A New Nature Trail near Perdido Bay – The Way
Writing this series on coastal wildlife, we need to remember to discuss good locations to view these creatures as well. Most residents and visitors are familiar with the trails of our state and national parks, but may not be familiar with our newest nature trail; The Way.
The vision of Florida Master Naturalist Jerry Patee, The Way, was created with the help of many volunteers, donations, and support of the Perdido Bay United Methodist Church. It is a small trail (0.32 miles) but extends through uplands, wetlands, and coastal habitats found along the estuaries throughout the area. Many will tell you if you stop – wildlife will move – and you will see more. I have seen this while diving, paddling, and hiking; and The Way lends itself very well for this sort of hike. There are four platforms and benches along the Way to give you an opportunity to sit, relax, listen, and take in nature.
The trail begins at the north parking lot at the Perdido Bay United Methodist Church. Here you will find an information kiosk; showing a map and pictures of plants and wildlife you might encounter on the trail. The beginning of the trail is a nice boardwalk, wide enough to accommodate wheel chairs. The bridge crosses over a retention pond; though dry at times, contains many of the plants common to cypress swamps and bogs such as bald cypress, bull tongue arrowhead plant, rosy camphorweed, tenangle pipeworts, and more.
The trail then meanders northwest crossing a pitcher plant bog toward Bayou Garcon. This wetland habitat supports pond cypress, slash pine, red maple, wiregrass, fewflower milkweed and the protected white top pitcher plants to name a few.
At the northern point of the trail is at a large viewing platform along the shoreline of Bayou Garcon, a tributary of Perdido Bay. This coastal habitat is dominated by a salt marsh. The dominant plant of this marsh is the black needle rush along with the Jamaica swamp sawgrass, which acts as a nursery for many aquatic animals. Here you may encounter, fiddler crabs, marsh periwinkles, and – if you are lucky – a bald eagle soaring high above.
Winding southwest the trail leaves the estuarine area for the black and red titi bog. The trail includes hardwoods, bushes, plants and vines such as, sweet bay magnolia, swamp tupelo, slash pine, wooly blueberry, and red bay; all adapted to this unique habitat.
The last 1000’ of the loop trail is no longer a boardwalk, rather a chip trail. Those requiring the boardwalk can return the way they came. As you continue into the hardwoods, the loop trail will exit at the northwest parking lot of the church. Look for birds like woodpeckers in the dead trees along with other forms of wildlife that depend on snags for a home. When you get to the second Information Kiosk, look for the first of two bat houses. The bat boxes help support the colonization of local bats.
Frogs and toads are common and among the wide variety of wildlife you might view on different parts of the trail. Lizards, snakes, and possibly a box turtle could also be found. Mammals are harder to view, but their “sign” (tracks and scat) are evident. You might find the “digs” of the common armadillo or the tracks of a raccoon near the marsh. Birding is excellent here, especially during the spring and fall migration. Look for the year round residents such as our woodland birds, shorebirds, and raptors such as the osprey and bald eagles.
Don’t forget the fall migration of the monarch butterflies that passes through the Gulf Coast every year to join our local butterflies and moths for one of the most beautiful displays in nature.
Though not desired, there are couple of examples of invasive plant species. Chinese tallow and Japanese climbing fern can be found in a few spots. Learn to identify them and understand how they negatively impact our environment.
There are four benches along the path where hikers can sit, reflect, and observe wildlife. We encourage you to take your time will traversing the landscapes and listen to the earth around you. This is a good place to put your phone on silence for a bit – it is not a long trail and you will not be disconnected for long, it will be good for you.
The Way is located on the property of Perdido Bay United Methodist Church, 13660 Innerarity Point Road. For more information, check out their website thewayperdido.com.