There's nothing that can soothe the soul quite like time spent outdoors in Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach. Whether you're a bird watcher, angler, hiker, camper, or target-shooting enthusiast, you can get your nature fix by venturing just five miles southeast of downtown Punta Gorda to Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area.
Not only does Florida's oldest wildlife management area serve as protected habitat for hundreds of native animal species, it's also one of the best places to immerse yourself in pure Florida. The key to make the most of your day trip or weekend stay at Babcock/Webb is to plan ahead, and this overview of activities will help you do just that:
Three launch ramps provide easy access to Webb Lake for canoes, kayaks, and boats powered by electric trolling motors (no gasoline motors permitted). You can also fish from the shores of the many ponds scattered throughout the 80,772 acres. Dress for weather conditions, bring along a pair of boots, and be sure to check out state regulations and license requirements, all of which can be done online at the Florida Wildlife Commission site at MyFWC.com.
Hike and Bike
Ride at a leisurely pace along the 37 miles of paved and dirt roads or explore the hiking trails. Flag Pond Loop (1.13 miles) and Cowhunter Trail (1.41 miles) both wind past ponds and marshlands where you'll have plenty of opportunities to spot wading birds and alligators.
Watch Wildlife and Go Birding
Watch the wildlife: as part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, Babcock/Webb is home to red-cockaded woodpeckers, the northern bobwhite, cottontail rabbits, gray squirrels, white-tailed deer and feral hogs. If birding is a favorite pastime, keep in mind that the pine flatwoods and freshwater marshes provide optimal opportunities for capturing glimpses of migratory birds during the fall and spring months. Print a copy of the Babcock-Webb eBird Field Checklist before you go, and take a good pair of binoculars.
Hone your Shooting Skills
Take your best shot at the Cecil M. Webb shooting range, which includes supervised rifle and handgun ranges as well as two single-station, self-throw shotgun pads. The range is open during daylight hours only. There is no additional cost for access to the range, just make sure you have a valid wildlife management area permit or pay the daily per-person or per-vehicle WMA entry fee.
Pack your camping gear: if you want to explore the natural beauty of this area over the course of a weekend, it's easy to reserve one of the primitive camping sites for overnight stays. The campground is open every weekend from 5 pm Friday to 9 pm Sunday; as well as on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Labor Day. Make a campsite reservation by emailing BabcockWebbWMAcamping@MyFWC.com.
Give your horse some exercise and explore like a cracker cowboy: the named and numbered roads winding through a variety of scenic habitats are open all year to equestrians. There is a site for organized groups at the Field Trial Area, and you can reserve picnic shelters, grills, and horse stables by calling the area office at 863.648.3200.
Now that you know about all of the ways you can spend time outdoors on a visit Babcock/Webb, pick a day or two and head on over!