On the East bank of the fertile Kissimmee River there is a statue. This statue is of a bird: the Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis). Not many know it, but the Carolina Parakeet was once the sole parrot species native to the eastern United States; with the last known wild individual dying in 1904 in Okeechobee County, Florida. It is here, in Okeechobee County where this statue stands, in a place that once harbored Carolina Parakeets that one can find Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park (KPSP.)
Not typically as high on the list of “must visit” sites for herpers as Everglades National Park: it can match neither the size or herpetological accessibility of ENP, but KPSP should never be dismissed as a fulfilling and enjoyable place for wildlife viewing, camping and hiking. The habitat, as one might guess, is mostly dominated by dry prairie habitat: stretching on as far as can be seen. It is this dry prairie habitat that is the preferred home of the South Florida Mole Kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster occipitolineata), which was not even known to exist until the 1980s due to its secretive, fossorial (subterranean) nature. In addition to herps, the park provides for excellent bird watching, as well as much better-than-average mammal viewing: the spotted skunk, a sought-after prize for mammal watchers, is not impossible in this neck of the woods.
The camping area is some of the most relaxing in southern Florida: though the park does have a good number of people at times, the clientele is generally relaxed and I have never had problems with “rowdy” neighbors. One can choose from the Kilparick Hammock Campground, with 35 full-facility sites as well as an equestrian loop. For those who want to really get away; there are three primitive sites available 2 miles out on one of the hiking trails. The trail to the primitive sites brings you through some beautiful mesic oak hammocks and some nice prairie as well.
One of my favorite features of KPSP is its isolation: at its entrance you pass through a small grid of houses and whatnot, but the nearest town is Okeechobee, about 20 minutes away. This, combined with obstruction/tree free viewing allow for some great star watching – in fact, KPSP has some of the lowest light pollution in peninsular Florida. It’s possible to find good areas for mammals, herps, birds, and star viewing in Florida; but few places excel in all these categories: Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is one of them.