A Day of Discovery at L. Kirk Edwards Wildlife and Environmental Area
By Ben Rangel
May 1, 2021
Do you remember the first time you felt amazed by nature? Maybe it was when you found that hidden creek in the woods behind your grandparents’ backyard. Or the time you watched squirrels as they gathered acorns from the oaks lining your city’s sidewalks. Whatever the cause, we all reached a point in our lives when we discovered the world outside, when something just around the bend or underneath a rock made us go, “Wow!”
As we get older, this sense of wonder for the natural world tends to fade. Life gets in the way: we concentrate on school, work and daily life. Fortunately, there are places where we can return to that childhood awe of nature. For visitors and residents of Leon County, one such place is L. Kirk Edwards Wildlife and Environmental Area (WEA), or “L. Kirk” as those of us at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) call it.
On my first visit to L. Kirk, I was amazed that there was conservation land so close to Tallahassee.
A dirt trail goes straight into the distance, lined by tall pines on either side.
Just 15 minutes from downtown, I had only just left the city when I arrived at the WEA’s Capitola Road entrance. As I entered L. Kirk, I was immersed in nostalgia. Having grown up on Texas ranchland, I recognized what lay before me as I headed on to the trail from parking lot: an old pasture like those I wandered in my youth, one that had been cleared many years before.
As I walked further, I could see that something special was happening to this pasture. Around me the soil had been blackened by a controlled burn, and I could see the whimsical pom-poms of young longleaf pines scattered across the field. The FWC has been hard at work here, restoring this pasture into a longleaf pine forest. It is a process that can take some time but becomes more apparent every time I visit L. Kirk and see those little longleaf pines reaching higher into the sky.
There are signs everywhere on the WEA that the FWC’s controlled burning, planting, and careful land management are working. You’ll see large gopher tortoises lumbering along, munching on healthy wiregrass. Looking closely at a sandy path reveals the tracks of bobcats and white-tailed deer. And the area is a birding hotspot, where you can see everything from bobwhite quail to turkeys to ruby-crowned kinglets.
A large sinkhole filled with dark, murky water is lined by oaks and other greenery.
Following the trail markers out of the pasture, I crossed muddy puddles and walked through a hardwood forest until I came upon a sharp turn. Around the bend a large, picturesque sinkhole came into view, where oaks bowed over slowly churning water. Standing at the edge of this sink gave me sense of history. How many people had stood here, and over how many centuries? This is Wood Sink, which collects water from the area and discharges it directly into the aquifer. In the process, the water is filtered naturally, providing a clean water source for the people of Tallahassee and the surrounding area.
Two paddlers in bright red kayaks with orange lifevests create ripples in dark water as they paddle through a stand of cypress trees.
There is so much to do at L. Kirk. The boundary of the WEA stretches west to Lake Lafayette, where anglers, birders and paddlers can enjoy the Lafayette Passage Paddling Trail. The trail wanders through cypress-lined passages into the more open Pine Z Lake, where anglers will find that the fishing can be very productive and duck hunters can pursue wood ducks, teal and other game birds. I have caught many a bass here! On these lakes you can also find one of the largest wood stork colonies in North Florida, as well as large flocks of many other wading birds. So, don’t forget your binoculars!
Whichever way you choose to enjoy outdoor recreation at wildlife management areas like L. Kirk Edwards, it’s likely you’ll quickly feel a nostalgic awe for nature and the excitement of exploring. Plan your trip today and see what you can discover!