Friday, August 28, 2015

Biking Florida's Gainesville -- Hawthorne Trail

The Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail State Park runs 16 paved miles between these two Florida towns on old railroad right-of-way, which was purchased by the state in 1989 from CSX Transportation. The Peninsular Railway built the line in 1879 which then ran from Waldo to Ocala. Hawthorne was variously known as Walt's Crossing, Jamestown, and finally Hawthorne, the last two honoring a local landowner, James Hawthorne.

The four trailheads are listed on the map below (click to enlarge.)

The trail passes through the topmost segment of the 21,000 acre Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, A U.S. National Natural Landmark, once the stronghold of the Alachua band of the Seminiole Tribe. The next two photos are of the forested section of the preserve.

There is a short side trail taking you to this overlook so you can gaze into the Prairie Preserve.

The trail also passes through a section of the Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area... well a delightfully curvy and hilly section called The Hammock and Big Sink. The photo below is coming uphill out of The Sink.

Prairie Creek drains Newnans Lake with the water heading to Paynes Prairie and passing beneath the trail, giving a wonderful view (and a boardwalk hike) to see the cypress swamp...

I generally park at the western terminus in Boulware Springs City Park. When I first began biking this trail on vacations here in the early 2000s, the paved trail only headed east to Hawthorne.  With my mountain bike, I also was able to turn right and bike west toward Gainesville on the double track seen below. It crossed a few roads and eventually narrowed to single track, and in one place I had to bike down to a creek, carry the bike over the creek, push it up the steep embankment on the other side, and then follow a single track west. And I would find several of these narrow paths, most of which led to tents and shanties of homeless persons living in the woods. The trail is now paved all the way to Depot Avenue, and from there a left turn tales you to Archer Road and the University, and a right turn puts you on the Depot and Waldo Trails.

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