At Chinsegut WEA, the Conservation Center Tract is a birder’s delight. On a hike there with my parents, we saw at least two different pileated woodpeckers, and could hear sandhill cranes in the distance. The volunteer caretaking the nature center said that the sandhill cranes commonly gather in flocks here. The major loop trail on this tract circles May’s Prairie for 2 miles.
Also, for a short historic stroll adjoining the nature center, an interpretive loop circles the remains of the late 1800s Bishop Homestead. There are restrooms and picnic tables at the nature center, which is only open Friday and Saturday, 8 AM – 2 PM. Access to the tract at other times is via the Prairies to Pines Connector from the southeast edge of the preserve.
Length: Up to 2 miles
Lat-Lon: 28.609986, -82.359181 (Prairie-to-Pines trailhead) 28.630981, -82.353800 (Conservation Center)
Type: loop with spurs, shortcuts, and connection to larger trail system
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Bug factor: Low to moderate
Open sunrise to sunset. Limited access from Conservation Center trailhead.
Both tracts of the Chinsegut Wildlife & Environmental Area lie between Floral City and Brooksville off US 41, south of the Withlacoochee State Forest headquarters and 7 miles north of Brooksville. To reach the main entrance to the Nature Center Tract, driving south on US 41, turn right onto CR 476. After a mile or so, the entrance will be on your left, and is only open Fridays and Saturdays 8 AM – 2 PM. For the secondary entrance to this tract, turn right off US 41 onto Snow Memorial Highway; the Prairie-to-Pines trailhead is immediately on the right.
To get to the Conservation Center Tract, you can hike there (via the Prairie to Pines Connector) or drive to one of two trailheads. The Conservation Center trailhead has limited hours – Friday and Saturdays from 10-2 – but the Prairie to Pines Trailhead along Snow Memorial Highway is open all the time.
We drove to the nature center on a Saturday morning and headed down along the 2-mile Nature Center Loop, an interpretive trail with benches along the way. The trail circles May’s Prairie, a large open prairie, and is primary a forest road through a variety of habitats, including sandhill and hardwood hammock. Many of the pines along the trail have large catfaces, sometimes on both sides of the tree.
The gem of this walk is the 0.3-mile Cypress Walk, a connector at the north end of the prairie. It’s a boardwalk that winds through a cypress swamp, with a spur to an observation deck along the prairie’s edge, and a trail that continues through lush hammocks dense with saw palmetto and ferns. Watch for the side trail to a sinkhole!