Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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Public Use

Trail Map. Credit: USFWS

Trail Map. Credit: USFWS

For area refuge events, please refer to the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast Refuges 2010 Calendar.

 

Can I visit the refuge?

Two hiking trails are open to the public on the refuge. The trails are located about a quarter mile north of the intersection of State Road 29 and I-75. Open during daylight hours only, the trails provide the refuge visitor with a chance to experience the various habitats found on the refuge.

The Leslie M. Duncan Memorial Trail is a 1/3 mile wheelchair-accessible loop trail that winds through a hardwood hammock dominated by ancient oak trees and tropical vegetation. A small boardwalk and overlook allow visitors to view a small, recently restored, seasonal pond. The trail and boardwalk were funded by private donations from Marge Duncan, Safari Club International and the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge.

The longer 1 1/3 mile loop trail is not improved and often floods during the summer, fall and early winter. Additionally, wet conditions prevent the refuge staff from mowing this trail from June through December. The trial is well marked, but during wet conditions, overgrown vegetation on the trail may challenge the hiker. Regardless of the trail's condition, the visitor will enjoy a leisurely walk through hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, and wet prairies. Late winter and early spring will bring out many wildflowers. Deer, bear and occasional panther tracks can be found along the longer trail. Don't forget to look up to catch a glimpse of a red-shoulder hawk, swallow-tailed kite or osprey. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to observe wildlife. Call the main office (239-353-8442) to check the status of the trails and to see if there are any planned events at the trails. Occasional tours may be offered during the winter depending on staff or volunteer availability.

 

Why is so much of the refuge closed to the public?

The refuge was established for the protection of the panther and its habitat. Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Act, any public use has to be compatible with the establishing purpose of the refuge. Consequently, prior to the construction of any public use facility, the refuge staff must ensure such will not adversely impact the Florida panther. Very few panthers frequent the area surrounding the trails and that is why they are located at this site. The remainder of the refuge is closed to the public. However, staff will continue to evaluate opportunities to open the refuge to the public based on funding, staff / volunteer availability, and whether such activities will adversely affect panthers utilizing the refuge.

 

What special events are held on the refuge?

Panther Day at the Naples Zoo. Credit: USFWS

Panther Day at the Naples Zoo. Credit: USFWS

Each March, the refuge celebrates Save the Panther Week. This week-long event includes a one-day open house event on the refuge that includes swamp buggy tours, birding tours, plant walks and other activities for visitors. This event is organized by the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge, the Naples Zoo and the refuge staff and includes a variety of partnering agencies and conservation organizations. Panther Week activities also include off-site programs at various locations. Please contact the refuge for more details.

Refuge staff participate in additional events including the Southwest Florida Birding Festival in January and International Migratory Bird Day at the Naples Zoo in May.

For more refuge events, please refer to the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast Refuges 2010 Calendar.

 

What is the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge?

The Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge is a support organization created to promote a better understanding and appreciation of the National Wildlife Refuge System and, in particular, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. The Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge works with the refuge to protect and conserve the Florida panther. To learn more about this organization, please visit The Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge website.

 

Are there volunteer opportunities on the refuge?

There are lots of volunteer opportunities on the refuge! The refuge staff can use all kinds of help. Office work, maintenance work, tour guides, and trail maintenance are just a few of volunteer opportunities available. Contact the refuge office for more details.

 

What should I bring with me if I visit the refuge?

Please use caution when walking the trails. Bring water, insect repellent, and sunscreen. Please do not leave valuables in your car, and allow time to return to your vehicle and leave the refuge before the entrance gate closes at sunset. Pet are not allowed.

 

What precautions should I take while visiting panther country?

Do not hike or jog alone. Keep small children under supervision and close at hand. Please do not bring pets on the trails. Do not feed any wildlife. To learn more about how to stay safe in panther territory, read the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's brochure on Florida Panther Safety Tips [pdf].

 

If I see a panther, what should I do?

If you see a panther, stay calm and do not run. Pick up and hold small children immediately. Try to look large - do not crouch. Back away slowly while maintaining eye contact with the panther. If a panther approaches, wave your arms and shout. Throw sticks and rocks to scare it away.

 

Last updated: March 28, 2011