In and around Stephen Foster Folk and Cultural Center

Azaleas Along the Florida TrailI originally planned to hike the Florida Trail from Suwannee Springs.  But, I knew things weren’t going as planned when the desk clerk pointed out that rain was expected, followed by a cold snap. Last I checked Wunderground, my weather source reported that clouds were predicted. Back up in my room, they were calling for a minimal chance of rain. However, an hour later, it became 45% chance. Not surprisingly, when I walked to my car, a misty drizzle fell.

Alternative Plan: I decided to drive ten miles to stall for time and hike a different part of the Florida Trail: that which traverses Steven Foster Folk and Cultural Center State Park .  If the weather stayed awful, I could visit the museum and the craft demonstrations. White Springs also looked like an interesting place to take photos.

I arrived at the Florida Trail trailhead in the park. Drizzle continued, and the air temperature hovered in the mid-fifties. Well, I am a Floridian and a little rain doesn’t stop us, though the cold gives us pause. The trail follows the river closely. Like a roller coaster it goes up and down for the full three miles to the boundary of the park. Great for my need to hike some hills  As an out-and-back, it wasn’t as many miles as I had hoped, but the hills and wet sand gave the boots and the lungs a reasonable workout.

There are many scenic overlooks along the river, but there’s also a lot to see on the ground, such as these oddly colored fungi.

Colorful Fungus on a Log

Spectacular wild azaleas grow all along the river.  Azaleas along the trail came in all shades of pink with some areas thick with colorful bushes.  It appeared that I was probably lucky as had the season been warmer these may have reached the end of their blooms.

Pink Azalea surround the Trail

The Suwannee is a favorite of canoeists and kayakers, as it provides rapids and opportunities for long distance trips

Canoeist on the River

After the hike, I headed into the museum, which pays tribute to the music of Steven Foster, with ten quite unique dioramas that memorialize his songs.

Stephen Foster Diorama

and a carillon (not working and needs repairs). Steven Foster wrote over two-hundred songs, many about the South. He never actually visited Florida.

Next, I headed into White Springs, the former home of an early twentieth century era spa. In its heyday it was home to fourteen luxury hotels. Many burned in 1911, so not much remains and the town now has fewer than 1000 inhabitants.  The Telford Hotel, built early in the 20th century, has been closed since 2014.  People still remember eating and staying there, though. Telford Hotel

Next door, the lovely Sophie Jane Adams house dates to 1893, though I wasn’t able to find out much more about the house.

Adams House, circa 1893

The bad weather turned out to be a blessing as I didn’t spend my entire day on the trail. Tomorrow, though is another day!

Hiking the Serenova Tract Before It Disappears

Fishing Lake along the Hiking TrailJust an hour away from my home, the Serenova Tract of the Starkey Wilderness Preserve was next on my list last week for breaking in the boots. I was enticed by its purported 10.7 miles of hiking trails and 6500 acres of wilderness within an hour’s drive.

Once I began my research on this hike, it became more than a hike. A few interesting articles popped up. It seems that Pasco County had been trying extend a major road directly through the center of the preserve since the 1990s. The Ridge Road Extension dispute pits Pasco leaders, who assert that the road is critically needed as a hurricane evacuation route, against environmental groups  bent on saving the wetland. For a variety of reasons, the County hasn’t received permits from the Army Corps of Engineers. The Suncoast Sierra Club has formed a thirty-four member Save our Serenova Coalition.

Well, not only was this a hike, but it was a story!

Most of the local hikes that I have completed have been in isolated rural areas.  But clearly, for some of the places I visited, such as Little Manatee State Park and the Serenova Tract, development squeezes these little islands of greenery.  Major roads surround Serenova on three sides. The trailhead is now directly across from a brand-new Publix grocery store.

But once I started walking down the trail here, the outside world receded. I kept thinking to myself as I passed lovely little fishing lakes, streams, and passing equestrians: “What kind of person thinks about putting a road through here?”  Many of us think that this road really isn’t about the hurricane, but is about accessing more land to develop.

The scenery here IS remarkable, with towering pines and laurel oaks.

Towering Pines

This is real Florida with wetlands, the occasional flooded trail, and the ruins of an old homestead near a tiny lake.

Homestead Ruins

There are also areas that are so arid that prickly pear cactus grow. Butterflies flit everywhere, but sad to say wouldn’t stand still to have their pictures taken.  At one point I traversed a field of palmettos intermixed with wild lupine that seemed to me to just glow.

Wild Lupine

So what about the trail? Well the quality of the trail markings doesn’t quite live up to the magnificence of the scenery.  There are only a few signs and lots of unmarked trails. Hairpin curves on the main trail remain unsigned. Main intersections are supposed to be marked, but many of the signs were missing or broken.

Broken Trail Sign

I ended up losing the trail and navigating out of the preserve with my phone. I did manage to get ten more miles on my boots.

With a little work this place can and should be preserved as the world-class park that it is!

You can sign the coalition’s petition to save Serenova Tract here.

Wildflowers and Other Delights After the Inferno: Croom Wildlife Management Area

I have now spent the better part of a month working towards a comfortable pair of hiking boots and a renewal of my long dormant “hiking legs” in preparation for my trip to Greece.  I exercise weekly at the gym and pretend the treadmill is a hill; run up and down our local causeways; and head to our lovely public lands to hike. Florida is the place to be in late winter. This last week I hiked the Croom Wildlife Management Area . Folks from my local chapter of the  Florida Trail Association suggested hiking along “Loop B-C” starting at the Tucker Hill trailhead. Tucker Hill Trailhead

This trail turned out to be quite the treat (yes there were hills) as parts of this trail have experienced a recent “prescribed fire”. These supervised fires clear the underbrush, prevent uncontrolled burns, and encourage new growth.

Sunflower
Sunflower

Happily the resultant open sunny areas abound with spring wildflowers and bright green young pines and turkey oaks. All this attracts butterflies. I even saw some common milkweed that will attract monarchs.

common milkweed
common milkweed

During my hike, though, the place was instead hopping with tiger swallowtail butterflies.

I haven’t often seen wild lupine, but I found a large patch. Many more would bloom soon in the surrounding area.

Wild Lupine
wild lupine

Along the way, a small gopher tortoise literally came running along the path. I didn’t think that a gopher tortoise could run, especially as fast as this little guy.I was waiting to see if a large rabbit was in hot pursuit. The gopher tortoise, a keystone species, plays a critical role during a fire. Many small critters are protected within the gopher tortoise borough during a fire, allowing for quick recovery after the fire.gopher tortoiseThis is for the most part a dry pinewood forest, but surprisingly there is a small amazingly beautiful little wetland near the campground.

Wetland Near the Trail
Wetland Near the Trail

Hiking the Hillsborough River

 

Bridge over the River

When we first moved to Florida I searched the area for hiking spots near our house.  Most of the nearby hiking trails were less than a mile long, so hiking didn’t seem a viable exercise option. During the last couple of years though,I missed my woodland activities, so, I signed up for a hiking trip to Greece. New boots in need of breaking in, I began the hunt for places to hike, preferably, with some hills and less than two-hours away by car. Ah you say, hills in Florida, that’s not going to happen. Well there are some, apparently, though a bit of a drive.Map of Possible Hiking Destination

I set as my goal to have a 100 miles logged onto my shoes by mid-April. Admittedly, some of that would be treadmill hill climbing.

As of this post I have reached about one-third of my goal.  My last couple of trips were up to north Hillsborough County to the Hillsborough River.  In order to hike the river, you need to know who owns the land.  The  lands surrounding the river may belong to a county (Hillsborough, Pasco or Hernando), a municipality, the State (as State Parks or State Forest),  Water Management District (affectionately known as Swift Mud by us locals), or even the Federal Government. The SWFWMD site  and the Fish and Wildlife Site are the most helpful in choosing trails as they have the most up-to-date information. But…and it is a big but, the descriptions of hikes are often somewhat vague.  Google and other online maps may or may not show all parks from all jurisdictions. You may want to check alltrails. com , for the reviews. However, their maps seem to be out-of-date, as do the existing books.

I needed hikes that would be greater than five miles, so the SWFWMD properties seemed to fit the bill. But beware, a lot of the trail here is paved. The unpaved trail is a lightly used hiker-biker trail. The best parking area is the Flatwoods Site.  After paying your $2, walk about a quarter-mile, to the Central Kiosk where there is water and everyone gathers.

If you need information there is usually someone who is familiar with the area.  From here you can do up to sixteen miles hike on the Main Eubanks Trail, a loop trail.

Signage is good at the Flatwoods Park The trail here is well-marked with numbered posts (this wasn’t true at the other parking lots where I couldn’t find the numbered posts).  February is a great time to hike as there are no bugs and the humidity is manageable.

About ten miles north of the SWFWMD property (or according to one map just an extension) is Hillsborough River State Park. The park has a number of well-maintained stacked trails, including part of the Florida Trail.

White Lilies

There are lovely old trees and many flowers and quite a few remnants of the Civilian Conservation Corps as this park was one of ten Florida Parks built by the CCC.

CCC Picnic Table

The trail here follows the river so has some awesome views. Three stacked trails, including the nature trail, the Barnyard Trail and the Seminole Trail allowed for a seven-mile goal on my visit to the park (could have gone ten). It was slightly hilly.

Myakka River State Park: Great Florida Hiking!

Myakka River State Park

I bought a pair of discontinued COLUMBIA Women’s Culvert Mid Omni-Tech Hiking Trekking Boots for the upcoming hiking trip to Greece.  I had managed not to have to buy boots for decades as my feet hate boots. The guides for my upcoming hiking trip to Greece, though, were adamant on the need for ankle coverage as the hiking would be rocky and dusty.

With two-and one-half months to go, I need to get movin’ and get these boots broken in. So every week I will seek out a place within an hour or two of home to break in the boots. With this in mind, Hubby and I set out for Myakka State Park, a little over an hour drive, near Sarasota. We hiked three trails using the State Park trail map we got at the visitors information center, an old Civilian Conservation Corps building.

We had a really nice trip and expect to go back another day as we missed out on getting permits to hike into Deep Hole Lake. Most of the hikes in the park are short unless you hike out onto the backpacking or bicycle trails, but you should try all of them. Everyone needs to visit the Canopy Walk, near the river. It’s ultrashort, but provides different view of the park from above.

Next, we hiked out onto the Birdwalk boardwalk.  We came upon a female Florida Softshell Turtle, busily laying eggs.  She was huge, probably two feet in diameter. Mostly these turtles aren’t easy to see as they only come on land to lay eggs.

Next, we headed onto the Myakka River trail.  Backpackers and mountain bikers use this trail to reach primitive campgrounds throughout the park. Although, we had the book and a park trail map, we found the trail to be confusing as there were red, blue and unmarked trails.  But I did get my boot workout.  Though it’s February, it is already warming up and so the unshaded parts of this trail are already getting warm.

If you don’t want to hike, a boat tour and rental kayaks may interest you.  This is certainly worth another trip in the future. The boots may even be comfortable by then.

Myakka River State Park View