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