Zenfolio | April L. Gustetter | WEEDON ISLAND PRESERVE - St. Petersburg, Fla.

47 photos
South Paddling Trail

1800 Weedon Drive NE
St. Petersburg, Fla. 33702

Situated in Old Tampa Bay, Weedon Island Preserve is approximately 3,100 acres of natural habitats including mangrove swamps, intertidal flats and pine flatwood uplands. The South Paddling Trail is just one of two paddling trails that will take you through lush mangroves and over open shallow waters and productive seagrass beds.

The South Paddling Trail is a four-mile loop and offers access to the aquatic habitats that dominate Weedon Island Preserve.

Three species of mangroves common to Florida can be found along this trail. The trees growing along the shore are red mangroves, which are often referred to as walking trees because their prop roots give the appearance of walking. Growing behind them, on slightly higher ground, are black mangroves, which are identifiable by their numerous finger-like projections called pneumatophores. Pneumatophores protrude from the soil and help bring oxygen to the tree's roots. A closerlook into dense stands of mangroves will reveal the third type of mangrove, the white mangrove. Its light yellow-green leaves are oval with two small glands at the base of the leaf blade.

Portions of the paddling trail will take you into more open areas away from the mangroves. These shallow waters around Weedon Island Preserve contain lush seagrass beds where schools of fish, crabs and shrimp thrive. Mudflats, areas that are often exposed by tides and are devoid of vegetation, contain marine benthic organisms within the mud substrate.

The mangrove swamps, seagrass beds, and mudflats provide valuable habitats for many kinds of animals including oysters, stingrays and even small sharks. These important habitats also provide roosting and feeding areas for a variety of wading and shorebirds including the wood stork, a species listed as endangered in the State of Florida. Other State-listed species that rely on the Preserve include the bald eagle (threatened) and the West Indian Manatee (endangered).

Weedon Island Preserve is open seven days a week from dawn to dusk. Paddlers should return to the launch site and parking area before dusk. No overnight parking is allowed. The Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M.

• The parking area and launch site for the South Paddling Trail are located on the end of Weedon Drive NE, about 1.5 miles from the Preserve's entrance.

• The South Paddling Trail is approximately 4 miles long and takes about 3 hours to complete.

• Numbered markers are strategically located along the trail to help paddlers orient themselves.

• Please check a tide chart before venturing out. This trail is best paddled with a mid to high tide.

• Insects go with the territory! Insect repellent and lightweight long sleeved shirts help reduce their biting opportunities.
A marked 4-mile loop trail that begins at the boat ramp took about three hours to meander through the tunnels, between the mangrove islands and along the edge of Tampa Bay.This is the Observation Tower overlooking Weedon Island Preserve...personally, I liked my vantage better ;-)It was another perfect day to be on the water...having never been here before, I was really appreciative of the markers that led my way.And had these markers not been there, I'd have missed so many tunnel entrances (can YOU see where to enter in this shot?).This took my breath away...I've been in many a mangrove, but this was amazing.Though all one tunnel, the architecture was constantly changing......and the water was so crazy still it was hard to see where it stopped and the surface stuff began!The boardwalk leading to the platform soon to come.It was so cool to have a sign just when I started to wonder where I needed to go next.This lovely covert of branches and roots opened up to the first of two sunlit lagoons......which hosted a viewing platform from the boardwalk.One of the few feathered sightings, this handsome Yellow-crowned Night Heron posed politely for my pleasure. Love how its head matches the branches ;-)Followed it to a few different perches......before it ruffled its feathers and took to the hinterlands.Can't be claustrophobic if you're gonna paddle these waters, what with most of the four miles being like this.There's a little zig zag section around Marker 8 that's too tight for more than one traveler at a time, so this fellow parked his yak to let me through.The two-mile boardwalk meanders through the mangrove swamp and the Cultural and Natural History Center.There's something about going under bridges and piers that feels artistic to me.Marker 9 and the second of two lagoons leading toward Tampa Bay.Again, unlikely I'd have known this was the entrance without the marker.