CLEARWATER – Just east of US 19 and north of Drew Street in Clearwater is a nature preserve that offers more than just walking trails.
Visitors can get up close to birds of prey, attend presentations and workshops about Florida’s unique nature and wildlife, and get away from the bustle of the city.
The Moccasin Lake Natural Park was created in 1982 and celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The 51-acre park has a shaded walking path just over a mile long with views of different local habitats and the five-acre Moccasin Lake. It also has a nature center, indoor and outdoor classrooms, and is home to just under 30 different birds of prey.
“We have a very successful bird program here at Moccasin Lake,” said Lloyd Simmons, recreation coordinator for the town of Clearwater, who is stationed at the park. “It’s a rehabilitation program, so the birds you see are birds of prey, but they can’t be released.”
According to Simmons, the volunteers feed and care for the birds, which are usually brought to the reserve by rehabbers unable to release them.
The preserve is also a gathering place for many local groups, including the Clearwater Audubon Society, Florida Herb Society, and Suncoast Herpetological Society.
“With each of these groups, their meetings are open to the public,” Simmons said. “So the public is welcome to go see any guest speaker or workshop they can lead, things like that.”
Simmons believes the diversity of groups that use the classrooms for their meetings and workshops is the backbone of what helps make the reserve such a distinctive place.
“It’s a unique relationship and it benefits everyone,” he said.
In addition to the regular daily operations at Lac Moccasin Nature Park, a number of special events are also held at the park, including birthday and other parties and weddings.
“Here you have a building next to a pollinator garden, so there are flowers all year round. It’s a very attractive setting,” says Simmons.
The park has a small staff and relies heavily on volunteers.
“We are always looking for people to help us with our birds of prey program, and we are also looking for people to help maintain our trails and gardens,” Simmons said. “Those are probably our two biggest needs.”
Volunteer Ray Delconte has been involved with the Birds of Prey program for about three years. Recently, he was observed feeding chicken to three of the falcons that inhabit the park.
“I think what makes it special is the location and everything here,” Delconte said. “I’ve been to many parks and worked with birds, but the first time I came here felt like home.”
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the reserve, a celebration is planned for Saturday, July 30, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will be a food truck, band, vendors and crafts for children. The event is free and open to the public.
Moccasin Lake Nature Park is located at 2750 Park Trail Lane in Clearwater. For more information, call 727-562-4315 ext. 1, or visit www.myclearwater.com.