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Looking for a new outdoor adventure? We have the top hiking spots to enjoy our amazing Treasure Coast Florida landscape.

It’s hard to resist getting outside, especially here on the Treasure Coast. For some, local nature trails are a quick and convenient way to work in exercise while enjoying Florida’s great outdoors. For others, they’re a great way to escape the rush of work-life and experience the wild side of Florida. Below are five of our favorite nature trails in the area. Lace-up your walking shoes, grab a friend, and head outside!

Kiplinger Nature Preserve

Conveniently located south of Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, the Kiplinger Nature Preserve showcases the diversity of South Florida’s ecosystems in a one-mile loop. Walkers and runners of the trail may come across sandhill cranes, blue herons, tortoises, and other animals. The preserve’s proximity to the South Fork of the St. Lucie River means that people on the trail will also get up close to mangrove forests, wet prairies, and estuaries.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Whether hikers are there to see the diverse ecosystems that call this park home or to learn about the land’s role in Florida’s early history, they’ll find something to enjoy at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Four major trail systems wind their way throughout this socially significant state park, the shortest being the White Trail to Kitching Creek at .3 miles, and the longest being the ocean to lake trail at 9.4 miles. Each trail has plenty of breakaways, so guests can take time to climb Hobe Mountain for amazing panoramic views, search out the remains of Camp Murphy and learn about the land’s role in WWII, or even take time to kayak and paddleboard down the Loxahatchee River.

Savannas Preserve State Park

A variety of trails encompass the 6,800 acres that this park covers. Those who are looking for a gentle hike to enjoy the fresh air with younger kids would do to take one of the hikes that start at the Education Center. Whether taking the Gopher Tortoise Trail or the Glass Lizard Trail, eagle-eyed walkers are likely to see some of South Florida’s magnificent bird species along the way. Anyone looking for something more strenuous would do well to try one of the North End Nature Trails. Cutting through pine flatwoods and basin marsh, the four trails that make up this part of Savannas Preserve State Park’s trail system offer a total of nine miles of walking one way. Furthermore, perceptive hikers might spot the rare scrub jay or gopher tortoise along the way.

LCpl. Justin Wilson Memorial Park

Named after a local marine who died while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, the LCpl. Justin Wilson Memorial Park has become a centerpiece of Palm City. Children gather on its playground, friends, and neighbors share good times on its tennis courts, and a short trail that supports the wetland environment that it runs by. Ospreys build their nests here, and rabbits have been sighted running through the scrubland. Visitors to the park have also reported sighting water lilies blooming come springtime.

The Trails at Harbour Ridge

One of the best trail systems in Palm City is located within Harbour Ridge, a private waterfront community. The unique location is near some of South Florida’s natural landmarks and includes the St. Lucie River, allowing for residents to experience the animals and plants that makeup Florida’s wildlife in their neighborhoods, and sometimes even in their own backyards. Furthermore, the trails that wind through Harbour Ridge make for a great way to work a run or a walk into a busy schedule. Whether you prefer to fly solo or want to enjoy walking with your friends, the trails at Harbour Ridge are the perfect way to do such.

The residents of South Florida are used to living right by nature. No one blinks an eye when egrets show up in the backyard, or a deer is sighted on an early morning run. In fact, these encounters are encouraged, and even coveted by those who enjoy the great outdoors and everything that it has to offer. That’s what makes Harbour Ridge Palm City the perfect fit for those who want to live as close to nature as they possibly can.

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Golfers at Harbour Ridge Yacht & Country Club have more incentive than most to “keep it in the fairways.”

Some of the holes at the course in St. Lucie County north of Palm City are bordered by wetlands, and folks at Harbour Ridge take protecting their wetlands very seriously.

“You stay out of the wetlands, even if your ball goes in there,” said Tim Cann, director of greens and ground maintenance at the club. “You take a drop instead. And the worst thing a golfer wants is another stroke on his scorecard.”

As one of eight Treasure Coast golf courses certified by Audubon International’s Cooperative Sanctuary Program, Harbour Ridge cares about more than wetlands.

To be certified, a course has to meet strict standards in wildlife and habitat management, pest control, water conservation and water quality.

Despite news in early February that construction of a golf club partially owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan near Hobe Sound was polluting the South Fork of the St. Lucie River, courses generally are good environmental stewards, said Edie Widder, lead scientist and founder of the Ocean Research & Conservation Association in Fort Pierce.

ORCA developed a map showing “hot spots” of nutrients flowing into the Indian River Lagoon around Vero Beach. The areas around two Audubon-certified courses — Vero Beach Country Club and The Moorings Yacht & Country Club — are surprisingly “cool.”

“Yeah, we were pretty surprised, given that we assumed golf courses use a lot of fertilizer,” Widder said.

Harbour Ridge

As part of the guidelines to be certified in Audubon International’s Cooperative Sanctuary Program, all property and golf courses sit at least 75 feet away from the St. Lucie River. Harbour Ridge Yacht & Country Club in St. Lucie County has been certified with Audubon’s program since 2000, at the time just the 31st golf course to gain that certification in Florida. (Photo: LEAH VOSS/TCPALM)

Spoon feeding’

Turns out over-fertilizing isn’t just bad for the environment, it’s bad for golf courses, said Craig Weyandt, course superintendent at The Moorings.

“The role of a golf course superintendent is to maintain the turf and to keep it healthy, not to grow grass,” he said. “Feed turfgrass too much nitrogen, for example, and it depletes the carbohydrate reserves in the plant. It would be like a doctor making a patient sick.”

Over-fertilizing also forces a plant to grow, which to a golf course looking to stay both green and in the black means more mowing, more work and wasting more fuel.

Cann refers to it as “spoon feeding” nutrients.

“Before we use any fertilizer we test our soil to see what it needs,” he said. “Most homeowners don’t do that. They run out to Home Depot or Lowe’s and buy fertilizer that their soil may not need. By testing our soil, it’s very uncommon for us to put any phosphorus out. We just don’t need it.”

Pesticides at Audubon-certified golf courses are “spoon fed,” as well.

“Yes, golf courses use pesticides, the same way you take medicine when you get a cold or flu,” Weyandt said. “The difference is that today’s pesticides are host specific, meaning that there is not one pill to cure all ailments.”

Problems are treated on a spot-by-spot basis, he added, “not acre-by-acre.”

The first line of defense against pests at Harbour Ridge is “biological,” Cann said: good critters that eat bad critters.

When pesticides are used, they’re spot-treated using battery-operated tanks instead of broadcast sprayers. And they’re never used within 25 feet of lakes or wetlands.

Water hazards

When fairways and greens are lush in the middle of South Florida’s dry season, you know they’re using a lot of water.

But not as much as you might think, Cann said.

“Our water use has been diminished significantly over the past few years by technology,” he said.

The course has a computer-run irrigation system to prevent over-watering and switches that automatically shut down sprinklers when it rains.

“The automatic shutoff when it rains may be the biggest water saver,” Cann said. “The worst thing for me to see is the water running when it’s raining.”

The primary source for irrigation at Harbour Ridge is treated wastewater generated throughout the property. As a secondary source, Harbour Ridge has an agreement with the South Florida Water Management District to draw water out of the nearby C-23 Canal.

It’s a mutually beneficial relationship: The canal drains farmland in western Martin and St. Lucie counties, so it’s laden with nutrients and pollutants that, if not diverted to Harbour Ridge, would end up in the St. Lucie River.

Besides being used for irrigation, the canal water diverted to Harbour Ridge is sent to lakes and wetlands. Filtered by turf and nutrient-hungry aquatic plants, any water that leaves the property is cleaned before it enters the river.

Going natural

A lake tucked away from the Harbour Ridge golf course is home to a rookery for several species of birds, including cormorants, anhingas and egrets. Clumps of algae can be seen in the lake shallows, but Cann doesn’t rush to grab a bunch of chemicals to get rid of the green goo.

“Here, the algae is a part of the natural system,” he said.

If the algae was to get out of hand and threaten to take over the lake, Cann and his staff might install “bubblers” to aerate the water and cut back the algae naturally.

Most water hazards on the course and lakes throughout the community are lined with native plants such as pickerel weed to help suck up any nutrients that might run off the ground and keep the water clean.

“Good golf courses don’t poison their ponds,” Widder said. “They keep them clean naturally.”

Harbour ridge

Robert Coleman, an operator at Harbour Ridge Yacht & Country Club, helps clear out invasive plants, including Brazilian pepper and grapevine, on Tuesday at the community north of Palm City in St. Lucie County. The removal of exotic invasive plant species is one of several projects Harbour Ridge maintains in order to keep their status with Audubon International’s Cooperative Sanctuary Program for golf courses. (Photo: LEAH VOSS/TCPALM)

Member buy-in

Most golf courses, even if they’re not Audubon-certified, are good stewards of the environment, said Ed Skvarch, St. Lucie County Extension Service director and commercial horticulture agent who teaches best management classes to golf course superintendents and other workers.

“In class we talk about how you don’t just throw pesticide at a bug problem and how you keep fertilizer out of the water,” Skvarch said. “I think most people take what they learn in the class and use it. Of course, some take the class just to get certified.”

Club members have to be educated about environment-friendly golf courses, too, Widder said, and not freak out at a patch of brown grass on a fairway.

“Let the people trained to maintain your golf course do their job the way they were trained,” Widder said. “You’ll get a better golf course, and we’ll all get a better lagoon.”


Eight Treasure Coast golf courses are certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses, which helps to enhance wildlife habitats and protect natural resources:

Published By: Tyler Treadway

Interactive map shows holiday lights to see around the Treasure Coast

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Especially for homeowners and businesses alike to create impressive outdoor light displays. Where are the best places to get yourself, family, and friends into the holiday spirit.

Where are the best light displays on the Treasure Coast? For a scenic “light-seeing” drive to check out bright homes on the Treasure Coast check out this holiday lights map and be sure to add yours to the list if you want to show off your work and Christmas spirit. Click on the map symbols below to get more information on each location.

Happy Holiday!