Monday, November 19, 2012

Black Bear Wilderness

Close in to Sanford, FL is a 1650 acre area called Black Bear Wilderness.  It is along the St. Johns river in Seminole County and recently reopened after some water facility construction there.
Only a 2.8 mile walk out and back, it offers quite a lot of wildlife and proved to be exciting for my friend Walt and I early on a November Sunday.
Bromeliades overhead
The trail starts in a hydric hammock with lots of shade.  Bromeliads hang overhead in the oak trees.  Pine and palm trees line the path.  Pileated Woodpeckers fly from tree to tree overhead.  Large dark birds fly over the wetlands to either side of us.

Stream crossing
A boardwalk has been placed to cross a stream and the low area around it.  When the historic levee picks up a few yards further, the walking is dry.
Eagle Scout Project and the historic levee
We were just past this bench when Walt saw a bear running down the trail TOWARDS us.  I grabbed for my camera right as the bear saw us and turned around.  By the time my camera turned itself on, the bear was already gone from sight, cutting across the canal on the right.  Walt saw two other bears running the other way and thought this bear was just confused.  Either way, tough luck on a bear photo today.
Split Cypress Tree
It was now a quiet walk with both of us on the lookout for any other life.  A few more Eagle Scout benches lined the way, some with backs, some without.  Sitting at them would present you as a meal to the mosquitoes.  We did see quite a bit of bear scat along the trail.
One of many Cedar trees with Walt walking by
Many cedar trees rose from the levee, one was partially hollow.
Nice Trex walkway
We came to a road crossing in the wilderness.  A new deck had been built around the facility that we'll cover in a few minutes.  The walkway led to the river and canals and went over alligator flag plants.
Riverside canal 
Along the river side trail
Once we crossed the canals on the walkway, a dike picked up along side the St. Johns river and we followed it to the north for quite a ways.  We saw lots of birds along the way including a barred owl.  The canal left of us had cypress knees and algae in the water next to it.
Walt saw the otters first.  The two were playing by a tree in the canal at the end of the trail.  Once they got tired of looking at us looking at them, they slid underwater and popped up every few minutes to follow us from the canal on the way back.  Once back onto the levee we had a glimpse of another otter before it ran away.  By the way, the "End of Trail" sign is missing since Walt was here a couple weeks ago.
St. Johns river
Weekend river traffic was light today.  We found a frying pan and grill along the shore and an abandoned trash can.  They just forgot to take their trash with them.
Some kind of new facility?  In a wilderness area?
So, what kind of water facility is this anyway?  They have cameras and a speaker to yell at you with, but no one seemed to be watching.  We did see an alligator sunning itself over to the right but it was too far away for a photo.
The facility road is buried under water
The road to the facility was heavy with gravel and guardrails but it goes underwater at the bottom of the rise.  Did they not think about the water height before building it?  How do "they" build a service road through a wilderness area anyway?  My emails to the St. Johns Water Management group are still unanswered.
Turtle.  It looks like a box turtle.

An Ibis posed for us on the return trip.  

The historic levee with wetlands on both sides.
To get there, exit highway 46 at Sanford from I-4.  Drive west toward Mount Dora.  At Orange Blvd., turn right and follow one and a half miles to New York Avenue.  It comes up quick!  Follow New York Avenue to the left to where it ends at the Black Bear parking entrance and Michigan Avenue.  Go early for wildlife viewing!


  1. Very productive wildlife viewing.

  2. This was the most wildlife I've seen in one park at one time ever, in Florida. My wife is still unsure of how a bear running towards me is a good thing. In Florida I have only seen the rear end of bears running away from me. So this was a new thing, however short. My suggestion is to keep your camera ready.