The Snowy Plovers were perfectly camouflaged against the white sand of Deer Lake State Park. They gave themselves away only when they moved, scooting rapidly across the beach on their short, dark legs. As I watched, they made a bee-line for the surf in search of food, staying just ahead of the waves as they looked for invertebrates to pluck off the ground. In the spring, they can choose the rolling dunes that border shore for their scooped-out nests on the sand.
The Snowy Plovers, a Florida State-designated Threatened species, have picked a beautiful place to call home. I walked the sand of the park on a warm and sunny afternoon; high, wispy clouds painted against bright blue sky. I took a long boardwalk from the parking area to the beach.
The raised wooden platform provided an amazing view not only of the surrounding dunes, but also of the dune lake contained within the park’s borders. Stairs and a ramp descended to the beach; from there I could walk miles in either direction, dipping my toes in the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Like my Snowy Plovers, that’s exactly what I did!
The beach isn’t the only beautiful place in the park to walk. Crossing 30-A on foot, I entered the park’s nature trail, which loops one mile through the woods, with an optional .5 mile extra excursion to a wetland overlook. Interested in seeing a few Florida alligators? Then the wetland is not to be missed, especially in warmer weather!
The path perfectly showcased a native coastal forest. Sand Pines, which have small cones and needles, were the dominant tree, with Saw Palmetto making up the majority of the understory. Sunlight that streamed through both forest layers fell across the blue-green Deer Moss carpeting the forest floor. Though its common name is “moss,” it’s actually a lichen, delicate arms reaching out like a miniature shrub. All clumped together they resembled a blue-green snow, giving the entire wooded landscape a unique look.
The nature trail includes interpretive placards displaying common species with accompanying descriptions, both flora and fauna. Just by reading the signs I learned so much about the forest within the park. Since so many of the species are fire dependent - the Sand Pine, for example, need the heat from fire to open their cones - the area is managed using prescribed burns.
Between my walk on the beach and the nature trail loop, I had covered nearly five miles. While visitors can definitely explore the park with fewer steps, I was thrilled with a great workout!
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About Erika: Erika Z. is a writer, birder and photographer living and working along the Emerald Coast of Florida. Her love of the outdoors and sense of adventure leads her to explore Florida’s state parks, state trails and historic sites in her free time.