(We visited this area July 12, 2012.)
What do native Floridians in the center of the state who love our natural environment do in the middle of summer when it’s hot and steamy outdoors? Why, we go further south, of course, where it’s hotter and steamier!
My wonderful wife has always been up for an adventure and this day was no different. We headed toward the Gulf coast, travelling through phosphate mining towns and large agricultural areas. Our destination was an impromptu decision made the night before when we discovered our “Plan A” area was temporarily closed due to alligator nesting. Instead, we visited the Fred C. Babcock-Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area (WMA) near Punta Gorda.
During the drive toward our target, we encountered a reminder that Florida has a rich history of cattle ranching. The specimens we saw bear little resemblance to the wild and rangy scrub cattle which were remnants of Spanish herds from 500 years ago. The scrub cattle and the breeds that followed resulted in the state becoming the largest producer of beef cattle for decades after the Civil War.
Punta Gorda was established in the late 1800’s and has a long history as a fishing community. Perched on Charlotte Harbor where the Peace River flows into the Gulf of Mexico it’s a prime area for fishermen, explorers, commerce and quiet living. A fire destroyed the town just after the turn of the 20th century. New buildings had to meet strict fire codes after that and no wooden structures were allowed downtown. Shortly after the turn of the 21st century, disaster struck again, this time in the form of Hurricane Charley, a category four storm which caused widespread damage across Florida but was especially hard on Punta Gorda. Again, the town began to rebuild and today it is a beautiful place to visit and to live.
Babcock-Webb WMA consists of over 65,000 acres of pine flatwoods, hammocks, cypress strands and freshwater marshes. Our kind of place! We spent a little while poking around the shoreline of Lake Webb and were treated to a fishing, bathing, posing display by an Osprey. The lake surface reflected building storm clouds which materialized into a downpour before our visit was over. There are not a lot of flowers in bloom this time of year which, I guess, makes the ones which are all the more special. We found the lovely pink Sabatia, a member of the Gentian family to be plentiful around the lake. Yellow-buttons and Beggar-ticks were in profusion along a pine flatwoods trail bordering a marshy area. Butterflies, honeybees and a host of other insects were busy at this banquet table. The rain started as a few drops then stopped, as if warning us there was more to come. As the downpour started in earnest, we found ourselves in a section of pine forest and palmetto scrub. There was no wind, just the warm water coming straight down through the pines. A White-tailed doe with her fawn didn’t let the rain stop them from munching and she gave us a wary look but decided we weren’t a threat.
It was a good day.
In the spirit of exploration, we sampled the fare at a small seafood place operated by a former commercial fisherman and his wife. We suspected we were at the right place when we saw the large chalkboard announcing fresh mullet and a special on blue crabs. Upon entering the place, patrons were busy reaching into buckets (yes, buckets) to retrieve a garlicky, spicy crab and attacking the claws with small mallets. We opted for fresh steamed shrimp and a generous grouper filet. We shall return!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit.
See additional images in “Punta Gorda” in the Gallery.