West Lake is a rarity in urban central Broward: It’s wild.
Fortunately, environmentalists in the 1970s managed to prevent it from becoming yet another enclave for the wealthy. For decades, plans had advanced to develop it with seawalls and houses instead of wetlands and wildlife. But, led by the late County Commissioner Anne Kolb, after whom the West Lake nature center is named, West Lake was forever preserved.
Today that makes it one of the most accessible natural places to kayak for 2 million people who live within 45 minutes of it. It is also a great place for a beginner to try out kayaking or canoeing, with reasonably priced rentals available Fridays to Sundays and holidays.
It has been awhile since I kayaked West Lake and it was great to discover there are now three well-marked kayak trails winding through the mangroves. (Be sure to get a brochure when you pay your $3 admission to the park.)
Kayaks and canoes launch from West Lake Park, 122 Sheridan St., Hollywood, which is across Sheridan Street from the nature center. From there, the White Trail (.9 miles) takes you through thick mangrove vegetation out to the lake.
The more intimate, narrower portions of the White Trail are recommended only during high tide. Take heed. Two hours before high tide, we took the northern leg of the White Trail and I ended up standing in oozing mud up to my ankles to let our boat float over the shallowest spot.
Across the lake from the White Trail, there’s the .9-mile-long Green Trail. Paddle north under Sheridan Street toward the Anne Kolb Nature Center and you come to the 1.2-mile-long Red Trail.
All three trails are attractive, with narrow, mangrove-lined channels. (The Red Trail might be the most scenic, but only slightly.) Along the way, we saw osprey, herons, ibis, a kingfisher, vultures, armies of crabs and a couple of raccoons – not bad for a park in the middle of an urban area. At various times, folks have seen scarlet ibis and roseate spoonbills too.
You never quite forget where you are, of course. Noise of go-fast boats on the Intracoastal and motorcycles on A1A is always with you, even when all you see around you is thick mangrove forest.
If you paddle over to Anne Kolb Nature Center (it’s probably close to two miles from the start) you can beach your kayak and get out to stretch your legs on boardwalk trails or visit the nature center. We combined all three trails and a walk at Anne Kolb center for a full day.
Be warned: West Lake is big enough that you can pick up a good headwind. If you’re new to kayaking, pace yourself. If you end up fighting a tide on the return, it can take longer.
How West Lake was saved
Joe Young and Hollywood Inc. — the original developer of the city of Hollywood – bought the land around West Lake in the 1920s and began to develop it. Canals were dredged; roads were built. People from across the United States, bitten by Florida land fever, purchased lots here. But the 1926 hurricane and the Great Depression killed that plan and West Lake sat dormant for decades.
By the early 1970s, however, land fever was back. Hollywood Inc. moved forward to build on West Lake during a time when thousands of homes were being built across Florida.
The environmentalists of the 1970s, however, recognized that West Lake was the last undeveloped land left in eastern Broward County, a final vestige of the vast mangroves that once lined the Atlantic coast, and rallied around saving it. Anne Kolb, the first woman elected to the Broward County Commission, led the charge.
After an 11-year battle, environmentalists won and Broward County used money from bonds and the State of Florida to buy the land.
When it opened, it was such a victory that County Commissioner Howard Forman called it “one of the finest days in Broward’s 70-year history.”
West Lake has always been a special place for me. I was a young reporter in the late ‘70s when Anne Kolb was a county commissioner taking on well-funded land developers. She was a feisty former reporter and when she was diagnosed with cancer, I proposed I write a profile of her for my newspaper, the Sun Sentinel.
She wasn’t the easiest person to interview. I remember her as prickly and hard to get to know. But I visited her home, met her family and spent several hours with her. Only later did she tell me that all along she thought I was just researching her obituary.
She died of cancer in 1981, with the battle for West Lake largely won. Broward County took title to West Lake in 1985.
It’s nice to go to West Lake, soak up its little bit of wildness, and think about how some determined people saved it.
West Lake Park
1200 Sheridan St.
Boat rental hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Last rental is at 4 p.m. Rental prices are $15 per hour, $20 for two hours, or $30 for four hours; an all-day rental is $50
Anne Kolb Nature Center
751 Sheridan St.
Things to do near Hollywood:
- Ten favorite South Florida bike trails
- Ten best kayaking places in South Florida.
- Flamingo Gardens
- John Lloyd State Park
- Biking the Hollywood Broadwalk
- Hillsboro Lighthouse
- Cap’s Place, a historic waterfront restaurant
- Southport Raw Bar
- Wakodohatchee and Green Cay: Best birding in Palm Beach suburbs
- Oleta River State Park