June 7, 2012
My friend Ben had been asking me for weeks to come out and hike with him. Finally I decided to take the drive over from Tampa to the other side of Orlando to spend a day with Him, his wife Bonnie and their 4-legged companion Wrangler. I had not been to this state forest property and was excited to see a different part of Florida!
The day was guaranteed rain, but that never got in the way of a good adventure! There are many biking and hiking trails in this section of the forest and what is surprising was to see a bit of wild totally cornered in by subdivisions! For many forest creatures this little spot of green is all they have left to call home. Orlando continues to grow at an amazing rate and new homes just keep popping up everywhere!
We found the parking lot at the trailhead empty, and there is a lot of parking space. It was good to see that we would mostly have the trails to our selves. We no sooner hit the trail and notice that Tar-flower was in bloom everywhere. They smelled amazing in the thick, heavy, humid air! There were many tracks of deer, raccoon, turtle and more left in the soft sandy spots on the trail. There were many native wildflowers along the path in bloom. Life was coming back to the wild places with the recent rains.
Along the trail someone had left a piece of “trail art” a sculpture of a Native American is my best guess. Someone had knocked it off of the natural pedestal it was one and destroyed it, and another came and pieced it back together (that is how we found it). Quite an interesting find!
We found a very young gopher tortoise, badly injured in the groove of a bike tire pressed into the sand. It was very sad to find this little one, and there was nothing we could do for him but give him safe cover off the road. Soon we came to the river and it was just beautiful! The rains had started and everything smelled fresh. It was fun watching Wrangler try to hide under Ben’s poncho as we walked. Puddles formed almost instantly and I was grateful for my new waterproof Solomon boots!
As we walked we picked up all sorts of trash left by others, mostly bike reflectors. It always saddens me how people want to use and enjoy these natural places yet treat them like their garbage cans. We stopped often and each time we saw a new bird, plant or track. My favorite of the day was a poor American Bald Eagle trying to dry out his wings on the top of an old tree after the rains passed. He looked so pitiful! We must have seen over 20 varieties of fungus and mushrooms and even found a stand of fruiting Paw Paw trees!
It was not long before we came to what remains of Flagler’s railroad. Massive posts sticking out of the ground are all that are left of the original rail lines that brought the original vacationers to Florida. The structure was quite impressive even in their current state.
There were a couple campsite with fire rings in that area (all full of trash and ashes – un-useable). I do not know if they still permit camping here, but it would be a beautiful place to spend the evening along the river! AS we headed back there was a noise on the trail just ahead of us, A young hawk had caught a catfish bigger than it could carry off and 2 vultures were near in a tree taunting him, they wanted his dinner! The hawk ended up flying off and we got a close up view of a very large fresh killed catfish. Amazing that this small raptor could even pick it up!
With the rain gone and the sun back out it was getting hot fast! Even Wrangler tried to find a place to cool off when we stopped for breaks! As we walked out we found we were surrounded by bushes of wild blueberries and more tar flowers. What a beautiful way to end the hike. I wish that was my last view but as we rounded another bent we found 3 mylar balloons stuck in the bushes, half inflated form a local 5 year olds celebration )probably from the houses just across the road). Ben went into the brush and cut out all the ribbon and remains only to look down and see a very large gopher tortoise den. If this turtle would have started to chew on the balloons or ribbon he probably would have died. This is the last memory that remains from our hike. How sad it is for all the animals to have us intruding on them, in their every shrinking back yard.
We all left this hike excited for the beauty we saw and the peace we found hiking in the rain, but with heavy hearts for the residents of this small green space left in the middle of a bustling suburb.
Take some time and check out this beautiful forest, pick up some trash on the trail, stop and smell the flowers. Remember how important it is to keep these places safe and protected!
See you on the trail,