Protecting over 66 acres of sensitive ecosystems in the Orange River watershed, Hickory Swamp Preserve is a work in progress.
Purchased by Lee County in 1999, the land has undergone invasive plant management and prescribed burns to encourage growth of natural plant communities.
A loop trail traverses the preserve, crossing though a variety of habitats from mesic hammocks to scrubby flatwoods.
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Length: 1.2 mile loop
Trailhead: 26.667795, -81.737048
Address: 13320 Peace Road, Fort Myers
Land manager: Lee County
Open sunrise to sunset. No pets allowed. Active cattle grazing on property.
Exit Interstate 75 at SR 80 east of downtown Fort Myers. Drive east, taking the first right east of the interstate at Orange River Blvd. In 0.2 mile, turn left to stay on Orange River Blvd, continuing for 3.3 miles before turning right onto Higginbotham Rd. Make a left at Peace Rd in a half mile, and the preserve entrance will be on the right after 0.4 mile.
Starting at the trailhead, walk through a spring-loaded gate and look for an orange blazed metal post in the center of a wide clearing.
Follow the trail markers across this open space, entering a shaded mesic hammock on the opposite side.
A thick canopy of cabbage palms and stately live oaks provide cover for ferns and wild coffee, while countless air plants thrive on long, heavy limbs stretching over the trail.
Dried palm fronds lay across damp soils, crunching underfoot as the path leads through a subtropical jungle before emerging into a cattle pasture.
Metal posts lead the way along the edge of a field where prickly pears and paw paws flourish in abundant sunlight.
Carpets of grass give way to patches of white sand as the land becomes noticeably drier, reaching a scrubby flatwoods habitat at the southeast corner of the property.
Turning to follow a fence line for a short distance, the path then curves through a mesic flatwoods community of mixed pine, oak, saw palmetto and wax myrtles.
Continue along a corridor dotted with beautyberry bushes before the trail opens again to the cattle pasture at one mile.
The preserve allows cattle grazing, so it is not uncommon to see cows in these open areas.
Although caution is advised, these large animals typically run away when they spot hikers approaching.
Downed palms and oak trees provide natural seats to take a rest under ample shade at the edge of the pasture.
Broad palm fronds flank the trail as it winds northward through a dense palm hammock.
Pass a large cypress tree hidden among the lush greenery. In a tenth of a mile, the loop concludes at the trailhead.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.