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[ft-l] Hiking proposed trail in Ocala (long)

> In case some of you didn't catch the subtly of the fishing net story, HOW
> Happy trails,
> Rich and Sandy
> aka Solar Bear and Navigator

Last week Bob Hight (FNST Trail Construction Coordinator) and I walked a big
chunk of the proposed new trail which will connect the Cross Florida
Greenway to our existing trail in the Ocala NF.  One of the FTA trail crews
had flagged it during the spring and Kent Wimmer requested that the route be
GPS'ed before the bio-degradable flagging tape - well - bio-degrades.

The orginal route was to continue along the Cross Florida Greenway, beside
the Oklawaha River.  But Dick Schuler scoped ut that area and determined
that it was just too swampy, so the trail basically will run diagonally from
Sharpes Ferry northeast and will join the existing trail near the 88 Store,
south of the North Hunt HQ.  It may be a year or even two before the trail
is actually built because we have to wait for user group input and
environmental impact studies, but Bob and I got a sneak preview.

It was quite an adventure for Bob and I.  When Kent asked us to GPS the
trail I said "Sure, just tell me where it begins and ends."  Bob wanted to
go since he will be responsible for the crews developing the trail, so we
allocated 3 days to do the 17 miles.  I remember Bob saying something like
"If we get done early, we can scout a few other areas."  Boy, were we in for
a surprise.  I was thinking there actually WAS A TRAIL out there!  No such
luck.  We were bushwacking for 3 days through smilax, gatorbacks, blackberry
bushes, cypress swamp and scrub.  We were trying to follow the flagging
tape, but in some areas the flags were pretty sparse.

We started Monday morning with Dick Schuler driving us around in his big
truck and showing us the road crossings so we would know where to deadhead
the cars.  After lunch we began in earnest, just east of CR 314 and north of
Sharpes Ferry.  A lot of bushwacking thru brambles and some gatorbacks.  We
got to SR 40 just before dark - 2.3 miles in about 4 hours, not too bad.
After showers, we even had time for dinner before Silver Springs rolled up
their sidewalks.

Tuesday we left the motel at 7:30 am for what we knew would be a long day.
We couldn't figure out where the trail started north of 40, so we drove up
to NE 125 AV and headed back south.  We did pretty well until the flags
disappeared.  I stopped at an old road crossing with the GPS while Bob hiked
the old road out to SR 40 - only about 1/4 mile as the crow flies but longer
on the road.  By yelling back and forth, we were able to track the trail -
even found a couple of flags near SR 40, so we knew we were real close to
the intended route.  Back at NE 125 AV we couldn't figure out exactly where
the new route left an old jeep trail and entered the woods, so we drove
north again to NE 145 AV and GPS'ed south.  Terrain thru here wasn't too
bad, mostly dense scrub.  Bob, who was leading to beat back the trail a bit,
was collecting a nice assortment of scratches.  Crossed a number of jeep
trails and bashed through a lot of scrub oak.  Only got lost once, near the
beginning, where we were in a relatively clear area of long-leaf pine and
couldn't find any flags for awhile.  We had just made it back to NE 125 AV
when the GPS unit quit.  There's a little camera battery inside which holds
your settings when the big VCR battery is disconnected.  It chose that exact
moment to die.  Well, if you have to run out of battery, right at the car is
a good place to do it.  I didn't have a spare camera battery, but I was able
to load the AA battery pack, so we were off and stumbling again after a
lunch break.  We had managed 2.8 miles in 5 hours.

>From NE 145 AV we worked our way north. This was a really rough stretch.
Acres of palmettos, stumbling among the gatorbacks.  Stumbling because the
palmettos were so thick, we couldn't see our feet.  Bob led the way.  He
said he was leading so that he, rather than me, would be bitten if we ran
across any snakes.  I think he would have gotten them riled up and I would
have been the one bitten!  But I did appreciate him tromping down the
blackberry bushes for me.  Bob's collection of scratches was growing at an
exponential pace.  We finally hit NE 52 PL and the intersection with
unmarked Smith Rd.  We had it easy for a while since the proposed route more
or less follows this old road through a swampy area.  Had 15 minutes of
indecision when the flags went off the the east and the road went north, but
since the flags led into the swamp and then vanished, we back-tracked and
took the road north.  Sure enough, on the other side of a low area in teh
road the flags showed up again.  We followed them easily for a while,
bending around the north end of the swamp and then south a bit along a
powerline easement until we crossed CR 314A.  Here's where we stopped for
the day.  It was getting dark and we were exhausted.  It was 7:30 pm.  12
hours and 7.9 miles for the day. We were both so tired, we didn't even go to
dinner.  I'm not sure anything was even open by the time we got back to the
motel and showered, but I wasn't going out to find out anyway.

Wednesday morning we figured we could make it up to CR 314 by 2 pm.  Bob had
some errands he had to run for a meeting the next day and I got a call for
the FTA office and they requested I drive up there for some map marketing
discussions before I drove back to Orlando.  So we arranged for a short day.
I told the office I'd be there around 3.

>From CR 314A the trail bends around some private property then joins up with
an abandoned railroad grade.  We had a good time walking the railroad grade.
It was easy hiking and the flags were just frequent enough that we knew we
were on the right route.  We passed through Eaton Creek and the day was
shaping up for delightful hiking and we were right on schedule.  Past FR 86
however we ran into problems.  It was just going too well, I guess.  We were
following the flags and knew we were only about a mile due south of CR 314
when the flags just vanished.  We walked on about 1/2 mile.  No flags.  We
walked back, found the last flag.  Looked high and low, back and forth. No
more flags straight ahead, to the right or to the left.  Finally found an
old road leading north and took it.  We hadn't gone more than 300 yards when
we hit flagging tape.  It was coming in from our left, so we followed it
back to see where we had missed the turn.  About 100 yards from the original
old rr grade we found a big pile of flagging tape on the ground off in the
bushes.  No more flagging tape between the grade and the orange pile.
Someone had removed the flagging tape from the correct route AND put up a
few flags on along the grade to head us in the wrong direction!  For
whatever reason, it was done deliberately, as the big pile of torn tape
attested.  We retraced our steps, replacing the tape, and finally ended up
at the CR 314 road crossing.  Only to find that our car was parked at the
wrong set of orange flagging tape!  We walked about 3/4 of a mile west along
CR 314 to the car.  Figured out that the flagging tape where we were parked
was either put up by hunters (it's across from a hunt camp) or there was a
side trail we missed, since we will probably put a blue-blaze trail into the
hunt camp for camping during general gun season and water.  Either way, it
was the fitting end to a confusing day.  We finally finished at 3 pm, only
an hour late.  Another 2.8 miles done in 6.5 hours.

So, now you have some idea of what the proposed trail route is and what your
FTA employees do all day!   From our walk-thru we already know some changes
will have to be made to the proposed route due to terrain and private
property issues.  But we have the basic route GPS'ed for the FS so they can
begin looking at the feasibility of the new trail.  It was a great adventure
but my feet hope it's a few weeks before I have another one like it.  I
thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with Bob and encourage all of you to get
to know him.  My hat is off tothe trial crew who falgged the route through
some very difficult terrain.  And I hope this accounting also gives you a
greater appreciation of all the work the FTA trail builders and maintainers
go through to prepare a safe and pleasant trail for hikers.

Deb Blick
FTA Trail Inventory Coordinator