Named after long-time residents of Bullfrog Creek, Jeanie and Pete Johnson Nature Preserve protects over 84 acres of land adjacent to Hillsborough Bay.
Portions of the property were previously used for agriculture, including a large fish farm and pine plantation.
A hiking-only loop traverses the properties’ diverse landscapes currently undergoing habitat restoration.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 1 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.839469, -82.365054
Address: 11002 Ekker Rd, Gibsonton
Land manager: Hillsborough County
Open Sunrise – Sunset. Dogs are allowed on a leash.
From Interstate 75, head west on Gibsonton Rd for 0.2 mile, then turn left onto New East Bay Rd. At a traffic circle in a quarter mile, take the second left to continue straight onto East Bay Rd. In 0.8 mile, turn right onto Symmes Rd. Turn right onto Ekker Rd in 0.7 mile, and the trailhead will be at the end of the road after a quarter mile.
Starting at the trailhead, pass through a gap in the fence, stopping first at a kiosk with information and maps on display.
The trail begins along an access road bordered by a mix of cabbage palms and oaks covered with Spanish moss.
Yellow blazes mark the path as mixed woodlands slowly transition to a dry habitat accented with slash pines.
Multiple gopher tortoise burrows border the trail, indicative of a healthy ecosystem for this keystone species.
Continue along the sandy forest road as it snakes northward through scrubby flatwoods. Shade is limited, though the trail soon enters a dense oak hammock.
Vibrant blooms of narrowleaf silkgrass border a grassy corridor alongside beautyberry and clusters of muscadine grapevines.
At a quarter mile, turn right to begin a counterclockwise loop as the trail opens to a clearing with a yellow topped post in the middle.
Entering a dense oak hammock, continue towards the north end of the property, bordering Bullfrog Creek.
The waterway is never visible from the trail, though standing water and thick vegetation suggest the proximity to a watershed.
Shade is plentiful as the trail enters a subtropical jungle of mixed oak and palm hammock.
Columns of cabbage palms lined the sides of the path, many of which still hold remainders of past fronds, commonly referred to as bootjacks.
The rich soils provide a suitable environment for terrestrial orchids to thrive, and groups of toothpetal false reinorchids proliferate on the forest floor alongside the trail.
Red maple trees reach high above the canopy, another indicator of the wet nature of this habitat.
As the trail circles back southward, it borders a power line easement that doubles as a cattle pasture, with a new neighborhood on the opposite side.
Turn right as the loop concludes at 0.8 mile, following yellow blazes for another 0.2 mile to the trailhead.
A virtual walk in the woods at Jeanie and Pete Johnson Nature Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
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Creating a 5.2 mile loop on the west side of Golden Aster Scrub Nature Preserve, the Red and Yellow Trails reveal a diversity of habitats.