Sample text for Five-star trails : Gainesville & Ocala : your guide to the area's most beautiful hikes / Sandra Friend, John Keatley.

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Cross Florida Greenway: Florida Trail, SW 49th Avenue to Land Bridge
Scenery: 5
Trail Condition: 4
Children: 3
Difficulty: 5
Solitude: 4
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: N29 02.461 W82 12.068
Distance & Configuration: 5.7 miles balloon
Hiking Time: 3 hours
Highlights: Rugged terrain, Cross Florida Barge Canal diggings
Access: Open dawn to dusk; open for backpacking 24/7. Free.
Maps: USGS Shady, display map at kiosk
Facilities: Portable toilet and picnic area at trailhead. Benches, kiosks, and campsite along the trail.
Wheelchair Access: None
Comments: Backpackers may use designated campsites with a free permit; call the Sharpes Ferry Office. No permit required for Florida Trail Association members.
Contacts: Office of Greenways and Trails, Sharpes Ferry Office, 8282 SE Hwy 314, Ocala, FL 34470; 352-236-7143;
Florida Trail Association, 5415 SW 13th St, Gainesville, FL 32608; 352-378-8823;
With nearly six miles of rugged hiking along the Cross Florida Greenway, the Florida Trail between SW 49th Avenue trailhead and the Land Bridge is a lesson in Florida’s environmental history and the healing power of time. Native habitats reclaimed one of Florida’s largest public works projects, the Cross Florida Barge Canal, with time and erosion creating the steep ravines and bluffs that the trail now traverses. The loop portion of this hike lets you see what remains of this big dig, as well as a peek at the renowned Land Bridge over Interstate 75.
Route Details
Starting at the trailhead kiosk, follow the blue blazes. It’s a little confusing as you see mountain bike signage right away, so watch for a "FT" sign beyond the "OMBA sign,” and follow the “FT” path into the sandhills, the turkey oak leaves making crunching sounds underfoot as you walk. Crossing a limerock road, the blue-blazed trail leads you into a scrubby habitat with big dropoffs off the footpath. You descend down a steep slope with roots sticking out like a staircase. The sides are hard packed sand but there are enough pine needles that you can slip and slide.

At a quarter mile you reach the Florida Trail junction. Turn right at the sign to start walking east towards the Land Bridge. A steep ascent follows through a cut. A primitive campsite with a picnic bench is atop the bluff, a short blue-blazed trail leading to it. The main trail stays to the right. Now that you’ve made your first traverse across the former barge canal - for decades, a giant deep gash in Florida’s landscape until the forests filled it in - the trail levels out, easing into the natural undulations of the sandhill habitat.

The trail enters a sand pine forest. The extensive sand pine forest along this trek is why this section of the Cross Florida Greenway has been dubbed "Christmas" on the maps, as the soft-needled young sand pines make nice Christmas trees. Crossing the limerock wagon road, the trail heads downhill. Fallen logs line the footpath through one area. Bracken fern noses out of the leafy duff on the forest floor. Reaching the limerock road again, the trail slips into a forest of tall, slender sand pines so close together they feel like a wall of bamboo.

At 0.9 mile the trail crosses the corner of a foundation of a small square building surrounded by the forest. The sand pines just beyond grow incredibly large and tall for a species whose normal lifespan is no more than 60 years. Shield lichens drape from upper limbs. There are fungal galls on the trees, on limbs and trunks, some large enough to mistake for a hornet’s nest. As the trail heads downhill into a scrub forest, you can see a distant ridge topped with pines through a break in the canopy on the left. Just before you meet the limerock road again, a fallen piece of sand pine has been smoothed off as a natural log bench.

Beneath the gnarled branches of sand live oak, the trail ascends and descends, dancing along the rim of the big dig, which drops off sharply to your right. In this scrub forest, notice the many delicate lichens that grow in patches of soft sand. One of the more unusual species here is Cladonia prostrata. Dry, it has a nubby popcorn look. Sprinkle a little water on it, and it unfurls to look like a miniature staghorn fern.

As the trail climbs upwards again, you enter a stand of taller pines. Passing a Florida rosemary, the trail continues its plunges and scrambles through a tight corridor of sand live oaks covered in brilliant lichens and mosses. Atop one ridge, the habitat transitions from scrub into a forest of tall loblolly pines. The trail drops off it down to the right into the canal diggings. At 2.1 miles, you enter an area reminiscent of the southern Appalachians. This side of the diggings is deeply carved by decades of rain into a series of steep drainages beneath the pines. Watch for the double blazes as they guide you through this maze of clumps of earth covered in forest.
At an obvious fork in the trail, the unmarked fork to the right leads down to a terrace. It overlooks the forest in the bottom of the canal bed. Scramble back up and continue to follow the orange blazes. Depending on the tree cover and time of year, you can see across to the far side of the canal, the earth a yellowish-orange in the distance.

By 2.4 miles, you reach a bench. Take the trail to the right of the bench. It is unmarked, but well maintained, and is the beginning of the loop down into the diggings. As it drops into the canal basin, you hear interstate traffic in the distance. Passing the back side of a sign, "No Horses Beyond This Point," cross the limerock road and follow the equestrian trail marked E-80 to see the historic diggings. There are two benches and a junction of trails at its base. Since the trails were first established in 1999, I’ve watched the vegetation fill it in, but it still looks like a giant sand dune, and is the only place along the Cross Florida Greenway like this. The horse trail continues up and over the “dune” so it’s fine to walk up it and let the kids roll down it.

Leaving the diggings, walk back to the limerock road and make a right at the "No Horses" sign. Follow the road to leave the bottom of the canal. The road curves to the left and ascends into sand pine forest, the sound of traffic increasing. By 2.9 miles, you reach the big “Land Bridge” sign. All of the trails merge here to cross the bridge. Walk out to the center of the bridge to the overlook. It’s the same destination you can access from the Land Bridge Loop (Hike TK) but from the opposite side of I-75.

Retrace your steps back down the bridge on the west side. As you pass the limestone watering trough, you’ll see the "FT" sign marking the Florida Trail. Turn right to follow the orange blazes. This loop portion of the trail continues through the sand pine scrub, here dense with diminutive oaks in the understory. Prickly pear cactus and Florida rosemary grows in sandy spots along this narrow footpath. Crossing a perpendicular pathway, scramble up into the denser forest, where resurrection fern grows along the trunk of a cedar tree.

Walking through the tightly knit oaks, you reach the bench at 3.3 miles, completing the loop. As you spend the next hour scrambling in and out of the well-eroded north side of this abandoned canal, consider the backbreaking work expended by thousands of unemployed Floridians working for the Works Progress Administration in 1935, digging this ditch with shovels, using mules to cart away and pile up the soil. While the canal - an environmental nightmare - thankfully never came to pass, all of that hard work made for this unusually rugged terrain for hiking. Following the trail back the way you came, be sure to turn off onto the blue-blazed side trail once you descend the steep bluff just past the campsite. You return to the SW 49th Avenue trailhead for a 5.7 mile hike.
Nearby Attractions
At I-75 exit 341, the Don Garlits Auto Museums showcase antique cars, dragsters, and racing memorabilia from the man who popularized drag racing:
From I-75 exit 341, Belleview / Dunnellon, drive west 2.3 miles on CR 484 to the second traffic light. Turn right on Marion Oaks Course at the traffic light. Follow it 0.8 miles as it curves and becomes Marion Oaks Trail. Turn right on SW 49th Avenue and continue 0.4 mile. The trailhead is on the right.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Hiking -- Florida -- Gainesville Region -- Guidebooks.
Hiking -- Florida -- Ocala Region -- Guidebooks.
Trails -- Florida -- Gainesville Region -- Guidebooks.
Trails -- Florida -- Ocala Region -- Guidebooks.
Gainesville Region (Fla.) -- Guidebooks.
Ocala Region (Fla.) -- Guidebooks.
TRAVEL / United States / South / South Atlantic (DC, DE, FL, GA, MD, NC, SC, VA, WV). -- bisacsh
SPORTS & RECREATION / Camping. -- bisacsh
HEALTH & FITNESS / Healthy Living. -- bisacsh