A Hidden Gem Off Route 19
As you drive the busy stretch of Route 19 from Clearwater north up to New Port Richey, there would appear to be very little of interest to draw the attention of a visitor to the area. However, savvy tourists, as well as locals who happen to reside in the area, know of another hidden gem that lies just off of the insanity of Route 19 in Tarpon Springs.
We discovered Anderson Park many years ago and have enjoyed numerous visits to this beautiful oasis in the years since. This park offers a welcome escape from the urban madness that exists all along Route 19. The strip malls, car dealerships, and many restaurants hide this park well and give little indication of what exists just a few hundred feet off of the highway.
Things to Do in Anderson Park
Whether you are looking for a great place to sit and read a book, walk a nature trail, take pictures of wildlife, romp in a playground, or launch your boat into Lake Tarpon, then Anderson Park has everything you are looking for. And, lest we forget about our four-legged friends, they also have a dog park.
Anderson Park, officially known as A.L. Anderson Park, was first opened in 1966 and now resides on 135 acres of rolling terrain with access to Lake Tarpon. There are nine covered picnic areas with grills located throughout the park that can be reserved for outdoor events. Plenty of parking is available at various locations in the park and on our countless visits, we have never encountered more than just a few other visitors here.
The Nature Trail and Boardwalk, although short, follow the shore along the lake with numerous scenic vistas looking out over Salmon Bay and Lake Tarpon. Each scenic overlook has a picnic table so you can sit and watch for wildlife or relax with a snack while taking in the view.
The trail traverses through a cypress forest that is home to numerous local species and you may see lizards, snakes, squirrels, armadillos or a variety of other animals along the trail. The boardwalk section of the trail is elevated, well maintained, and extends out over the water so you can look for fish, turtles, alligators, snakes, and water birds.
In case you’re curious, A.L. Anderson Park is named after Alphonse L. “Andy” Anderson. He was the former Pinellas County Commissioner (1959–71) and Mayor of Gulfport, Florida.
He is remembered for his tireless work in helping to preserve Florida’s waterways and marine environment and for establishing many parks in Pinellas County, among them Anderson Park.
Anderson Park is open daily from 7 am until dusk. As with all of Florida’s county parks they are closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. There is a $5 daily parking fee for the Boat Ramp, $6 for vehicles with a trailer. The fee to reserve one of the sheltered picnic areas is $25 and reservations can be made online.
If you are not utilizing the boat ramp or reserving a pavilion, there is no fee to simply visit the park.
Where Are the Alligators?
Whenever we are in Florida and meet other folks visiting the sunshine state, they inevitably ask us, where does one go to see alligators? Well, Anderson Park is the perfect place to see not only alligators in the wild, from a safe distance, but also turtles, snakes, armadillos, osprey, and numerous other birds.
On our most recent visit, we were fortunate to see two small alligators and presumably one of their parents, a very large gator. We also spotted two snakes; a rat snake and a black snake that could have been an eastern indigo snake or a black swamp snake. There seemed to be an abundance of turtles present for our visit and they ranged from tiny newborns to fairly large turtles. The usual assortment of Florida birds was also seen including ibis, snowy egrets, heron, osprey, and cormorants.
A.L. Anderson Park Wildlife
Interesting Alligator Facts
- Alligators have been around for approximately 37 million years and are commonly referred to as "living dinosaurs.”
- There are actually two species of alligator—the American Alligator and the lesser-known and highly endangered Chinese Alligator.
- The American Alligator is native to the southeastern United States. The largest populations are found in Florida and Louisianna with about one million alligators found in each state.
- The Chinese Alligator is found only in the Yangtze River of China and there are more of them in captivity than in the wild.
- The largest alligator ever recorded was over 19 feet long.
- Although often confused with the crocodile they are totally separate species and a close look at their features reveals some notable differences in appearance.
- In the wild alligators can live up to fifty years. They typically live longer in captivity and an alligator born in 1936 in captivity is still alive today.
- The survival rate for newly hatched alligators is very low, only about 10 to 20 percent. At this early stage in their life, they have many predators. Once they reach a few feet in length their odds increase greatly with only larger alligators and humans being a threat.
If you are visiting the west coast of Florida in the Tampa area and want to find a great little park for a picnic or a short hike with a great chance of seeing alligators and other native Florida wildlife, then head up Route 19 to Tarpon Springs and A.L. Anderson Park.
We make it a point to visit every time we are in the area and we have never been disappointed with the wildlife we have seen. The park is clean, well maintained, offers great views of Lake Tarpon, and is conveniently located right off of Route 19 in Tarpon Springs.
© 2015 Bill De Giulio