Recently, I had the opportunity to play tour guide with winter house guests. Besides seeing the usual southwest Florida sites I thought it would be interesting to finally tour Janes Memorial Scenic Drive. If you’re not aware, Janes is an eleven mile primitive road that was once a logging trail in the 1940-50’s. It runs through the Fakahatchee Strand and one of the most beautiful stretches of natural Florida.
If you skipped right over it the first time, the road is primitive. It’s packed shell, bumpy, dusty, there are no bathrooms, there is no 7-11, cell reception is unreliable, but it sure is interesting. I’d recommend driving an SUV and not the day after it gets detailed. It might not hurt to take a GPS with you, too.
We accessed Janes by taking Alligator Alley to SR 29 and heading south to Copeland mostly to avoid the traffic on 41. Plus, we weren’t going to the Big Cypress Bend boardwalk of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park so it made for a faster drive.
Janes is a great way to spend a few hours and get some fresh air. We drove the length of it and came out through the Picayune Strand State Forest. As a bonus, I also got to see where my son worked a couple of years ago on the Picayune restoration project. While you’re driving you can easily hop out and take pictures of some of the plants and animals you see along the way.
This was strictly a driving trip for us but we did see several mountain bikers along the way. Plus, there are even a few logging tram trails if you’d like to actually hike off of the drive.
When we arrived we were greeted by wood storks peppering cypress trees and all sorts of butterflies. The landscape changes quite a bit with the elevation so count on a variety of plants and animals along the way. It was also the dry season so I am sure it is a totally different experience when there is more standing water. Expect to see all sorts of bromeliads, a wide variety of flowers and trees, birds, turtles, gators, lubber grasshoppers and all sorts of butterflies. I even got to see a Ruddy Dagger Wing butterfly in person. (I have butterfly issues)
We did see all sorts of critters including several alligators in small ponds and one big boy sunning on the side of the road. As Floridians, we take seeing some of this wildlife for granted but I can assure you my houseguest from Pittsburgh is still talking about the gators we saw! From the safety of the car we were only a couple of feet away from a Kodak moment with the business end of a huge gator. Most people will never experience that in their life … and live to tell the tale.
If you decide to drive Janes Memorial Scenic Drive be sure to take provisions and don’t do any sort of off trail hiking that will require a search party to find you. It would be easy to get lost and, trust me, you wouldn’t be the first to do it. Like my momma always said, “Don’t end up on the news.”
To learn more about Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and Janes Memorial Scenic Parkway visit: http://www.floridastateparks.org/fakahatcheestrand/
*This article was written by Chris Griffith, special to Southwest Spotlight Newspaper*