Living Sanibel: Oscar Scherer State Park
In 1955 Elsa Scherer Burrows bequeathed the 462-acre South Creek Ranch to the state of Florida with the intention of turning this pristine stretch of creek into a park in honor of her father. The following year Oscar Scherer State Park opened its doors to the public. Thirty years later, in an effort to protect the remnant Florida scrub jay habitat in Sarasota County, Realtor and environmentalist Jon Thaxton worked diligently to acquire the adjacent 992-acre Palmer Ranch. With the help of the Nature Conservancy, Preservation 2000, and widespread public support, Palmer Ranch ultimately became a part of Oscar Scherer State Park. In September 2008, Lee Wetherington, a local developer and park supporter, donated an additional 16.6 acres, bringing the park to its present 1,400 acres.
The predominant habitats found in Oscar Scherer State Park consist of pine flatwoods, scrubby flatwoods, and, running along South Creek, hardwood hammocks. Several well-marked trails traverse these habitats, and two of them are ADA accessible: Lake Osprey Trail, which is approximately a third of a mile long and encircles the lake; and the half-mile Lester Finley Trail, located near the entrance to the park .
Four other trails accommodate both hikers and bicyclists. The most consistent trail for off-road biking is the three-mile Green Trail. The five-mile Yellow Trail, the 1.5-mile Blue Trail, and the two-mile Red Trail all have long stretches of soft sand that can be difficult for biking.
You can also rent a canoe or kayak and paddle up and down South Creek (approximately two miles). Upstream the creek teems with freshwater fish such as bream, bass, and the exotic tilapia, while near the mouth, which is influenced by the tides, you can find saltwater species such as snook, snapper, and seatrout, especially during the winter months. There is a designated swimming area in Lake Osprey. The Nature Center has a number of interesting displays in the main building and a screen enclosure with Wi-Fi access (for those who cannot leave their laptops at home!).
Oscar Scherer State Park is best known for its endangered Florida scrub jays. The Yellow and Green trails are the best areas for spotting this elusive cousin to the blue jay. Scrub jays are curious birds, so with any luck at all, it’s fairly easy for any dedicated birder to catch a glimpse of this attractive jay. While walking along these trails, also be on the lookout for alligators, six-lined racerunners, indigo snakes, rabbits, river otters, and gopher tortoises.
The campground at Oscar Scherer runs right along the river. With more than 100 sites, it is one of the most popular camping destinations in Southwest Florida. The riverfront sites are gorgeous, many with captivating views of South Creek, and the outer-circle sites all back up to the preserve areas. Showers, restrooms, and recycling bins are located throughout the campground. A primitive camping area above Lake Osprey is available for youth groups. During the winter months park rangers offer guided walks, campfire discussions, and nature programs. The biggest event of the year at Oscar Scherer is the Scrub Jay Run, attracting more than 600 runners who participate in the fund-raising event for the park.
A part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, Oscar Scherer State Park attracts more than 130,000 visitors every year. It is perhaps the best location in the world to find the Florida scrub jay.
This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast-A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.