Down Upon the Suwannee River

Bridge Over the Suwannee River

I’m heading into the stretch for my hike preparation. I now have eighty some odd miles on my boots and I’ve hiked as far as ten miles at a time.  But…I still haven’t done the kind of elevation gains that the REI folks recommended. Other than flying somewhere, I think that I am not going to find a 2000-foot elevation gain in Florida, or in Southern Georgia, for that matter. But the authors of the Florida Trail Guide   (the Florida Scenic Trail is Florida’s version of the Appalachian Trail) put together a listing of hilly portions of the Florida Trail.

The stars aligned!  Last week the Suwannee Spring Reunion music festival, an annual event, at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park popped up on my calendar wish list for the same  weekend that I wanted to do a long hilly hike. (I had wanted to visit the park for a long time) And….the trailhead for two Florida Trail hilly hikes happened to be just across the river on the other side of Suwannee Springs. About a 3.5 hour drive, this clearly was an overnight trip and I gave it two nights, with Sunday at the festival. Monday and a few hours on Tuesday will be for hiking. Camping at the park or motels in Live Oak are options, but need to be reserved well in advance of a festival.

The Festival was well worth the visit with some amazing Americana music (bluegrass, blues and country). Great for listening and photography. Sunday has two active stages; thus, you move back and forth…no downtime between bands.

The Infamous Stringdusters

 

Ralph Roddenbery

Bring your own chairs. Vendors sold food, much of it even healthy and there is also a café on site.  The Festival Park hosts a huge number of campers during events and many people stay for all three days.

SOS Cafe

I think they might want to call this hippy fest if the name hasn’t been taken already.  More tie dye here than probably existed during the 1960s, both for sale and on people.

Tie Dye Everywhere

After I finished listening, I headed over to Suwannee Springs across the road.  The ruins of the Suwannee Springs spa, which existed before the Civil War, remain as well as those of an old train trestle. A closed car bridge crosses the river to the trail.  Tomorrow looks to be some fun climbing. I can’t wait!

Suwannee Springs Spa Ruins

Foot Bridge Leading to the Florida Trail

 

 

 

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