Take yourself back in time on a hike along the South Fork St. Lucie River. Take care as you negotiate lush, dense cabbage palm and palmetto hammock to more open scrub. Watch where you step! Baby gopher tortoises, as small as a nickel, have been known to break out on their own near the trail. Listen for laughter and young voices echoing down the river. From time to time, lucky hikers have spotted a "Huck Finn" style homemade raft ushering teenagers away from video games and into the quiet waters of a gently flowing, tannin-colored river. Like steeping tea bags, the cypress trees stain the water a dark brown, but it's clear, so you can see the fish below. Martin County's Halpatiokee Regional Park is your gateway to this memorable and refreshing seven-mile roundtrip outing on the west side of the river. Bring your fishing pole. Also, primitive camping is available at the end of the one-way hike.
For those who want to enjoy the river but want to make an easier time of it, enjoy the picnic tables at the park and short nature trails, some paved, that also have spectacular views of the river. Call the county at (772) 288-5690 for a camping permit and more information about park activities, including inline skating and softball. Canoe and kayak concessions are nearby.
On the east side of the South Fork, the Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park is scheduled to open soon and provide a number of recreational opportunities. Hiking, bicycling and equestrian use are planned. Pine flatwoods and marshes create an exceptionally diverse landscape.
Call Jonathan Dickinson State Park at (772) 546-2771 for more information on the opening, planned activities and directions, or visit www.floridastateparks.org.
- Halpatiokee Regional Park: Take I-95 to Stuart, Highway 76 (Kanner Highway). Go east for one-half mile to Lost River Road. Take a right on Lost River Road. Go one-half mile to the park entrance.