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[ft-l] Our week of hiking - Part 2

Friday - Blue Spring State Park

Sandy and I headed to Blue Spring State Park on Friday to measure the 
boardwalk from the spring and along its run into the St. Johns River.  We had 
hoped to hike and measure the hiking trails there as well, but the St. Johns 
had just crested a week earlier and the trails were still flooded according 
to the ranger.  The river is receding from flood stage rapidly though, and 
the trail should be hikable in a week or so.  We will be back to hike it and 
Hontoon Island soon.  During our walk along the boardwalk we spotted a large 
alligator on the opposite shore.  Also, large fish swam lazily by in the 
crystal clear waters while an anhinga dried its wings on a nearby piling.

Saturday - Perry Oldenburg Mitigation Park, north of Brooksville, FL

Sandy, the consummate researcher, found this little gem of a hike using her 
internet savvy.  She is writing what will no doubt be the premier hiking book 
of its kind, and it is my pleasure to be able to accompany her with the 
measuring wheel.  I've become used to the clickety-click as it counts out the 
feet of trail we hike.  Though only a 1.7 mile hike, we found this trail a 
pleasant surprise.  It is maintained as a habitat for gopher tortoises and 
pocket gophers.  The kiosk contained the first photo I've ever seen of the 
pocket gopher, a recluse who burrows under ground almost exclusively.

Being interested in native plants, I was pleasantly surprised to see a 
prolific amount of the rare sand post oak.  Sandy spotted a deer.  This is 
that colorful time of year when the woods blaze lavender due to blazing star 
and deer tongue.  We saw numerous gopher tortoise holes, but no tortoises.

Saturday - Fort Cooper State Park - Inverness, FL

Another gem of a state park that hikers need to be aware of.  This park sits 
on the shores of Lake Holathlikaha (say that 3 times fast!) which was a 
strategic location for a fort during the days of the Second Seminole War in 
the 1830's.  There are two hiking trails, the Dogwood Trail and the Fort 
Cooper Trail, loops in the 1-3 mile range. Along the shorter Dogwood Trail we 
saw old phosphate pits, sinkholes and exposed limestone jutting out along the 
trail in places. Yes, we saw a dogwood tree as well.

The Fort Cooper Trail follows a majestic live oak canopy along the lake to 
the site of the old fort where a corner of the picket walls have been 
recreated, and where once, for 16 days in 1836 380 troops were stationed.  
The trail continues through the hardwood hammock and loops through a sandhill 
community.  At one turn in the trail, an absolutely perfect wildflower 
prairie charmed us with hundreds of flowers in a beautiful display of colors. 
 This scene is the kind that repays the sometimes unpleasant miles instantly, 
painting the pictures one's memory will cherish throughout the years.

Sunday - Withlacoochee River Park - Pasco County

We hiked near here on our hike of the western corridor at a time of drought 
when the river was no more than a bunch of unconnected puddles.  It was good 
to see the river flowing again, though it hasn't received the kind of dousing 
the St. Johns did.  It is still low.  The trails here include an interpretive 
trail inside the park as well as the FTA orange-blazed and maintained 
Withlacoochee River Trail that extends beyond the boundaries of this county 
park.  We started at the canoe dock and followed the familiar orange blazes.  
This is a heavily forested and beautiful trail, deserving much more use than 
it gets.  We counted 7 varieties of oaks: live, laurel, turkey, water, pin, 
sand post and chapman.  Another fascination was the clump of gopher apple 
growing  18 inches tall, much higher than the usual plant with three or four 

This was our best encounter with wild life in quite some time.  Sandy spotted 
a couple of deer early in the hike.  Then a wild sow with a brown coat.  
After she spotted us and ran, her litter of 5 piglets, 4 black and 1 brown 
followed a few seconds later.  On a boardwalk across an open prairie, we 
spotted a herd of 6 deer meander in and out of the woods over a 5 minute 
period. Later, more deer, probably ten or more for the day.  Also we saw an 
armadillo.  On all of our hikes recently we've stepped lightly around myriad 
small toads known as peepers.  At one point in our hike on Sunday, we saw 
dozens of baby green tree frogs hopping across the trail.

This was a strenuous hike due to numerous blowdowns and Sandy and I are happy 
to claim an hour each of trail maintenance for all the work we did to make 
the trail passable for ourselves and the measuring wheel.  But this trail 
does need some serious maintenance, mostly of the chainsaw variety.  So many 
dead pines, both standing and prone!  We wonder if this is a pine beetle 
infestation.  In a miracle all hikers can relate to, we actually saw two 
trees that DIDN'T fall across the trail!  :)

But even with the maintenance issues, this was easily the best hike of the 
weekend.  It reminded me in some ways of the trail through the Little Big 
Econ State Forest along the river,  but one need not make a comparison to 
enjoy this hike.

The orange blazed trail ends in a 2 mile loop with blue blazed side trails to 
two primitive campsites.  On our way back we intersected and followed the 
interpretive trail to a 40 foot observation platform where we took a break, 
rehydrated and ate our snacks.  A couple of wooden benches would have added 
greatly to the platform.  The trail took us to the site of an old Creek 
Indian village which is being functionally recreated for the education of 
Pasco county's public school children.  Nearby is the site of an old Florida 
homestead where cabins and a chapel have been built.  As we approached the 
rustic open air chapel, some good ol' gospel music sweetly enriched the 
nearby woods through which we walked.  Had we not been so far from home, we 
would have obliged the folks who waved at us to join them.

Nearby, we saw a large field and RV hookups and information about the 
mountain man rendezvous which is held here each February.  As it was getting 
dark, we didn't explore all the available facilities, but we wonder if this 
might be a possible site for a future annual or regional conference.  It 
certainly has many of the elements we require.  Our hike concluded at the 
parking lot at dusk after over 7 miles of happy hiking.

Happy trails,

Solar Bear and Navigator