A lot of times because of my frequent escapades looking for Reptiles, Amphibians and other fauna in far-flung places, it is easy to forget that great wildlife viewing opportunities can be had close to home, and oftentimes a stone’s throw away from the big city. Such diamonds in the rough exists in Palm Beach in several areas, but none are as vast and impressive as Grassy Waters Preserve.
Grassy Waters (GWP) is the water supply for the City of West Palm Beach: up north towns have reservoirs for their drinking water, in southern Florida we have swamps. But, believe it or not, that actually works to our advantage: your run-of-the-mill reservoir might take up less space than the 23 square mile preserve, but GWP provides its benefactors with one of the best filtration systems known to man. You see, when you look out over a sawgrass prairie it might seem that the water is stagnant and dead but in reality it is a slow moving river (called a slough.) The water moves downhill, mere centimeters per mile, and the marsh plants filter that water as it moves. This translates to clean water, and a lot of good habitat for wildlife.
Birders will be most satisfied with GWP’s relatively abundant Everglades Snail Kites (Rostrhamus sociabilis plumbeus), which seem to not be especially camera shy. But birds have never been an area of extreme interest to me: bring on the herps. I began work at Grassy Waters doing a herp survey this past February, and since then have barely scratched the surface on what the preserve has to offer.
Being mostly wetland, there are a great number of aquatic animals that usually remain hidden beneath the marsh surface, but Grassy Waters also has a number of Pine Flatwoods and other upland habitats that provide for some very picturesque encounters for those wishing to stay dry.
The trail system at GWP allows for good viewing of the full spectrum of habitats. At the main entrance on Northlake Blvd, one can view open marsh and cypress dome along an easy quarter mile-or-so of elevated boardwalk. For those wishing more habitat and more seclusion, there’s the northern reaches of the preserve, which hide the Hog Hammock and Promontory trails – an adjacent pair which stretch through cypress swamp, into hardwood hammock and finally to an open pine flatwoods and marsh matrix.
For an even less hiked area, the Owahee Trail that runs around the border of the preserve provides the ability to get far out: the trail runs about 13.5 miles. During my field work in the preserve I’ve never seen a pedestrian or biker past the 7th mile or so. This trail passes through Australian pine forests, flatwoods, marsh, swamp, canal – you name it: and all within 15 minutes drive of West Palm Beach proper. Check out their trails and other information: http://wpb.org/grassywaters/