Once the stomping grounds of mammoths and mastodons, an ancient lake located in what is now Sarasota filled in over time and became a large sawgrass wetlands.
When the wetlands were drained in the 1880s agriculture moved in, with celery being the most valuable crop.
The celery fields are gone, but the name remains. In 1994 Sarasota County bought over 400 acres for stormwater storage.
They divided the area into a North Cell, Central Cell, South Cell plus the Walker Tract. All have restored wetlands, with paved and unpaved trails encircling each area.
An added plus is a man-made hill that rises 55 feet. At the top, take in a panoramic view of the wetlands. It’s grand enough to make walkers gasp and runners stop to have a look.
In all, 10.3 miles of low impact multi-use trails, service trails, and sidewalks appeal to walkers, runners, mountain bikers, and dog walkers. Weekends are often crowded.
The restored wetlands are a prime stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail with 246 bird species recorded. In addition, the Audubon Nature Center at Celery Fields is located next to the parking lot.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Old Myakka
Length: 3.2 miles in two loops
Address: 6893 Palmer Blvd., Sarasota, FL 34240
Restroom: Next to parking lot
Land Manager: Sarasota County
Open 6 AM to sunset. Dogs must be leashed.
Be aware that rains have deeply eroded parts of the trail system on the hill. Use caution.
You may hear the roars of lions, tigers, and bears when it’s mealtime inside Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, located less than a half mile away.
Because of these nearby roars, Rob Dynan, a Sarasota mountain biker, christened the big hill at Celery Fields “Big Cat Mountain.”
From Interstate 75 take exit for Fruitville Road (SR 780). Head west, staying in left hand lane, for 0.8 mile to Cattleman Road light. Turn left, go 0.9 mile to the Palmer Road light. Turn left, go one mile then turn left into Celery Fields parking lot.
Starting at the parking lot turn left onto the sidewalk, use lighted crosswalk to cross Palmer Avenue. Turn right and begin walk alongside South Cell.
At 0.2 mile, on the left, is the first of two scenic overlooks. There is a large roofed area at the end.
A few minutes of quiet observing revealed a brightly plumed purple gallinule below throwing around water lettuce plants like someone rummaging through a produce bin for the best picks.
Turn left at 0.6 mile onto another dirt and grass road that parallels a drainage ditch on the right side.
This ditch often has large wading birds like great blue herons and American egrets. Often birders set up stands here.
At 1.1 miles turn left again, this time onto a short leg of the trail that leads to the sidewalk.
Turn left at the sidewalk and almost immediately encounter the second overlook with a bike stand at the entrance.
Just past this overlook, on the left, is a flat grassy berm that looks like it might cut across the wetlands to Palmer Avenue. Be advised, it does not.
Continue on the sidewalk along Raymond Road. Turn left onto Palmer Road and walk the sidewalk to the crosswalk, cross over and go to the parking lot.
Cross the parking to to kiosk at bottom of hill. Take the left hand dirt path to the top. Turn left at the top.
Almost immediately, you see a great panoramic view of the Center Cell and beyond. It’s rare in Florida to get such an elevated view.
While circling the top of the hill, notice a number of secondary paths made by walkers leading down the hill, including a very wide dirt path that is a favorite for those wanting a straight-up steep hill climb.
Stay on the loop all the way round, then descend the same way as going up. As you leave, consider visiting the Audubon Nature Center next to the parking lot. Admission is free.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
With tall waving grasses, saw palmetto, and the sound of birds, Myakka River State Park is Florida’s Big Sky country, blanketing more than 28,000 acres east of Sarasota
Most notable for its collection of more than 6,000 orchids, Marie Selby Gardens are a must-see for those who love tropical plants, especially epiphtyes. The many specialized gardens range from a children’s garden play area to succulents and cycads to a banyan grove, mangrove walkway, and tropical fruit and medicinal gardens.
At Spanish Point, scents hang heavy in the morning air: a moonflower in the act of closing for the day, the sweetness of citrus blossoms, the purple morning-glory clambering over mangroves, the brush of salt breezes.