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  1. Life & Culture

Hidden Gems: Alderman's Ford Nature Preserve

PLANT CITY — As an avid outdoorsman, I pride myself on an extensive knowledge of our state and county parks. Through hiking, mountain biking, camping, kayaking and even geocaching, I have explored the terrain of Florida's landscape extensively.

That is why I was stunned to find a beautiful, yet hidden, nature preserve very near to my own back yard. I must have passed this area hundreds of times, never knowing the treasure that was there. As I would come to realize, Alderman's Ford Nature Preserve is 970 acres of very diverse topography, wildlife and vegetation. I decided to explore this unfamiliar territory.

At the start of my journey, I found a flat, open vista at the trailhead, where an orange grove once stood. As I hiked west along the main trail, the landscape transformed into rolling hills, surrounded by a lush oak forest and longleaf pines that threw a rich shade over the area where I walked.

While approaching a small hill, I heard a curious rushing noise. This park is quite far from a major road, so the source of this sound was baffling.

I followed the noise down a steep embankment and it grew louder with each step. To my amazement, I came upon rapids from the Alafia River. What a beautiful place to sit and meditate, taking in the sights, sounds and serenity of the river. The Alafia cuts through the park, creating an oxbow lake, a U-shaped body of water formed when the main stem of a river swings around upon itself to form a free-standing lake.

The wildlife at this location was also a wondrous surprise. I heard the call of a bobwhite quail, a bird that had all but disappeared from the area.

I saw a variety of other animals, including deer, bobcats, rabbits, snakes, alligators and wild hogs. Many species of birds flittered about, especially in the open areas, and the wild flowers offer a palette of stunning color to the surroundings.

Alderman's Ford Nature Preserve should not be confused with Alderman's Ford Park, which has facilities and paved paths. The nature preserve has no facilities but well-maintained grass and dirt paths and trails. The preserve is part of a 10,000-acre nature corridor that runs from Alderman's Ford down to Alafia River State Park.

Among the fun activities you can do in the park: geocaching! There are many "hides," and that is actually what brought me to this park in the first place. Hiking and bird watching are both exceptional reasons to visit. However, biking and swimming are not allowed. Park hours are daylight hours. The address is 8911 Turkey Creek Road, south of Plant City.