It’s easy to forget that the state has many different natural habitats when traveling on its major highways, yet a visit to this beautiful park will remind one of Florida’s habitat diversity.
Comprised of 1400 acres (567 hectares), Oscar Scherer State Park is one of the jewels of the Southwest in the state park system. It’s located in Sarasota County near the small town of Osprey. Established in 1956, it was named in honor of the father of Elsa Scherer Burrows (1884-1955) who was the owner of the property that became the first part of the park.
Known as South Creek Ranch, Burrows left the 462 acre (187 hectare) property to the state in her will. The property surrounds part of South Creek and was comprised mostly of pine woods and hardwood hammock. South Creek is a small river that drains into Dryman Bay and then into the Gulf of Mexico. The park also contains Lake Osprey and Hidden Lake.
In 1992, Oscar Scherer State Park grew in size by another 922 acres (373 hectares) when property from the adjacent Palmer Ranch was added. Once owned by Bertha Honoré Palmer (1849-1918) of Chicago, IL, the property was a small part of the original 80,000 acres (12.5 sq miles / 32,375 hectares) owned by Palmer since 1910. Originally used as cattle ranchland, it became the state’s due to the work done by the Nature Conservancy and environmentalist Jon Thaxton (1958-). An additional part of her Florida property eventually became Myakka River State Park (also in Sarasota County) as well.
The Palmer addition was particularly important because it’s comprised of sand pine scrubland with acreage large enough to maintain a healthy population of Florida scrub jays, a bird species found only in Florida and only on scrubland. Much of Florida’s scrubland has been lost due to development, being some of the higher and less flood-prone land on the peninsula. Oscar Scherer State Park is considered the last viable scrubland in the southwest of the state.
In 2008, Lee Wetherington (1947-), a local property developer and park supporter, donated an additional 16.6 acres (6.7 hectares), giving the park about 1400 acres in total.
The park’s diverse habitats makes it a great place to explore Florida nature. Wild native plants abound and there’s a good population of animals that are vital to the local ecosystem such as gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, bobcats, alligators, river otters and white-tailed deer. Overhead, bald eagles, ospreys, hawks, vultures and, of course, Florida scrub jays regularly hunt. Scrub jays are noted for their inquisitive nature. If they’re around and it’s not too hot, they might show themselves.
South Creek, with its brackish water, is wide enough for kayak and canoe trips through a lush and verdant forest with ancient laurel and live oak trees as well as mangroves on the shore. Oscar Scherer State Park is certainly worth a visit.