Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory

OSCAR SCHERER STATE PARK

by Adele Woodyard



Oscar Scherer State Park holds many attractions for the outdoor enthusiast. There’s well-marked, self-guided trails from which to experience the animals and plants of the park. Osprey Lake and South Creek, both inside the park, offer the chance to canoe and fish. Comfortable campgrounds provide visitors with a pleasant stay. Furthermore, the park (1384 acres) is located near the Gulf of Mexico and is noted for being the habitat of a rare endangered bird indigenous to Florida. The bird, known as the Florida scrub jay, can be found along the 16 miles of nature trails within the park.

The scrub jay is not the only endangered species at Oscar Scherer. The huge, matchstick-style nest of the American bald eagle may be spotted in a high tree, or you may see a gopher tortoise climbing out of its hole. The Florida mouse, wood stork, gopher frog, indigo snake and sandhill crane are all threatened creatures protected by park boundaries. The amiable scrub jay has no qualms about you getting close (and may invite itself to dinner), however, park rangers request that you stay at least 600 feet away from the eagles. Close contact can frighten the bird into leaving its nest, exposing eggs or chicks to dangerous predators.

TRAILS TO TRAVEL

Eight hiking trails wander throughout Oscar Sherer State Park, six of which range from 1.3 to 5 miles round-trip. These self-guided hikes can take up to 2 1/2 hours to walk at a normal pace, and have no facilities (bathrooms or drinking fountains) and little shade, so hats, full water bottles and sunscreen are recommended.

Our favorite trail for sighting avian life is also the longest. The entrance to the White Blaze Hiking Trail is clearly marked on the north side of Lake Osprey just beyond the restrooms. Five miles of the trail’s length wanders through mainly level sand, with three footbridges. You can easily follow the white blaze marked on tree trunks along the trail.

OUTSIDE THE PARK

Oscar Scherer State Park is located on Hwy. 41, between Sarasota and Venice, practically across the street from Casey Key. Once in the park, if you’re looking for a sandy beach on the Gulf of Mexico, cross the Blackpoint Road Bridge. North of the park is historic Spanish Point, where the area’s first European settlers lived. You can walk into a prehistoric midden — a refuse pile — left by early Native American inhabitants, and visit the Pioneer cemetery at Spanish Point.

Going south from the park, you can hunt for shark’s teeth on Venice Beach, and look for the Audubon Rookery, a nesting spot used by egret, heron, and anhinga. Stay on Hwy. 41 and you’ll come to Warm Mineral Springs at Ortiz Road. The natural lake formed by the springs, with a flow of a million gallons of water per day at 87 degrees, forms a world-renowned spa.

WHEN YOU GO

Oscar Scherer State Park is open year-round, and Florida scrub jays are year-round residents. Reservations are recommended, especially in winter. Oscar Scherer State Park: (941) 483-5956; www.floridastateparks.org/oscarscherer .

The Gulf Coast Heritage Trail map can be picked up at the park, or contact Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau: (800) 800-3906; www.sarasotafl.org .

Although its nearly 29,000-acre park is much larger than Oscar Scherer, Myakka River State Park has only 76 campsites, plus five rustic cabins. Amenities include bicycle and canoe rentals, backpack and horse trails, a large wildlife population, and airboat and (seasonal) tram tours available. Some areas are prone to flooding, so call first. Myakka River State Park: www.myakkariver.org. For reservations, contact Reserve America at (800) 326-3521.