Bell Creek Preserve

Published on: August 7, 2019

Bell Creek Preserve provides natural fun for hikers, birders

By YVETTE C. HAMMETT

Florida’s golden asters grow at Bell Creek Nature Preserve, a popular spot for hiking and birding, even in the summer months.
Photo from Hillsborough County

Even on these sweltering days of Florida summer, local families often find their way to Bell Creek Preserve to take advantage of its free hiking and wildlife watching opportunities.

Now, individuals and families can get even more involved through a new program called Trail Cats, designed to get volunteers to maintain county trails.
Bell Creek Preserve, on McMullen Road in Riverview, contains six miles of hiking trails and plenty of opportunity for volunteers eager to pitch in. Anyone interested in Trail Cats can contact Chris Kiddy, program manager for Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation, at 813-672-7876. Volunteer work could take place at any of Hillsborough County’s environmental lands.
In the meantime, families are still turning out at the over 400-acre preserve to enjoy its free amenities. “We see a lot of families, mostly from the surrounding neighborhoods,” said Danielle Ivey, coordinator for Environmental Lands Management for Hillsborough County. The county maintains an office at the preserve for its Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program or ELAPP.

The red line enotes the North Loop (2.7 miles long); the yellow line follows Yellow Spur (.9 miles, one way); the blue dotted line is Blue Loop (1.4 miles)

The Riverview High cross-country track team uses the trails, which are close to campus, and there is plenty of neighborhood traffic. “We get a steady stream,” Ivey said. “We get a lot of families.” A lot of people come to walk the trails and bring their dogs, which is fine as long as they are on leashes. “That is for the protection of people but also for the wildlife and to protect your dog,” Ivey said.
She explained that there is a mixed bag on what to see on the trails. It is a combination of pine flatwoods, which tend to be shaded, and open scrub habitat. During the summer, it is best to hit the trails early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The preserve closes at sundown.
Ivey said the county is doing some restoration on a part of the preserve that has historically been used for cattle pasture. Long-leaf pine trees and some herbaceous plants and native grasses have been planted. The restoration is visible from the trails.
For bird life, hikers may see cardinals, Eastern bluebirds, migratory great-crested flycatchers and sandhill cranes. “You’ll also get pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers,” Ivey added.
The really lucky hikers might get a glimpse of a bobcat from a distance. “The county staff sees them, but not often, as they are elusive. There are also squirrels and raccoons, like there would be at any urban preserve,” she said.
Bell Creek Preserve is just one of dozens of conservation lands purchased through ELAPP, a taxpayer-funded program to purchase and manage environmentally sensitive lands. It is one of the more popular spots for the public, Ivey said.
In all, the ELAPP program includes management of more than 61,000 acres of environmentally sensitive wildlife habitat and corridors acquired through the program.
Management responsibilities include
Prescribed burning;
Invasive species control;
Wildlife inventory;
Trail maintenance;
Feral animal control;
Habitat improvements for endangered and threatened species of plants and animals.

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