Thursday, July 7, 2011

Spring to Spring Trail



Spring to Spring Trail Introduction






The 2.8 mile (5.6 roundtrip) Spring to Spring Trail (SST) is the middle segment of a much larger project that once constructed, will stretch 26 miles and eventually link Gemini Springs Park to DeLeon Springs State Park. This segment of the SST trail is very popular with distance runners, bicyclists, and nature lovers.  People who use this trail for the first time are often impressed at how it feels like you are taking a hike into the woods…and you really are. The planners did an excellent job placing subtle curves into an otherwise straight-as-an-arrow trail to obscure the view ahead. During summer, the trees and undergrowth along the trail also do an excellent job of hiding adjacent land use. Both give the illusion you have journeyed deep into the woods. 


The trail’s entrance can be found after passing under the railroad overpass. At the trail’s beginning, you will find a map at a small kiosk. There is not much support on this trail…no phones, no water, no restrooms, only rest benches every half mile and that’s it. So take whatever you think you will need for your journey (cell phones are especially recommended). If you need emergency assistance and can’t make it back to your car or call 911, it’s recommended you go to the trail’s south terminus to the Blue Springs park entrance station where a ranger can summon help. The kiosk map says you can get water, restrooms and park your car at the Blue Springs State Park entrance. It’s not quite true. You will find a cold water fountain at the park’s entrance station and the ranger won’t make you pay admission to use it. However, the restrooms and parking are almost one mile from the park’s entrance…and yes; you must pay admission to use them. The closest free parking lot to the trail’s south terminus is approximately 0.7 mile east from the entrance at Valentine Park on French Ave. You could also technically park along the right-of-way of French Ave, but it’s not recommended and nobody does it.


Is This Trail Really Hilly?

This trail has earned a reputation among local runners for having difficult “hills” and being a great place to hill train. According to USGS topographical maps, the trail starts out about 20 feet above sea level and over the course of it the elevation undulates between 30 and 80 feet. To gauge how much elevation you have gained or lost, watch where you are in relation to the railroad tracks. You will start out about 15 feet below the tracks and at the highest point be approximately 65 feet above it. If your training plan calls for a run on varying terrain and you don’t want to use a treadmill, this trail is great (by Florida standards) for training. However, you be the judge if there is enough elevation change to qualify as a "hill". Which direction should you go? Depends on what you want to do. If you want to get the toughest part of the run/ride out of the way, do the north segment first.

The View Along the Trail

Going south from the kiosk sign, the trail treks between the eastern boundary of Blue Springs State Park (along the trail’s west side) and woods, nuked woods and the western edge of the West Highlands Subdivision (on the trails east side). Going north from the kiosk sign, the trail terminates into Beresford Park's northern boundary. Along the entire length of the trail’s east side are railroad tracks and an electric transmission line. Between them and the trail is a strip of trees and undergrowth that sometimes obscures the adjacent land uses/railroad tracks/power line and sometimes thins to expose them.  The following discussion describes the north trail segment and south segment toward Blue Springs State Park. 


Terminus of SST North Segment
 North Trail Segment

There is not much to say about the segment of the trail north of the kiosk sign. It’s a heavily wooded and canopied, 0.5 mile segment (1 mile roundtrip) that currently dead ends at the northern terminus of the park. The trail habitat is very similar to the loop trail on the other side of the railroad tracks. The key reason people travel this direction is to extend their mileage, get a challenging, rolling terrain over short distances and to have some trail to themselves. 



Mile 0 to 0.6 
 The initial trail segment traverses the rich floodplain forest of Lake Beresford. The forest in this section is a mixture of water hickory, sweet gum, elm, red maple and a few cypress trees. It’s also a great spot to look for birds and wetland wildflowers. When water levels are high, there will be standing water on the west side of the trail and it really feels (and smells!) like you are running through a swamp. Due to it being the low spot and near the water, this section is also the coolest (and periodically foggiest) part of the trail. This is also the only trail segment where you can see hints of Lake Beresford through the trees during the winter. It’s not your imagination if you thought you heard cars driving next to the trail. Fatio Road is just beyond the east side of the trail though it can’t be seen because the raised railroad grade on the trail’s east side hides it.

View From the Trail
Mile 0.6 to Mile 1

Hot Spot #1
Going south, you will exit Beresford Park at mile 0.6. The park’s exit is marked by an area of nuked woods along the trail’s east side, a gradually rolling increase in elevation and a transition from floodplain to oak forest. As the oak trees start to dominate the forest around you, they form a canopy over the trail and it’s the only segment that stays in the shade during the heat of the day.  Because of all the oak acorns, wild hogs and turkey are attracted to this area (wild hogs are now excluded by a hogwire fence). Around mile 0.75-.85, you will encounter the first and the shorter of two “hot spots”. The “hot spots” are areas along the trail where the trees disappear along the east side and there is full morning sun exposure. In summer, these segments can be much warmer than the rest of the trail.

Mile 1.0 to 2.2
 
Flatwood forest starts around mile 1.0 and continues to mile 2.2. Long leaf, some short leaf and slash pines start to compete with the oaks in the surrounding woods and the forest understory opens up a little. Around mile one, you will see an area of power line right-of-way that has pretty much been destroyed by all the off-road vehicle use. Luckily, most of this area is hidden in summer by the thin buffer of trees between the trail and railroad tracks. The area is a “no-man’s land” where people come to off-road and target shoot.  Kids on dirt bikes and 4-wheelers used to bleed over onto the trail when they got bored with the right-of-way. But now that the park gets more use, these folks seem to respect the trail boundaries a little more. Just don’t be surprised if you hear gunfire or see a kid flying down the trail on their 4-wheeler. This no-man’s land continues to mile 1.6 where you encounter the western edge of the West Highlands Subdivision. The subdivision keeps you company until reaching mile 2.0 where the forest begins again (with a few scattered houses) and continues on both sides of the trail.


SST South Terminus
Mile 2.2 to Trail Terminus (Mile 2.8)



View From the Trail


 




The highest elevation on the trail (approximately 80 feet) is marked by the trail’s passage into scrub forest at mile 2.2. The entrance to this area is also marked by a cleared area on the west side of the trail. What you are seeing is the first stage of a restoration effort to create habitat for the endangered scrub jay. I’ve never seen a scrub jay while running the trail, but I have no doubt they are in the area. This section also contains the second “hot spot”. The hotspot signals the half way point (for out-and-back runners) is not far away. The trail ends a short distance later in a loop at French Avenue. Across the street is the entrance to Blue Springs State Park and a cold water fountain. 


The Blue Springs State Park Extension

Want to keep going after getting to the end of the SST? Blue Springs State Park can really give your trail experience a focal point. During the really hot days of summer, you can keep running or cycling from the south end of the SST into the park to and take a break to swim in the spring. Regardless of how hot it is outside, the water is always 72°F and makes a nice stop to cool off before returning back to Beresford Park. During the cold days of winter, sometimes hundreds of manatees will congregate at the spring for its warm 72°F water. Both are unique recreational opportunities you will not find on other trails.


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