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Happy trails: a wild world awaits just steps away from St. Armands.

ONLY A FEW BLOCKS AWAY FROM the busy shops of St. Armands, South Lido Park offers a world of nature with meandering trails surrounded by towering pines. Known locally as a place for family picnics, fishing and sunbathing, South Lido Park can also be a place of quiet reflection and retreat, and a convenient opportunity to experience nature in Florida.

The park is physically divided into two sections. The southern section includes a delightful nature loop that wanders through sheltered groves of Australian pines, grassy lowlands and along the beach. The trail begins among the tall pines, providing an almost mystical atmosphere. The wind through the trees drowns out all audible evidence of the hustle and bustle of close-by contemporary society, and footsteps are muffled by the layers of pine needles covering the ground. It's as though you've walked through an invisible curtain and back to a quieter time. This quiet, however, might be punctured by the shrill cry of an osprey as it sits in a dead tree with its fish dinner clutched firmly in its talons, or the staccato calls of woodpeckers as they fly from tree to tree.

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Butterflies are abundant in the grassy lowlands. Monarchs spiral aloft in groups of three or more before settling onto blooming shrubs. You're likely to see Florida buckeye butterflies hiding in the tall grass along the path or a solitary Gulf fritillary basking in the sun.

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At the end of the outward half of the southern nature loop, you can retrace your steps or take a short path through a curtain of sea oats emerging onto the shoreline. Here, herons, egrets and other wading birds are regulars as they fish in the shallow waters. The shoreline of Big Pass, artistically chiseled by the receding tides, is often adorned by the pink and purple flowers of railroad vine and wild morning glories. And always, soft breezes caress your face.

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THE NORTHERN TRAIL begins from the parking lot on Taft Drive and reflects more of "old world" Florida, with rustic trails and Indian shell mounds. This section is also the base for a self-guided canoe/kayak trail. Local establishments (try Economy Tackle, 941-924-2785, Midnight Pass Bike and Kayak, 941-346-0891, or Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures, 941-504-6296) will deliver kayaks and provide guided tours through mangrove-shrouded estuaries and grass beds where you're likely to see grazing manatees.

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The northern nature trail winds its way through a tidal swamp forest to an observation tower overlooking Brushy Bayou. The path continues through a stand of buttonwoods, emerging at Big Grassy Lagoon, where you can sit quietly and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. The mangroves surrounding Big Grassy Lagoon are home to many wading birds and woodpeckers. Taking a moment to reflect on the shallows below, one might see upside-down jellyfish as well as other jellyfish.

Both the northern and southern nature trails of South Lido Park can be explored in less than an hour. Whether your interests tend toward sunbathing, reading, picnicking, swimming, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, volleyball, horseshoes, or just a quiet respite from a busy lifestyle, South Lido Park has something waiting for you.

RELATED ARTICLE: South Lido Park Visitors' Guide

WHERE: Located at the southern tip of Lido Key at 190 Taft Drive and 2201 Ben Franklin Drive. Encompassing 100 acres, the park fronts on Sarasota Bay, Big Pass and the Gulf of Mexico. Purchased by Sarasota County in 1974, the park now includes areas for recreation as well as environmental education.

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HOURS: 7 days/week, 365/days/year FEES: None

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Anytime, especially November-April.

WHERE TO GO/WHAT TO DO: Walk on the two nature trails. The southern trail starts from the parking lot at the end of Ben Franklin Drive (20-minute walk), meandering through woods and boardwalks, returning along the beach. The northern trail starts from the parking lot on Taft Drive (30-minute walk) with observation towers, mangroves and woods.

AMENITIES: Restroom facilities, picnic areas with grills, and canoe/kayak launch. Big Pass and Gulf of Mexico beach access.

Photos and text by Pat and Gary Nebel
COPYRIGHT 2007 Clubhouse Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
Article Details
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Author:Nebel, Pat; Nebel, Gary
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:694
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