I wasn’t expecting much in the beginning.
After driving for about 45 minutes*, we checked out a small educational cabin that smelled of early 70’s decor and various taxidermy animals. I was slightly bemused by the interactive booth in the corner that played various animal sounds, like the majestic call of the Spotted Newt (“the Spotted Newt is silent”). Soon enough we moved on from the informative hut and traversed along the road, stopping at a large bridge. There we saw our first sampling of animal life, and boy was it a full platter: several species of birds, including cranes and ducks were feeding in the murky waters. Not far off, I discovered what I had previously assumed to be a group of logs were actually alligators! (This was quite exciting for me, as I have lived in Florida for three years and had not seen wild alligators until then). We gawked as the animals lounged and fed. Personally, I was surprised by their calmness- despite being a variety of species in such a close space, they all didn’t mind each others’ presence.
Onwards we went, driving along the road to a clearing deeper in the park. We all got out of our cars to walk a long nature trail. Although I saw no animals along this path, I got to immerse myself in Florida’s native flora. It’s nearly impossible to get a sense of what real Florida looks like along the coastline because there is so much development and imported flora. Most of Sarasota is well-tended lawn, clean and trimmed palm trees, and other tropical plants. Deep in Myakka, almost untouched by humans, we saw plant life bursting from every open space. Florida palm was not straight up and down, but corkscrewed, growing at odd curves, angles, sideways, even loop-de-loop. Spanish moss and brightly colored mold caressed every tree. Rich muddy ponds and puddles dotted the area, framed by reeds and buzzing with dragonflies. At one point we reached a tall wooden structure that stretched far above the canopy. We climbed it and were greeted by a beautiful sight: miles and miles of unbroken forest, stretching across the horizon.
At the end of the trail I noted the many scuffs that had been scarring the land along the trail, and was told that it was the result of an invasive species- wild boar. Boar reproduce quickly and, unfortunately, are extremely damaging to the native Florida environment.
We moved on to a large marshy area and a long dock that led to a platform out in the center. Along the way I noted the huge number of wildlife in the area- a deer in the distance, a small boar farther off, several cranes hunting, and countless swarms of tiny gnats and other bugs.
It was truly a beautiful sight. Personally, I feel a bit changed by the experience. It was enlightening to see the boundless nature protected by Myakka. I feel that as Florida continues to be developed and more and more people move into the area, they should be aware of the native species here and try their best to support it, by avoiding planting and releasing invasive species. Protecting this environment and working with it, we can preserve the delicate and unique ecosystem Florida is gifted with.
*edited because oops