Fern Forest Nature Center
Fern Forest Nature Center is located in Broward County, Florida, near the intersection of Lyons Road and Atlantic Blvd.
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In 1965, the Palm Aire Corporation purchased this and adjacent land from MacArthur Dairy for housing.
In 1978, Broward County voters passed a bond issue to purchase the acreage from Palm Aire to preserve the unique botanical quality of the site. In 1985, Fern Forest Nature Center opened its doors, after several local environmentalists worked very hard to make sure that Lyons Road and the new freeway, Florida’s Turnpike, would be routed around this very special site. Its 254 acres include 10 different plant communities, including an extensive Cypress/Maple swamp (second-growth cypress in the former main channel of Cypress Creek) and a cleared area that resembles the prairie communities that used to exist in the state. It has been designated an Urban Wilderness Area, meaning that it is both environmentally sensitive and unique.
There are 4 major hiking trails through the site, and a sensory awareness trail and garden adjacent to the parking lot.
The wildlife viewing here is excellent and diverse: loads of migrating passerines in spring and fall, wintering warblers, butterflies and dragonflies galore. Although visitors often comment on how little activity there is, I have trouble believing them. I find that there’s always something new to see, even though I’m there nearly every day. And even though I visit only at noon, I’ve seen 86 species of birds there, including 25 warblers, 8 diurnal raptors, and 5 woodpeckers.
There are four major trails at the site:
Cypress Creek (boardwalk)
The Cypress Creek Trail is a 1/2-mile boardwalk through an impressive second-growth Cypress and Maple community. A booklet can be purchased for a nominal fee at the nature center to guide visitors around the boardwalk, detailing some of the unique ecological characteristics of the site. The impressive size of several of these trees, even though somewhat “pruned” from the hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005, leads one to wonder just how large a true old-growth forest tree might have been.
The Prairie Overlook Trail is a 1-mile loop through a mixed Oak, Pine, Ficus, and Cabbage Palm community (actually designated as 2 distinct communities: O/P/CP and O/F/CP in the site description).
The Maple Walk, AKA the muddy walk is a 1/3 mile primitive foot trail through an almost pure maple stand, with ficus and cabbage palm in the overstory, and many wetland plants below. When the water is low enough, this is one of the most beautiful parts of the park, with dappled sunlight filtering through the canopy onto a lush forest of ferns. Unlike the more accessible Cypress Creek Trail, here you are walking on the substrate, among the ferns, instead of above them. It’s truly an incredible experience.
The Wetlands Wander runs north/south through the property along a drainage/rewatering canal, a physical reminder of the agricultural history of the site. Construction of the C-14 canal to the north between 1912 and 1926, followed by the north-south drainage ditches, lowered the water table over 6 feet, creating enough dry land to enable logging during the 1930s and 1940s, followed by farming and dairy operations.
Below is a gallery of some of the plants and animals I’ve seen on my wanders.