Staff picks: We share our favorite district lands

Every so often we ask district staff: Where is your favorite place on district lands? Communications Coordinator Ed Garland gives us his answer.

Ed Garland at Fort Drum

District Public Communications Coordinator Ed Garland enjoys the solitude of the district’s Fort Drum Marsh Conservation Area in Indian River County.

Find solitude at Fort Drum Marsh Conservation Area
In a state boasting more than 21 million people, it’s not easy to spend time alone. Truly alone. I’m talking about the kind of alone where you suddenly realize there isn’t another soul for miles, even in this era of social distancing.

I’ll share a secret. You can experience solitude at Fort Drum Marsh Conservation Area, an undercelebrated property in the hinterlands of Indian River County (notable for being the district’s southernmost extent). At first blush, Fort Drum offers the typical tableau of horizontal desolation that defines this inland region: open marsh, a smattering of trees here and there, and a couple of unremarkable lakes tucked further within its 20,000 acres.

For me, the magic begins as I approach the wooden boardwalk that meanders through a blackwater hardwood swamp. Whenever I visit this site, I feel like I am entering a church of sorts. My pace slows as I approach the boardwalk. I’m silent, respectful. I listen for the ancient chatter of birds and observe the architecture of trees, which are as solemn and straight as columns within a cathedral.

Even on the brightest day, the sunlight is muted and the still waters mirror the abstract images of cypress knees, cedar trees and sabal palms. In the afternoon, the sky’s reflection in the swamp takes on hues of purple, gold, red and blue. Nothing moves. The silence is a gift. You keen your senses, remaining motionless on the boardwalk bench. You hear something plop in the water. You hear a dragonfly’s wings before you see it zipping about. You smell the loamy richness of the swamp. You take a moment to simply be. You allow yourself the luxury of dissolving into your surroundings. Too soon, it is time to leave.

Ibis sitting on a tree branch

An ibis takes a break perched high above the marsh water among the cypress trees at the district’s Fort Drum Marsh Conservation Area in Indian River County.

This is the natural world as art, a mystery, timeless, haunting. I take solace in knowing it is one of our district properties, protected yet accessible. And (on a selfish note) remote enough to keep the crowds away.

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