Manatee Treat at Jenkins Creek Preserve
Like two hefty ballerinas, with a swish of their flat tails, the torpedo shaped manatee cow and her calf propelled themselves through the dark waters of the creek, keeping time with each other. The sea cow lifted her whiskered nose above the waterline to take a breath, snorting a spray of water into the air.
Jenkins Creek Preserve
There’s always that one place you drive past over and over again, maybe even your entire life, and you always wonder what it’s like. Maybe you’re too busy, have a car full of kids, or groceries, on a hot summer’s day. There’s always a reason, an excuse not to stop.
Jenkins Creek Preserve on Florida’s Nature Coast was that place for me. I’d seen it from Swamp Festival days when they were held at Linda Pedersen Park. I’d driven past the park in the early hours of the morning to catch fishing charters from Hernando Beach. I went past with a carload of hungry kids to find a place to dine in Bayport. I could see the fishing pier from the observation tower across the road – that I climbed not once, but thrice. I once even paddled past the wooden Jenkins Creek Bridge on my way to the tunnel under Shoal Line Boulevard during a trail paddle event.
Finally, one day I said: ‘no more excuses’ and stopped with a friend at the 3-acre park nestled in the crook of Jenkins Creek on Florida’s Adventure Coast in Hernando Beach. It was late afternoon when we arrived. Wooden pavilions and block restrooms painted in a vibrant Key Lime color screamed ‘look at me!’ against a blue afternoon sky.
Paddling on Jenkins Creek
The parking lot sat empty, under the shadow of the $10 parking fee sign, but a small boat ramp beckoned paddlers to try the waters of the spring fed creek. Put in and go under the bridge to the main creek. It’s a half-mile trip downriver where Jenkins Creek joins the Weeki Wachee River at Bayport to flow into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a muddy trek in the opposite direction to reach the Jenkin Springs basin, impassable in times of drought and low tide.
Fishing at Jenkins Creek Preserve
A wooden fishing pier runs the length of the park, over the creek. Open 24-hours a day, 7-days a week for local and visiting anglers to cast their lines and try their luck. Although there were no fishermen during our visit, the pier can get busy on weekends and holidays.
At the end of the fishing pier, a wooden bridge stretches across the boat ramp canal, leading to a hammock of trees with wetland views and paths created by intrepid anglers hunting for a better fishing spot.
One of the worn tracks follows the creek, with views of the water, before taking a muddy detour into the wiregrass. How far to go depends on tides and mud. It can get buggy out here as well. An inland trail leads through the trees with views of the labyrinthine salt marshes beyond.
This little oasis of land is the sole place to stop on the Bayport to Linda Pedersen Park Coastal Paddling Trail, a well-marked 1.7-mile trail from Bayport and the Gulf of Mexico and up Jenkins Creek. Paddlers must tackle the tunnel under Shoal Line Boulevard to reach the end point at Linda Pedersen Park, and the sandy area along the waterway makes a welcoming area to stretch their legs.
Manatees at Jenkins Creek Preserve
My friend and I heard that familiar snorting puff and spotted a manatee swimming up the creek. We followed it along the trail. As the land curved into the canal by the bridge, we spotted the second manatee- a smaller baby.
A sea cow nurses its calf for up to two years, keeping the youngster by its side. So vital is the mother and baby relationship that it is illegal by Florida law to come between a mother manatee and its baby.
The mom and baby slowly made their way to the bridge, their whisker-lined snouts spread out to vacuum the bed of the creek for food. The cow, or mother manatee, continued her hovering closer to the embankment at the bridge. These humungous herbivores spend their days in search of food. Adult manatees can eat up to 100 pounds of aquatic plants a day – 10% of their body weight – in greens.
She paused from her eating every now and then to raise her grey snout and inhale a breath of air. Manatees have been known to hold their breath for up to 20 minutes. Her flat front flippers stirred up the silt from the creek bed. A closer look reveals toenails on her flippers- like an elephant’s foot. Manatees are mammals that are most closely related to the elephant, with their toenails and thick skin and snout, a condensed version of an elephant’s trunk.
The calf rejoined its mom as they turned to swim toward the warmer waters of springs up the creek.
Although Jenkins Creek Park is best known as a fishing spot, the slow-moving gentle giants roam up and down this waterway and a manatee sighting is always a treat.
Things to Know about Jenkins Creek Preserve Before You Go:
- Jenkins Creek Preserve is located at 6401 Shoal Line Boulevard in Hernando Beach, Florida. It sits across the road from Linda Pedersen Park.
- Parking is $10.
- There is a small boat ramp and paddle launch, picnicking shelters, and a restroom on site.
- The creek is tidal influenced. Keep informed about the tides when venturing onto the water in this area.
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