Living Sanibel: Spirit-of-the-Wild Wildlife Management Area
The name says it all at the 7,487-acre Spirit-of-the-Wild WMA. Originally a ranch, sod operation, and vegetable farm, the property was purchased by the state of Florida in 2002, which turned it over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to oversee as a wildlife management area (WMA). It is near the much larger Okaloacoochee (OK) Slough, and together the two properties form close to 40,000 acres of wilderness preserve in Hendry County.
As is often the case with these purchases by the state, the former owner of the property leased it back for cattle grazing. That lease ran out in 2007, and FWC, in collaboration with the state, are filling in many of the drainage ditches and canals, removing the old pastures of Bahia grass (remnants of the former sod farm), and replanting the acreage with native trees, shrubs, and grasses. Owing to the immensity of the property, this will likely take decades to complete.
Like all wildlife management areas, Spirit-of-the-Wild permits recreational hunting, as well as birding, bicycling, and horseback riding. Archery hunting of the local feral pigs is a popular activity. Gun season generally is open in late October and November. Small game, turkey, and dove seasons also occur at Spirit-of-the-Wild.
The entrance to this wildlife management area is on the north side of County Road 832 about 1 miles east of State Road 29 north of Immokalee. The main road is called Canoe Road, though the property has no navigable waterway. Just up the road is a game check-in station staffed by FWC. Canoe Road continues north until it becomes the Albritton Loop Road, then crosses Robert’s Canal and becomes Thomas Road, returning seven miles later to County Road 832. Five hiking trails head east off of Canoe Road. These old farm roads are also used by all-terrain vehicles and can be quite chewed up because of it.
The terrain is mostly pine flatwoods, oak hammocks, and seasonal wetlands typical of this part of interior Florida. Birding is fantastic here. The region has eastern meadowlarks, swallowtail kites, snail kites, loggerhead shrikes, wood ducks, and northern harriers. The FWC website has a complete list of birds found at Spirit-of-the-Wild.
The preserve is home to many Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and water moccasins, so care should be taken when leaving the main path and heading into the saw palmetto thickets or marshes. If you take a scenic drive or head out on a short hike along its four-plus miles of trails, you might also come across some of the wild hogs, deer, and wild turkeys that frequent the area.
Although this wildlife management area is well on its way to becoming a first-class eco-destination, it is still a work in progress. If you are on your way to the nearby OK Slough, however, a short side trip to Spirit-of-the-Wild is well worth the time.
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.