Living Sanibel: Stump Pass Beach State Park
Located in the northwest corner of Charlotte County on the southern tip of Manasota Key, this mile-long stretch of sand is a combination of a great sunbathing beach and a fascinating hike into a natural dune ecosystem. Most visitors to Stump Pass Beach State Park tend to stay close to the parking lot, which is on the north end of the park just past the entrance. While this is ideal for playing in the surf, near-shore snorkeling, and hunting for fossilized shark’s teeth, the real natural beauty of this park lies farther to the south.
Roughly halfway into the park the beachgoers and fishermen begin to thin out, and an interior hiking trail begins. The next half-mile of trail runs along stretches of Lemon Bay and winds through buttonwood and red mangrove forests. There are five distinct natural communities found along the trail. During high tide, sections of this path may be flooded.
This area of the park is known for its bird life. Sightings might include red-breasted mergansers, wood storks, and great blue herons, as well as semipalmated, piping, wilson’s, and black-bellied plovers. During the spring and fall migrations you might expect to see red knots, ruddy turnstones, magnificent frigatebirds, and migratory warblers.
You might see an occasional squirrel or an errant raccoon, but also be on the lookout for gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, and green anoles. During the summer months, ask about the ranger-led sea turtle patrols. This secluded beach is a popular nesting site for loggerheads. On the bay side of the park, you might spot a manatee searching for an underwater pasture of turtle grass.
The fishing throughout the park is excellent. Anglers working the beach side will be reeling in whiting, flounder, snook, seatrout, and sheepshead, while the bay side is a good place to catch minnows, black-striped mullet, and redfish. Snorkeling, both on the bay and beach sides, is a popular activity at the park in large part because of the exceptional water quality. Canoeing and kayaking the inside waters of Lemon Bay is a favorite pastime for park visitors, though care should be taken as this long, straight stretch of water is popular with powerboats and water skiers. There are no on-site canoe or kayak rentals.
One of the more interesting features of Stump Pass Beach Park is the severe beach erosion occurring on the gulf side. Here you can witness what may eventually happen to barrier islands throughout Florida as a result of rising sea levels. At high tide the waves coming in from the gulf break directly against a two- to four-foot ledge. The beach disappears beneath the sea and the erosion creates a sheer bluff. While this is hardly what the park rangers like to see, these bluffs afford an interesting window into the root systems of beach-stabilizing plants such as sea oats and buttonwood trees. Take a moment to study these exposed root systems to understand why these plants are protected by state law.
Stump Pass Beach State Park was purchased by the state of Florida in 1971. Today it offers picnic tables, rinse-off showers, restrooms, a pleasant pavilion, and boardwalks.
The stumps that gave the park its name can still be found along the southern edge of the pass. Most of these are the remains of Australian pines that probably broke in half during tropical storms and hurricanes. With its shell- and shark’s teeth-laden beach, still backwaters, and great fishing, Stump Pass Beach State Park is an excellent destination to take in while in northern Charlotte County.
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.