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East County Friday, Feb. 22, 2019 3 months ago

The Ranch Outdoors

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Most of the country may still be shoveling snow, but here at The Ranch we’re reveling in perfect weather and a wealth of green space, while unintentionally playing on private playgrounds.
by: Columnist Columnist

By Gabriel Jiva

Most of the year, it’s too hot in Lakewood Ranch. Or — maybe — too humid. Whichever it is, during the Florida summer of May through October, unless we’re going to the beach, I avoid outside like the plague. 

This is, of course, the much-preferred cost we pay for not having to shovel snow or endure months of bleakness and layers. And we can still can go outside in the summer, if we mentally and deodorantly prepare for the instant all-encompassing sweat from merely standing outside for more than five minutes.

During the buffer months of November and December we have nicer weather on the whole, but it bounces between warm and cool quite a bit as it settles into the cool months, so it’s not reliably nice out there. Some years, Christmas is a pleasant 70 degrees, while others it’s a balmy 85. April is the other side of that buffer, as the weather warms up again.

January, February and March though — that’s Lakewood Ranch weather. It’s rarely too warm, and if it gets too cold, you just run or hike or climb harder. It’s during these months that my 4-year-old and I take full advantage of “the nature.” 

Before moving to Lakewood Ranch, I thought of it as suburbia — and it is suburbia. But living here, I’ve grown to appreciate the sheer amount of green space left undisturbed.

One of our favorite things to do is to hike from the back of Summerfield Glades, through the Heron’s Nest Nature Preserve, to Greenbrook Adventure Park, and back. The park is great for kids, and there are big fields to run on, so it’s a good destination. The walk to and from it is beautiful, and rarely dull. On cool mornings, a fog forms over the lakes, and the wooded trails feel almost surreal — like something out of Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow.” There are usually people walking their dogs, but we’ve also seen deer, a gator in the pond by the park, and once, a diamond-back rattlesnake. I’m hoping to spot a bobcat one of these days. One should always have a watchful eye for critters, and use sound judgment.

Nearer to our house, there is a trail that we love almost as much. It runs between our neighborhood and the one south of us, curves by a lake, then over a picturesque bridge, through a tree canopy in a small patch of woods. It makes its way past our neighborhood and continues between two lakes to another larger forest. 

New Year’s Eve 2017, we were following it as we’d done a few times before, but instead of going into the forest, we took a left to go near a river on the edge of another neighborhood. A little farther, we got to a clearing in the woods, which we had been to before. On our earlier visit, it had looked like something out of a horror movie: a dilapidated playset, with a rusted over swing set, an overgrown seesaw and a broken bench. It was equal parts scary and fascinating.

This time though, to our surprise, the lovely people at Town Hall had renovated the park. In place of the dilapidated playset, there was a new big and colorful one. There was a set of small tree stumps in a circle, and they’d cleaned the whole park, including the railings on the river edge. My kid enjoyed climbing all over the playground and swinging. We were excited to have rediscovered this hidden and, now polished gem so close to our house. 

But then, a man — a long stone throw away — interrupted our merriment asking what we were doing. As it turned out, this was not a town park, but his private property (gulp). Turns out we had veered off the trail, and into his enormous backyard, which backed up to the river. Embarrassed, I apologized before we tucked our tails and headed home to celebrate the New Year. This New Year’s Eve, we stuck to the forest, and still had a blast. 

Throughout the cooler Florida months, we make that hike quite a bit, trying to find interesting new trails, and visit the parks, including the great new one at Benderson Park. We do our best to stay off private property now. But you never forget your first (unintended) trespassing experience.

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