Trail of the Month: January 2007
Florida's Withlacoochee State Trail
The 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail is the longest rail-trail in Florida and counted among many locals as their personal access to the good life. Situated between Orlando and Tampa, it hosts a steady stream of visitors and locals on its paved path and adjacent equestrian trail.
Over a century ago, when CSX trains hauled phosphate from local mines, the region boomed. At one time, Trilby—where three active rail lines crossed—was bigger than then Miami. But by the late eighties the phosphate industry was history and in 1989 the last CSX train made its run. Rail-trails came late to Florida—they were only authorized by the state in the late 1980s.
Following quickly on CSX's move to pull up its track in the corridor an enthusiastic Rails-to-Trails of the Withlacoochee, one of the most active and long running trail citizen support groups in the state, worked hard to get the corridor approved for use as a rail-trail by the Florida Cabinet.
Today, the Withlacoochee's length, popularity and proximity to numerous communities have given rise to seven trailheads, information kiosks, colorful murals and convenient parks. It was one of the first trails in the nation to be paved with a mix of asphalt and crumb rubber—from recycled automobile tires—giving trail-users the pleasant sensation of walking, running and riding on air.
The rail-trail's subtle beauty makes easy shifts along the trail as it travels through farmland, towns and parks and protected areas. Although the trail makes for a long journey, food and drink are never too far as you travel southbound through the towns of Citrus Springs, Inverness, Floral City Isachatta and Trilby. Be sure to try some of the local flavor—be it barbeque, ice cream or a libation.
For much of its length, the trail parallels the Withlacoochee River, a state-designated paddling trail. The best place to catch river views and put in your canoe or kayak is a Nobelton Wayside Park, about eight miles south of Floral City. From here the trail crosses the Withlacoochee State Forest and Croom Wildlife Management Area. In the mornings and early evenings expect to see deer along this roughly six-mile stretch. Gators, raccoons and wild turkey also make their homes nearby. Near the southern boundary, Silver Lake Recreation Area offers year-round camping.
Several miles farther south is the heavily trafficked Ridge Manor trailhead, just off US Highway 98/Route 50. Fortunately, a state-of-the-art overpass leads safely across the congested roadway. There are no further road crossings over the final six miles to Trilby and the Owensboro Junction trailhead.