THONOTOSASSA — As the weather cools, the hiking, canoeing and scenic vistas at John B. Sargeant Sr. Memorial Park just grow more inviting.
If you're asking, "Where is that? I have never heard of that place," then you understand why the Thonotosassa park stands as one of Hillsborough County's "Hidden Gems."
In 1989, Flint Creek Park was renamed in memory of John B. Sargeant Sr., who served as a member of the Hillsborough River Basin Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
At 23 acres, the park is small compared with parks like Lettuce Lake, Morris Bridge and Hillsborough River State Park, all part of the Hillsborough River Corridor. Visitors would be wise to bring mosquito repellent, but a little annoyance is worth the visit.
The beautiful centerpiece of this park is a boardwalk that meanders through a swampy cypress and oak area, harkening back to a scene from prehistoric times.
Abundant wildlife adds color to the landscape. Alligators cruise along the river, descending from the banks with tremendous splashes, startling birds into flight.
In fact, you might notice the resident 4-foot gator, which park rangers have named Waldo, straddling a bank near the park bench you are sitting on in the boat launch area.
Bird watchers will be delighted as a variety of Florida's native birds walk, fly and hop very close to the boardwalk, making photo opportunities quite easy.
On any given day, a great blue heron, ibis, hawk or bald eagle might be seen. Rabbits, otters, deer and wild hogs also call this park their home, allowing visitors an occasional glimpse.
The lush swamp is the main attraction, however, with a personality all its own. The plentiful oak and cypress trees offer a rich shade of cover as you stroll along the raised boardwalk.
The vast array of plant life that flourishes on both sides of the walkway provide a beautifully distracting display.
At the boardwalk's midpoint, an open vista overlooks the juncture where the Hillsborough River and Flint Creek join as they flow toward Tampa Bay.
For adventurous visitors, canoe and kayak rentals are available. Casual paddlers can enjoy a two-hour trip downriver to Morris Bridge Park, while those with more experience can enjoy the remote wilderness of the Seventeen Runs portion of the Hillsborough River Canoe Trail.
Hikers can enjoy the 6.7-mile trail that runs from John B. Sargeant Park to the Model Dairy trailhead at Hillsborough River State Park.
Hidden Gems is an occasional photo column that features outdoor places in Hillsborough County that are unknown to many or have features that are unique or hidden. If you have an idea for a Hidden Gem, email Skip O'Rourke at firstname.lastname@example.org.