'It's pristine old Florida': Starkey Preserve blends people, nature at 18,000-acre oasis

Every day in Florida, residents see habitat loss due to development to meet the needs of the state’s growing population, but Starkey Preserve gives visitors a glimpse into the past and future where mankind and nature coexist. 

"You can come out here and see what old Florida looks like," stated Warren Hogg with Tampa Bay Water.

Starkey Preserve is an 18,000-acre oasis in the middle of a developed area. It’s owned by the Water Management District and managed by Pasco County. It’s a place where people can enjoy a variety of recreational activities and it’s also a water supply.

The Starkey family has owned the property for decades, and it was historically a cattle ranch. However, it was given to the state, so it could be a nature preserve for people and also develop a water supply, but as the population grew, the water taken out also grew.

Hogg says as more water was taken from the ground, water levels dropped and the lakes and the wetlands on the property began to suffer. Trees came down, there was less wildlife and it was a big impact.

"We knew that we took too much water from the ground and we needed to put it back," Hogg stated.

READ Ticks survive 27 years in a lab, 8 without food, study shows

The local governments and the state came together to build new water supply sources and the environment returned.

"It’s pristine old Florida," Hogg stated. "We restored the environment for water quality and also the wetlands for the plants and the animals, but it’s important that people can come out and see what nature used to be. It’s a beautiful place to come and use the property for biking, horseback riding, cycling and camping."

Starkey Preserve is open from dawn until dusk, seven days a week.