Florida Travel

Florida discoveries: Embracing the scrub at Archbold Biological Station

In recent years, the Archbold Biological Station — a research facility — added a visitors center and two trails.
In recent years, the Archbold Biological Station — a research facility — added a visitors center and two trails. Archbold Biological Station

Spiderweb face: The condition that occurs when you’re the first out on the trail in the morning. The Explorer’s Loop trail at Archbold Biological Station may only be two-thirds of a mile long, but it in-your-face immerses hikers in the Florida scrub experience.

Sounding like some technical research center — which it is — Archbold resides in Venus — not the planet but a smidgeon of a town as relatively remote.

The nearby, larger town of Lake Placid is famous for its murals. At least seven of the 44 murals depict Archbold Biological Station, its cattle ranch and environment, its conservation research and educational programs, and its founder, Richard Archbold, a Standard Oil Co. heir.

In recent years, the facility expanded its education programs to the public by opening a visitors center and two trails.

The center’s exhibits may be few, but they succinctly prepare the trail-bound for the flora and fauna they will encounter. Or hopefully will not, in the case of the black bear that dominates the exhibits. The station tags and tracks bears in these parts.

Better chances are you will see rare residents such as Florida scrub jays, gopher tortoises, sand skinks, indigo snakes, and Florida sand cockroaches, which “swim” through the sand underground, according to one exhibit.

Archbold Biological Station’s Learning Center opened two new nature trails in 2012 — the Discovery Loop, a few hundred yards long, and Explorers Loop, about two-thirds of a mile with dense habitat.

The trail is a bit rugged with soft sand and the clutter of vegetation underfoot. Wear long pants and get-wet foot gear — the trail gets muddy at least in summer. The bonus of early morning embarkations? You may see bear tracks in the damp sand, along with deer and raccoon footprints.

A confetti of wild flowers brightens the scrub palette of palmetto, cactus, reindeer moss, and a few towering pines. Botanical signs identify the flora, plus you can borrow a trail guide for reference.

A shorter Discovery Loop and a Walk through Time pathway of historical markers and signs further educate visitors about Archbold’s history and mission. A small lookout provides a literal and historical overview of its geology.

By prior appointment, Archbold conducts various guided tours for a fee, including its Agro-Ecology Ranch Safari, which takes in the working cattle ranch. Sandhill cranes, alligators, crested caracaras, white-tailed deer, and river otters are common sightings on the tour.

▪ Archbold Biological Station, 123 Main Dr., Venus; 863-465-2571, www.archbold-station.org. The visitors center and trails are open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free.