My most recent hike was by far one of the shortest and one of the least eventful hikes to date. But it was also one of the most exciting, simply because it promised great things to come.

It was early on a Tuesday that I made my way to the Werner Boyce Salt Springs State Park in Port Richey. I had done a little research and found that the park offered a short hiking trail of just half a mile. The weather forecast said it was definitely going to rain, but I figured I would chance it, and, if the worst happened, I would be, at most, half a mile from my car.

As it turned out, the weather was perfect that day and the half mile loop trail I found myself on was even better. You might easily miss Werner Boyce State Park if you did not know it was there. Located just off U.S. 19 in Port Richey, the start of the trail can be found on Cinema Drive where a small sign and a modest parking lot are the only evidence of the park.

The hike itself is easy going with firm clearly defined pathways, which are simple to follow. It is also remarkably varied for such a short trail, passing through five distinct habitats, including marsh, pine flatwood and baygall.

Initially the trail led through open areas lined with palmetto and alive with the sounds of small creatures. It quickly entered a forest made up of pine, palm, oak, orange and various other trees, all striving upwards to compete for sunlight. This created a very unique canopy, and, even though I could hear the faint sound of traffic from 19, the forest appeared to be in the middle of nowhere.

Every inch of my short walk took me through areas that seemed vibrant and positively alive. The pathway barely entered the dense woods and glancing through the trees, beyond the path and out of reach, I could see nature at work without the interference of man. The forest looked ancient and untouched and alive.

As the path before me curved back around towards the parking lot, I must admit was a little disappointed, though not surprised, to have seen nothing larger than a lizard. The trail was indeed enjoyable, but it seemed to me that the signs of encroaching civilization were just too evident.

Coming 'round the final bend I came upon that most indifferent of Florida’s natives, the gopher tortoise. The young tortoise seemed to pay as little attention to me as he did to the sounds of traffic in the distance as he made his way along the sandy path in search of food.

I returned to my car pleasantly surprised and filled with a sense that I had barely scratched the surface of Werner Boyce State Park. The park covers an area of over 4,000 acres and I had seen just a fraction of this. The parking lot and the trail were simply the initial phase in a bigger plan to allow access to the interior of this relatively unknown and unseen state park.

I was delighted to learn that that work is currently taking place to further enhance this unspoiled area of natural beauty. A new entrance will be opening near Ridge Road later in 2011 with additional facilities available for visitors. These are expected to include a canoe lanch, picnic areas, a ranger station and more hiking trails. At which point I will be returning to explore deeper in to this unsung and unspoiled state park.

Access to Werner Boyce Salt Springs State Park can currently be found on Cinema Drive off U.S. 19 in Port Richey. The hiking trail is open from 8 a.m. to sunset each day.    

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