By Susan Wright
The parks that bracket the western end of Ormond Beach's Granada Bridge are great settings for all kinds of leisure activities.
At almost any time of day they're full of dog walkers, runners, people out for a stroll with their children, boaters getting ready to shove off from the boat ramp or families with fishing gear on their way to the pier.
That's just what the city planners wanted when they designed the parks, with plenty of amenities for recreation and leisure -- all pretty standard for cities.
But there's one other attraction in the parks that no one designed or planned for.
The Ormond parks have become home to their own colony of Peter Rabbits, with accompanying Flopsies, Mopsies and Cottontails, little brown bunnies that delight passers-by as they hop along on the well-manicured lawns and disappear into the thick bushes and grasses along the river's edge.
While it seems an almost magical phenomenon, sweet and charming and surprising, the bunnies are quite the part of the natural order of things, it turns out.
While you might wonder if someone had released unwanted Easter bunnies, turns out they're totally native.
Bob Williams, Ormond Beach's director of leisure services, said, "They are wild. We don't feed or do anything to attract them there, but we don't do anything to discourage them either."
He says the bunnies are definitely attractive and, like most of people who've seen them around the area, he enjoys watching them as they go about their business.
"What I have recognized over the years is that they're growing in population -- they've taken up residence where there's vegetation along the water's edge," he said.
It turns out that the thick, natural growth along the water, which the city does encourage, is the kind of habitat that is the natural home for the little brown bunnies.
According to a description provided by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the fluffy inhabitants of the park are marsh rabbits, also known as swamp bunnies, a type of rabbit related to the Eastern cottontail rabbit, which is common in the Eastern two-thirds of the U.S.
The marsh rabbit is smaller, darker and its tail is brown instead of cottontail white. They're common in coastal plains and marshlands throughout the South, including all of Florida, which makes the area around the Granada bridge a perfect home for them. They also differ from their more widely known cottontail cousins in that they can swim -- quite well, apparently.
In fact, it was a marsh rabbit that jumped into President Jimmy Carter's boat in the incident that made the news because the president was reported to have made him jump back. His opponents used the incident to imply the then-president was something of a sissy at the time.
So far, there have been no reports of any of the Ormond Beach bridge bunnies jumping into boats or swimming laps around the bridge. They do provide a lot of enjoyment for residents who just like to see wild creatures coexisting in their area. (Like many wild things, and smart Floridians, they're most likely to be out and about in the early morning hours or at dusk.)