Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Biking Florida's General Van Fleet Trail

The 29 mile General James Van Fleet State Trail is another of Florida's paved rails-to-trails, and it is the most rural trail in the state. General James Van Fleet was a renowned and often-decorated general during World War II and the Korean War. He died at age 100 at his ranch in Polk City, near the southern terminus of his namesake trail.

I've biked the northern and southern thirds third of the trail three times each, but never the middle section until today. The first few miles of the trail at the north end run through a unit of the Withlacoochee State Forest and the Richloam Wildlife Management Area. I saw several turkey vultures, gopher tortoises, and miles of beautiful forest and wetlands, and it was nine miles before reaching the first road crossing!


Because it’s a former railroad line, the path is straight and flat -- according to the GPS, the elevation gain over 24 miles was 14 feet! You won’t see many people, but you will see cattle ranches, lush forests, wetlands, wild flowers, birds, and butterflies.



I've seen bike repair stations at various trailheads recently, but I spotted several in cabinets at rest areas on this trail. Very accommodating! It had a pump, a wrench, and a variety of smaller tools.



Gopher tortoises are frequent sights along the trail.



The middle third of the trail runs through the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve,  322,900 acres of wetlands, flatlands, and low ridges, bounded by prominent sandy ridges where the limestone is raised a bit. Experts rank it right after the Everglades in its environmental importance to Florida. This large tract stores groundwater which replenishes the Floridian aquifer, a main source of Florida's drinking water, and also forms four major rivers — Hillsborough, Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha, and Peace Rivers. It is also home to feral pigs, armadillos, and these gators I spotted...





I actually saw eight gators without even searching hard. There's an area called "The Bridges" and most of the sightings were at the second of the three bridges...



I've biked 222 trails across the country so far, and I must say this is the only rest stop I've ever seen that had mesh netting on the windows and a screen door. As I approached, I noticed the triangle opening at the eaves wasn't screened but when I went inside, they had hung mosquito netting under the roof rafters, so the inside was completely meshed. I'm sure the bikers appreciate this stop during the summer bug season!



The southern third of the trail also runs through lovely forest but also passes numerous cattle ranches and one alpaca ranch seen here...



There is a short nature trail alongside the bike trail near the parking area in Polk City and also a washroom.

The southern end of the Van Fleet Trail trail in Polk City has a paved connector trail that takes you to the TECO Auburndale Trail which runs another six miles south. You can use the Van Fleet parking lot to reach this trail, too.

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