September 2014: Colt Creek State Park

Lakeland, Florida

Charlie Mac Overstreet began raising beef cattle on this land in the 1930s. More than 1,200 acres of pastureland here grazed a herd of some 1,000 head. After the State bought over 5,000 acres of the Overstreet ranch in 2006 the remaining cattle were driven from the property. Colt Creek became Florida’s 160th state park and one of five management units of the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve. Second only to the Everglades in wildlife abundance in Florida, the headwaters of the Peace River, Withlacoochee River, Ocklawaha River, and Hillsborough River course through the Green Swamp. Colt Creek is one of the many tributaries that create this hydrological treasure.  

Colt Creek is the park to head to for big, solitary hikes with your dog. There are over 12 miles of trails here, mostly on wide, grassy road-trails tripping through airy pine flatwoods. The star walk is the multi-hour excursion on the Orange Trail loop that is the only route accessed from the park trailheads. From there you can simply point your dog down the orange blazes or craft a canine hiking day with blue-blazed side trails and cut-offs. Most of your dog’s time will be spent with the saw palmetto and longleaf pines but the trails also touch on the expanses of heritage pastureland where your trail dog can channel his inner cattle dog. Don’t overlook the short Nature Trail near Mac Lake which wanders through a hardwood hammock with the park’s thickest concentration of sabal palms and cypress on a sandy path.  

Of all the American states, Florida ranks fifth in mineral production. Phosphate mining is the most widespread activity with the Sunshine State supplying one-quarter of the world’s phosphate needs. But Florida also ranks second in the production of limestone, used for cement and as a road base. Lime rock mining was carried on here for decades - the lakes in the park are artifacts of the old mining pits. You can still spot large lime rocks as you hike with your dog on the Colt Creek trails; if you don’t see any “wild rocks” in the woods you can see lime rocks used as roadway barriers.

From I-4 take Exit 32 and go north on US 98 for 13 miles to SR 471. Turn right and continue to the park entrance on the right.