A ridgetop once surrounded by the grassy waters of the Everglades is the highest natural landform in Broward County at Pine Island Ridge Natural Area in Davie. In the uneasy years between the Second and Third Seminole War, Abiaka and his fellow tribesmen traversed the River of Grass to this ridge, returning from forays to their village on this patch of pine rocklands above the wet grasslands.
Length: 1.8 miles
Fees / Permits: although the preserve is free, if you access it via Tree Tops Park on a weekend or holiday, there is a parking fee of $1.50 per person or $8 per vehicle, whichever is less.
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: at the park office in Tree Tops Park
Public access to Pine Island Ridge Natural Area is from within Tree Tops Park off Nob Hill Road, 2.6 miles south of I-595. Follow the park road to the parking area closest to the park office.
Start your hike by walking over to the park office at Tree Tops Park to pick up a map and look at the interpretive displays regarding Abiaka and the Seminoles on Pine Island Ridge. Exiting out the back door, walk down the side stairs and turn left to follow the paved walkway. At the T intersection, turn left. The paved path loops around the back of the center under a canopy of spreading live oaks. You pass a bronze statue of Abiaka, and the sign “To Pine Island Ridge.” A paradise tree rises out of the understory of wild coffee.
Crossing a horse trail and a bridge, you come to an open gate leading into Pine Island Ridge. The paved path continues uphill into this linear park; houses crowd the edges of the greenway strip as you plunge into the cool shade of ancient live oaks swaddled in resurrection fern and epiphytes. Chunks of limestone remind you of what lies beneath your feet, the dense limestone bedrock of South Florida.
At 0.4 mile, you reach a fork. Turn right, and make a right at the T intersection. Tall slash pines crown the hill. At next T, keep right. After meandering out along the shadeless ridge, with its scattered pines, the paved path ends, becoming a jeep track stretching out to a gate in the neighborhood. Turn around and return to the hill. At the fork in the trail, keep right and climb up to the top of the hill, where the Seminole village once stood, dating back to at least 1828.
Surrounded by sawgrass prairies, three islands made up this settlement, a haven for refugees from the Second Seminole War. Abiaka proved his military mettle against the U.S. Army in the Battle of Okeechobee, December 1837. As a result, the U.S. Army both respected and feared what Abiaka would do next. On March 22, 1838, just a few months after respected Seminole leader Osceola died in prison, Lieutenant Colonel James Bankhead and Major William Lauderdale encountered the Pine Island settlement with their troops. While the Seminoles had taken defensive measures, the U.S. Army attempted to surround them on three sides, using rowboats in the deeper water and soldiers wading through the shallows. Outnumbered and outmaneuvered, Abiaka gathered up his people and vanished deeper into the Everglades, abandoning Pine Island. In later years, after the wars, Seminole refugees once again made their home on the high ridge, but the drainage of the Everglades around them forced them to move to uncontested ground.
When the pavement ends, cross the grass to the far side of the hill. At the junction of trails, go straight, and keep to the right at the next fork, following the paved path as it flows around a large slash pine. Passing a couple of jeep trails, you arrive at a small pavilion. A hiking trail leads away from it to the right.
Follow the bark chip path into woods into a thicket of wild coffee and beautyberry under the oaks. When the trail splits, keep left. Although this is disturbed land, the trail is an attempt to show you the natural undeveloped environment of Pine Island, where Abiaka and his family once lived. Gumbo limbo and red bay tower overhead. The trail winds behind houses.
At the “Loop Trail” sign, turn left and continue down the narrow path. Large bromeliads grow from the crooks in the trunk of a red bay. A bed of sword fern thrives in the shade of a live oak. As you come up to a fence line, the trail turns to the right past a coontie, perhaps the descendent of one planted by the Seminoles for starch. Passing by a papaya tree, you finish the loop. Turn left to walk back down the trail, keeping right at the fork so you emerge at the shelter. Follow the paved path back to the trail junction, and keep to the right to follow it back to the gate at Tree Tops Park.