By: Laura Tiu, Marine Science Extension Agent, UF/IFAS
Turkey Creek is a 20-acre conservation area in Niceville, FL with a boardwalk, pavilion, and numerous swimming platforms. The creek drains 65 square miles of predominately long-leaf forest, reaching north to Duke Field. Water from the creek and surrounding wetlands then flows into Boggy Bayou to Choctawhatchee Bay and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico.
The Park is open daily and is free to visit. It boasts a 1-mile (one-way) raised wooden boardwalk that cuts through a floodplain forest of four types of trees: Atlantic white cedar, cypress, red bay and sweetgum. The boardwalk features several viewing areas to enjoy views of the creek and wildlife such as turtles, ducks and a number of different birds, among other critters. True to the creek’s name, wild turkey may be seen along the banks as well as deer, wild boar, squirrel, raccoon, fox, osprey, bald eagle, several species of turtle, and the occasional snake. A small alligator was seen frequently in 2016. Fish include not only the endangered Okaloosa Darter, but bass and bluegill as well. Birdwatchers in particular will be delighted by the dozen or more prothonotary warblers who spend their spring, summer and fall in the forest, as well as the swallow-tailed kites, northern cardinals, herons and woodpeckers (Eglin has the fourth largest red-cockaded woodpecker population in the world).
The creek is characterized by dark (tea-colored) water that drains the sandhill forests surrounding Eglin Air Force Base The color comes from tannins and dissolved organic matter from the adjacent swamps and marshes. Turkey Creek is a shallow, sand bottom creek that twists and winds past several tributaries. It is arguably the most popular paddle trail on Eglin. Turkey Creek rises in the heart of Eglin and descends through picturesque gorges known as “steepheads” as it makes its way to Boggy Bayou in Niceville. The average speed of the current along the creek is about 2 miles per hour. The only paddling required will be when negotiating the sometimes tight turns in order to avoid being pushed into overhanging branches. The pristine waters well up from the Okaloosa Aquifer and maintain a 73 F temperature, year-round. During the hot summer months the creek can sometimes become so shallow that portaging may be necessary.
Spending more time in nature has been reported to lead to better overall self-reported health, increased longevity, and lowered incidences of chronic disease stemming from inactivity. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be an outdoorsy person, taking a quick, fun trip to Turkey Creek Nature Trail will delight you. Take some time to explore the amazing natural resources of Okaloosa County.
The Foundation for the Gator Nation, An Equal Opportunity Institution.
Photo credit: Erika Zambello