Saturday, September 26, 2015

Lettuce Lake an Urban Wetland prolific in Nature

View of Lettuce Lake from Observation Tower, Photo by Bruce G. Smith
We enter the boardwalk behind the Audubon Center. The path splits, and we take the left fork that eventually leads us to the observation tower. At this point the Hillsborough River widens to form a slow moving expanse of water known as Lettuce Lake.

In 1982 Hillsborough County created Lettuce Lake Park. It is an urban wetland nestled close to the University of South Florida campus. It forms part of the flood plain for the Hillsborough River, and provides an excellent habitat for wildlife.

It is a great place for bird watching and observing alligators. On this day we saw several alligators and turtles. We also observed ibis, egrets, herons and many other birds. During the migratory season the boardwalk provides an astounding array of waterfowl. We often see snakes hiding in the foliage.

Alligator Lettuce Lake, Photo by Bruce G. Smith
 As we near the tower an alligator suns itself on a log. It’s a rare day that visitors don’t see a gator or two around this log. After taking several pictures of the young gator and a few turtles, we continue on to the observation deck.

From the top of the observation deck, most of the park’s 240 acres are visible. In front of the deck is the largest portion of open water. The canoe and kayak launch is not far from here, and it is entertaining to watch novices honing their skills.

Banded Water Snake along Boardwalk, Photo by Bruce G. Smith
We’ve been visiting the park for the last ten years. Initially, it had very few visitors, and its pristine beauty in the middle of Tampa amazed me. These days it gets many visitors, and trash has become a problem. Unfortunately plastic water bottles float around the alligators. Please remember to recycle your water bottles or better yet use refillable containers.

We climb down from the tower, and walk back towards the Audubon Center. The boardwalk covers about 3500 feet. Except in the driest years the boardwalk is over water with open water on one side and cypress trees on the other. One end terminates as a dock on the Hillsborough River, and the other end provides a canoe and kayak launch.

Wolf Spider on Boardwalk, Photo by Bruce G. Smith
On this excursion it is not too crowded, and we walk the length of it several times taking pictures and chatting with other people. The park has become a favorite location for photographers to practice their skills, but today most of the visitors are locals enjoying a break from the summer rains.

A large family group is a head of us, and we choose to skip the dock. Instead we take a spur that leads to the parking lot and playground. Usually connecting spurs don’t provide much in the way of wildlife, but at Lettuce Lake this is not true.

Bull Frog at Corner of Spur and Main Trail, Photo by Bruce G. Smith
We see as much wildlife along the spur as we see along the main boardwalk. Birds, baby alligators, snakes and spiders abound along the walkway. Once I encountered otters swimming under the spur’s boardwalk. That was a pleasant surprise.

Lettuce Lake is a great place to spend a couple of hours outside enjoying wildlife and nature. On some weekends it gets crowded especially if all the picnic pavilions are rented and in use.

This trip occurred on a Saturday afternoon in late summer. We received lots of rain this season, and the water levels were high with some parts of the park flooded. It was not crowded, and very relaxing. It’s a great place for visitors with a busy schedule to get a taste of Florida wetlands and wildlife. 

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