Two of Broward County Parks’ prime natural areas celebrate an anniversary this month: Crystal Lake Sand Pine Scrub, which opened to the public 10 years ago, on October 21, 2002, and Highlands Scrub Natural Area
, which opened almost five years later, on October 5, 2007. Both sites were purchased by the county through the 1989 Environmentally Sensitive Lands Bond Issue, with Highlands Scrub later supplemented by additional acreage obtained through the 2000 Safe Parks and Land Preservation Bond Referendum.
Both natural areas will celebrate their “birthdays” with an Open House and Scavenger Hunt, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, October 7 at Highlands Scrub and on Sunday, October 21 at Crystal Lake. Each event also includes a free Guided Nature Hike at 10:30 a.m., with preregistration required by calling Quiet Waters Park at 954-357-5100.
The two comparably sized sites – Crystal Lake is 24.2 acres, and Highlands Scrub is 34.27 acres – represent one of the rarest and most ecologically sensitive communities in South Florida, the sand pine scrub. Urban development has left less than two percent of Broward County’s original sand pine scrub, a type of community unique to Florida, making it a plant community that is difficult to recognize today.
The “scrub” is home to many species of plants and animals, many of which are rare or endangered. Crystal Lake contains a variety of scrub plant species such as sand pine, saw palmetto, tallow-wood, and several types of scrub oak. Understory plants include rosemary, prickly pear cactus, gopher apple, scrub mint, and spike moss. Highlands Scrub is characterized by loose white sand with a canopy of sand pine and scrub oak, and a subcanopy of saw palmetto, gopher apple, and prickly pear. Among the resident wildlife of both sites are the common gray fox, five-lined skink, six-lined racerunner, zebra swallowtail butterfly, and gopher tortoise (a protected species).
After acquisition, site restoration at both natural areas was initiated, including large-scale trash removal, exotic plant eradication throughout, and placement of protective fencing to stop destructive entry. Thanks to these efforts, the sites have been healing themselves over time.
Today, amenities at the sites include informational kiosks, interpretive signage, seating areas, and shelters (one per site). Highlands Scrub also offers picnic tables. Each site features more than 2,200 feet of paved and unpaved trail.
For more information, call the North District Office at 954-357-8700. Crystal Lake is accessible via Broward County Transit Route #20, while Highlands Scrub is accessible via Route #50.