Highlands Hammock State Park: Making a Difference
By: Kyle Grammatica
Have you ever wondered what your neighborhood used to look like? If so, take a trip to Highlands Hammock State Park and walk through history. This beautiful park lets you experience the natural wonder of Florida and is a great reminder of how successful grassroots conservation movements can be.
The History of Highlands Hammock
The idea to preserve Highlands Hammock first came from Dr. F. H. Newell from the U.S. Department of the Interior. He published a letter in 1928 stating that he would like to see the area preserved for Florida’s citizens and winter tourists. Around the same time, locals began to raise money to purchase the land in order to protect it from expanding farmland. In 1930 the area was unfortunately not accepted as a national park, as it was too small. The fate of the land was in limbo, before philanthropists Margaret Shippen Roebling and her husband John donated $25,000 to its preservation. The Roebling family also issued a challenge to the locals: raise $5,000 to help buy the land. Despite the Great Depression, but the devoted citizens met the challenge. The Roeblings contributed another $25,000 and the property was officially purchased.
Highlands Hammock Park first opened in March 1931 and became one of the original four Florida State Parks when the Florida State Park System was established in 1935. During the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a part of the New Deal. One of the projects that the Florida CCC worked on was the construction of a botanical garden next to Highlands Hammock. In 1941 the CCC camp closed and the park and garden area were merged. The Park now has a museum dedicated to the Florida Civilian Conservation Corps hosted in a building that was built by the CCC.
The park has nine nature trails and a boardwalk that takes visitors through a cypress swamp. There is also a camping ground with water and electricity access. For the more daring visitors, there is a primitive camping area with no electricity or running water. An amphitheater is available for use for weddings and other special occasions.
Highlands Hammock is part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Guests can see red shouldered hawks, pileated woodpeckers, and barred owls. You may also catch glimpses of the endangered Florida scrub jay and seasonal birds like warblers and swallow-tailed kites. Other animals that might catch your eyes are alligators, black bears, gopher tortoises, and even Florida panthers. One of the most popular attractions is an alligator tram tour that lets you get a great view of alligators in their natural habitat. The tram tours were started by Carol Beck, the first Florida Park Service Naturalist and have been run ever since.
The story of Highlands Hammock shows that regular citizens can work together and conserve the nature that they love. To support the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, donate here.