Accessible Travel: Oscar Scherer State Park for People with Disabilities
By Janet K. Keeler
Oscar Scherer State Park is a natural pine and palmetto oasis in densely populated Sarasota County. As development sprouts around it, Sarasota to the north, Venice to the south and the towns of Osprey and Nokomis even closer, Oscar Scherer is a reminder of what this part of Florida used to look like.
The now two-square-mile park started with just 460 acres when Elsa Scherer Burrows left the family ranch to the state in the mid-1950s in memory of her father, Oscar Scherer. Adjoining lands were added in subsequent decades to make the park what it is today.
The park’s accessibility to travelers with mobility challenges makes it a worthy stop in a visit to Sarasota County. (Also attractive is that nearby Siesta Key beach, named the No. 1 beach in America by Dr. Beach, aka Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman. All-terrain wheelchairs provide access to the beach and those who don’t own can rent them for the day.)
At Oscar Scherer, Pinewood flats, backwater South Creek and two freshwater lakes provide habitat to some of the state’s most threatened critters, among them the endangered Florida scrub-jay. The blue beauty is naturally at home in the park’s scrub but you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled to spy one because there are less than 15 adults in the park. About 10,000 remain in the state, their habitat decimated by development. The largest concentrations are in the Ocala National Forest and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
The half-mile Lester Finley Trail is a barrier free hard shell-packed trail shaded by canopy much of the way. Sabal palms, Florida’s state tree, line the path. Wheelchair users will find the trail easy to negotiate no matter the type of wheels. The trail meanders along the estuary of the South Creek and passes two butterfly gardens. There are several wide spots with benches for users to pause and reflect on the surroundings. Audio boxes provide information about the trail and were installed to aid the vision-impaired.
About midway along the trail is an accessible fishing pier with low railings making it easier for sitting anglers to cast into the creek in the hunt for redfish, snook or trout. South Creek has an accessible boat launch for paddlers, with wide steps, sturdy railings to grab and a large concrete surface. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the park.
There are other trails in the park though the surfaces are sandier and the hiking lanes more narrow. They might be accessible by all-terrain wheelchairs but a consultation with a park ranger would be prudent before setting out. The park has one all-terrain wheelchair that can be reserved with prior arrangement. Rangers will deliver the chair where it’s needed.
The Lake Osprey Trail circles Lake Osprey, a three-acre freshwater body that can also be fished. Among the species there are bream, bluegill, largemouth bass and channel catfish. The quarter-mile trail is fully paved and is adjacent to the park’s nature center, which has regular programs and exhibits about the park. Large-print material is available.
Camping is a popular activity in the park and there are seven accessible camping sites with concrete aprons and picnic tables. The sites are close to the bathrooms. A deep canopy in the campground, which runs along the creek, provides shade and privacy.
Bring binoculars and keep an eye on the sky for nesting bald eagles, which call Oscar Scherer home in the winter. The park is tucked off of busy U.S. 41 and it would be easy to speed by without noticing it. Watch for the sign and turn in. Even a couple hours at Oscar Scherer State Park will provide a glimpse into Old Florida and the land that the scrub-jay calls home.