I’ve been a visitor of George C. McGough Nature Park for years, and have used its paths for a number of short runs, including the Turtle Trot 5K race held annually to benefit the park. It’s a lovely area full of old- and new-growth flora and lots and lots of fauna, such as wading birds, woodpeckers, fish, bunnies, squirrels, snakes and, prompting the park’s “Turtle Park” nickname, a healthy population of turtles and tortoises. Additionally, park volunteers have rescued and rehabilitated a number of wild birds, a few of which, with injuries that prohibit their return to the wild, have become permanent residents of McGough Park and can be viewed in their spacious enclosures.
The John R. Bonner Nature Park is located a few blocks away from McGough Park. Playing host to a large and diverse number of migratory birds, Bonner Park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. In addition to dense forest sections, the park also provides picnic and playground areas.
Note that these parks reside within one of the most densely populated and developed counties in Florida. Outside of well-manicured lawns and roadways, it’s hard to find much greenspace where I live. Even harder to find good trails to run. So, faced with a 6-mile training run on a hot, sunny day a few weeks ago, I opted to enjoy the shade of the parks and run a route that incorporated both parks and the residential neighborhood between them.
I began in McGough Park, which features paths and trails composed of asphalt, wooden boardwalk, hard-packed dirt, and loose gravel.
Staff and volunteers do an incredible job of keeping the paths clear and free of litter. Two pedestrians can comfortably walk/run side-by-side or pass freely on the paths, while the boardwalk sections are a bit tight for more than one person at a time.
One of the things I love most about this park is the sheer variety of plant life in such a small space. Starting at the front of the park, I ran amongst tall, old-growth pine and oak trees, which gave way to ground-hugging saw palmettos as I made my way toward the back of the park. At its far side, McGough ends at the Intracoastal Waterway, which separates the mainland from the barrier islands. There, on the west side of the boardwalk paths, the landscape changes to mangrove swamp and any number of crabs, fish, and wading birds can be seen swimming or fishing amidst the roots.
|Just a few slithery creatures one might encounter at McGough.|
Heading back to the park’s entrance, the path turned to asphalt and led me to the parking lot, from which I exited and ran up and down several streets between McGough and Bonner Park. I learned a few things on those streets:
- They are not particularly shaded. And I did not wear sunscreen. Oops.
- We have hills in Coastal Florida. More accurately, we have a bluff. And it runs through that neighborhood. I wasn’t planning to run hills that day. Oops. Again.
I knew from my Turtle Trot experiences (the race goes through both parks) that Bonner Park boasts an actual, unpaved, single-track trail that snakes through a small, lush corner of the park. The Turtle Trot 5K takes place in early May – a typically dry month following a cool to sometimes cold, dry winter. In mid-October, following an exceptionally rainy summer, that section felt deep, damp and far removed from the congested civilization surrounding it.
Several bridges have been built to cross over small, babbling brooks, but there were places, too, where water trickled freely over knotted roots and rocks that littered the trail. The landscape inclines and drops steeply through the trees, turning sharply around giant old oaks, and thick ground vegetation had spread out into the trail. Theoretically, the trail eventually curves around to a second entrance/exit in the park, but when the vines that looked eerily like poison ivy become so thick that they crossed the entire trail, I backtracked my way out to where I’d first entered.
I made my way through a section of well-maintained asphalt paths in Bonner, where I saw a few woodpeckers hard at work, then headed back out through the neighborhood for a final loop through McGough Park.
I absolutely looooved this run. It was hot and felt entirely too much like summer for, you know, fall… but I’m finding that my favorite runs are in natural settings.
|Trails make V happy.|
I’m looking forward to a repeat visit to Bonner and McGough in the future, not least of all because I can end my run with these guys…
|The famous McGough turtles.|
|Meet Matilda, the rescued owl.|
|And Shay, the Red-Shouldered Hawk.|