There was a time, not too long ago, when this part of South Florida — east of the Everglades and west of the Coast — was nothing but white sand, scrub vegetation, saw palmettos, and sand pines. Development and expansion, with all of its blacktop and gated communities and non-native plants, soon overran the place.
Fortunately, the city of Oakland Park thought to preserve this slice of Florida’s natural history with the Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve, a pristine 5.6-acre site nestled between two lakes. This location, in addition to the abundance of native plants, means the park is home to countless birds, anole lizards, and even gopher tortoises, an endangered species. It’s also a place where the community can come together — volunteers are responsible for the preserve’s upkeep.
I arrived at the preserve after a brief morning shower. As I stepped from my car, I was struck by the silence and solitude in a place that is literally just down the street and over the fence from the trappings of the modern world.
I began my self-guided tour on the paved walkway and found myself lost in my thoughts. At first, I thought of “Gilligan’s Island” and “Lost” — and then I became aware of the subtle sounds. Below, anoles scurried under the brush, a bouncing leaf the only hint that I had disturbed them from their resting place. Above, birds — blue jays, I think — squawked across the sky, warning one another that an intruder had arrived.
By now, the paved walkway gave way to a white sand path that looked as if it had been dusted with snow — and my imaginings of television shows were left behind. Instead, I began to think of the early native Americans and European explorers who wandered through this landscape and carved out an existence without mosquito repellent or air conditioning.
The deeper I walked, the more I noticed — particularly the beauty of mosses and lichens and decay.
All too soon, the path brought me closer to the fence along the preserve’s border. Just on the other side of the lake, I could see houses and I could hear the faintest sound of traffic. I so badly wanted the path to bring me back into Florida’s past.
It was time to return home, though, back to the 21st-century world — but how comforting to know that the past is but a short drive away.