Spanning over 60,000 acres, the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) encompasses a critical watershed on a vast scale.
Several agencies are involved in management, including the CREW Land and Water Trust, Florida Audubon, and South Florida Water Management District.
CREW focuses on providing a habitat for a multitude of native species, recharge of the aquifer, filtering impurities, and flood control.
Recreation is a key component, with Flint Pen Strand providing five trails to choose from at one of the easiest to access destinations for residents and visitors.
Tied to the hydroperiod of the Big Cypress Swamp, trail conditions change dramatically throughout the year in the pine flatwoods, prairies, swamps, and strands found in this vast landscape.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Bonita Springs
Length: 13.4 miles in 5 trails (Red, Yellow, Orange, Purple). 1.5 mile Red Trail described.
Trailhead: 26.333780, -81.690867
Address: 15970 Bonita Beach SE, Bonita Springs, FL 34135
Fees: Free, donations accepted
Restrooms: Portable restroom at trailhead
Land manager: South Florida Water Management District
Open one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset. Dogs are allowed on a leash.
From Interstate 75 in Bonita Springs, head east on Bonita Beach Rd SE for 2.6 miles. Continue eastward at the traffic circle, staying on Bonita Beach Rd SE for another mile, and the trailhead is located on the left side of the road.
Reached by three trailheads off Bonita Beach Rd, the trails of Flint Pen Strand offer a variety of habitats to traverse. Two start at the Main trailhead.
The Yellow Trail (5.9 miles in two parts) and the Red Trail (1.5 miles, detailed below) are loops. The Yellow Trail is open to equestrians.
Accessible from the those trails or from Pinewoods trailhead are the 2.9-mile Orange Trail loop and the 3.1-mile linear Purple Trail.
The Lakes trailhead at the end of Bonita Beach Rd also provides access to those trails as well as the “Lakes,” a series of borrow pits that make a great birding destination.
The Purple Trail heads east through swampy terrain to Bird Rookery Swamp in Corkscrew Strand, connecting to the 7.7 mile loop within the strand.
It is possible to hike a 7-mile linear trek between Flint Pen Strand and Bird Rookery Swamp using the lower end of that loop and a car at each trailhead.
Starting at the Main trailhead for the Red Trail, be sure to look at the kiosk for information about the property and pick up a map if needed.
Passing through a gap in the fence, a bench sits next to a well-maintained path bordered by plumes of golden grass.
Palmettos grow in clusters on the grassy forest floor alongside wax myrtles, grapevines, and passionflowers.
Leaving the pines at 0.2 miles, the trail enters a wide-open area before crossing an intersection with the yellow-blazed equestrian trail.
To the west, pillars of tall, bone-white tree remnants rise from the horizon in stark contrast from the otherwise lush green landscape.
These are remains of the highly invasive and ecologically disruptive melaleuca tree, the removal of which is part of an ongoing habitat restoration project.
At 0.6 mile, the trail enters a small hammock of live oaks and cabbage palms. Ferns carpet the richer soils here, prospering under the shady canopy.
After crossing an old manmade ditch, the path takes sharp turn to the right, meandering towards the Kehl canal.
The trail turns right in a tenth of a mile, following the canal eastward although the water is not visible through the dense shrubs bordering the trail.
Thudding and the laughter-like calls of pileated woodpeckers echo through the forest as they search for a meal in the treetops above.
Reaching one mile, the trail takes a turn to follow alongside the canal. It is common to see anhingas, cormorants, herons, and ibis perched in trees and on the banks of this linear waterway.
Pay close attention to the trail markers here when the forest is flooded to avoid slipping into the deeper water.
Continue following red blazed posts as the trail bends southward, completing the loop in a half mile.
More trails in the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed
CREW Bird Rookery Swamp
Rich with wildlife, CREW Bird Rookery Swamp near Naples provides up to 12 miles of hiking/biking in Big Cypress habitats on tramways through a primordial swamp
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Weaving beneath a canopy knit by old-growth cypress trees in a majestic swamp forest, the boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is one of Florida’s best hikes
CREW Cypress Dome Trails
On this 4.4 mile loop, experience an impressive array of habitats in Florida panther habitat – from sandy flatwoods to flooded cypress swamps – in the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed.
CREW Marsh Trails
At CREW Marsh, a network of well-marked paths crisscrosses the northwestern tip of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, providing loops of up to 3.1 miles along a vast marsh.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Barefoot Beach Preserve
In a hidden corner of Collier County, Barefoot Beach Preserve provides immersion in nature at a beauty spot along two miles of natural shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico just north of Wiggins Pass.
Koreshan State Park
When Dr. Cyrus Teed founded a commune along the banks of the Estero River in 1894, he envisioned a utopia in the tropics. Koreshan State Park preserves that slice of history.
Estero Bay Preserve State Park
Providing a buffer between the heavily developed Gulf Coast between Fort Myers and Estero and the delicate estuaries that serve as nurseries for the aquatic life of the region, Estero Bay Preserve State Park encompasses ten miles of shoreline along Estero Bay.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
Swift tides rolling through Wiggins Pass define the northernmost beach of Naples, a spread of sun-drenched sand at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park within sight of a line of condos that stretch southward.