Trail of the Month: January 2003
West Orange Trail, Florida
Winding through 20 miles of fields, forest canopies, neighborhoods and towns, the West Orange Trail is an immensely popular rail-trail located just a few miles west of metropolitan Orlando in Orange County, Florida. The trail runs along the borders of Lake Apopka on the abandoned right-of-way of the Orange Belt Railway and connects the communities of Oakland, Winter Garden, Ocoee and Apopka. Although many new subdivisions have sprouted up along the trail over the last few years, trail users are never far from a natural section of lake or woodland, helping to maintain the relaxed atmosphere that trail users have come to expect on the West Orange Trail.
Beginning from the trail's western endpoint near Oakland, the first notable feature of the West Orange Trail is the railroad bridge at mile one that takes users across the Florida State Turnpike. Near mile three a xeriscape garden—an attractive, sustainable landscape that conserves water and is based on sound horticultural practices—decorates the trail's edge. Mile five brings trail users to Winter Garden, the former center of citrus processing in the area, which is now a bedroom community for Orlando. From Chapin Station at mile seven until Ingram Outpost at mile 12 the trail has a more rural feel, except for the bustling stretch that passes near the Forest Lake Golf Course in Ocoee. At mile 14.2, trail users come to the cutoff for Clarcona Horseman's Park, which offers equestrians a staging area for their visit. When the trail reaches Apopka, one of the fastest growing communities in central Florida, it becomes fully urban for the first time since it left downtown Winter Garden. Currently U.S. 441 divides the West Orange Trail, but someday a bridge spanning this highway may be built, and an additional three miles of the West Orange Trail that lies east of U.S. 441 will be connected to the main section of the trail west of U.S. 441.
While all rail-trails function as public spaces, the West Orange Trail takes this notion a step further by creating trailheads that are divided into "stations" and "outposts." Stations offer full amenities such as restroom facilities, water fountains and benches while an outpost trailhead may simply offer access to the trail. The Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating public places that build communities, notes that on the West Orange Trail, the "uniquely designed signs at the entrance to each community give trail users a sense that they have entered a new community and a new place." This sense of place in a rapidly developing area makes the West Orange Trail a particularly valuable asset to this area of central Florida.
Phase one of this 14-foot wide paved trail opened in 1995 and phase two opened in 1998. Someday the West Orange Trail will be a part of the planned 200-mile regional connection known as the Central Florida Loop. The nearby trails that the West Orange will connect to are the Lake Minneola Scenic Trail to the west and Rock Springs Kelly Park to the north. Funding for this rail-trail came from both the federal government and the state of Florida.