On Friday I went to the Olustee Depot Visitor’s Center of Osceola National Forest. The Depot is located along U.S. 90 about ten miles east of Lake City. It is undermanned and only open on Friday and Saturday. I spoke with the retired couple volunteering at the center, Jay, and Linda. They were busy putting away the Christmas decorations. There were no helpers. I was told that they could use extra volunteers. I submitted my online application and now I await a call.
The depot dates back to the days of segregation. On one side was the whites only waiting room. On the other side was the blacks only waiting room. Click here to find out more: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/osceola/recarea/?recid=75120
Jay and Linda invited me to a Saturday interpretive hike starting at the Ocean Pond campground gatehouse. I got directions and decided to meet them at noon the next day.
On Saturday morning I drove south on U.S. 441 to CR 250 east then south on 250A to the campground. We met at the gatehouse. The temperatures were cool (in the high 30’s). I wore a light sweatshirt and brought my hiking boots. I aided my steps with hiking sticks. The flat sandy terrain varied from soggy to water covered. Thankfully Jay knew how to bypass the worse of the water logged areas and we never had to wade. Often we walked on the crest of the crowned roads that joined the hiking path. Our total time out was 2 1/2 hours and we covered 3 1/2 miles not exactly a breakneck pace but it was a good hike.
Sunday morning I decided to go to Olustee Battlefield. The battlefield is located east of Lake City along U.S. 90. This was the site of the bloodiest Civil War battle fought on Florida soil. It was an ill advised attempt of a Union officer to turn the tide in the south, a Union disaster, and a Confederate rally. The battlefield has a confederate monument, a small odd cemetery. and a mile long loop trail that begins and ends at the battlefield museum. The museum is small and has some interesting pieces. The long documentary is worth watching. I walked the loop stopping to read the markers along the way. The markers chronicle the events of the battle as it progressed on February 20th, 1864. Visit the site below to learn more about the battlefield. There is also a video and another link to learn more about the battle, https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/osceola/recarea/?recid=75125
As a side note the cemetery is a strange collection of recent graves. An unassuming monument in the cemetery is dedicated to the U.S. Army soldiers lost in the war.
I started Monday heading west on I-10 to SR 129 north. I was trying to find a hiking area. Google Maps kept routing me down dirt roads, a dead end and some roads with names that did not match the local signs. I ignored all of these and continued past the I-75 intersection turning south on U.S. 41 back toward Lake City. It was a sunny warm day and I enjoyed the drive. Eventually I reached White Springs. White Springs is the home of the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park.
Stephen Foster Park (for short) is a tourist attraction built along the Suwannee River. The river of course is mentioned in a Stephen Foster song, Old Folks at Home. The museum has an elaborate entry room with minimally animated figures accenting dioramas of Foster songs. To the left and right of the entryway large ballrooms are decorated with pianos and various civil war period furniture. Reminders of Stephen Foster songs are the main decor of the museum.
The grounds are well kept. There is a craft village that was not in operation when I visited, however the gift shop was open. A carillon building sits in the middle of a square. It is billed as the worlds largest tubular bell carillon. The bells were not ringing. Lightning had struck the building and fried the works. They are currently asking for donations to finance the repairs. The building itself is impressive. the elaborate polished granite and marble interior and associated museum is well worth the visit. A small scale model gives the visitor an idea of the mechanics behind the bells.
There are rental cabins, RV sites, and tent camping sites available. I hiked a portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail along the Suwannee River. A recent storm had left a lot of debris along the trail. I encountered large downed trees and twisted masses of limbs. I had begun walking along the bank of the river but after fifteen minutes I found it necessary to join the trail above. Fortunately there was a clear path up the steep bank to an unoccupied camp site.
It had not been easy walking the steep shelved white sandy bank of the Suwannee. Avoiding the dark tea colored waters was always on my mind as I carefully picked my way along the unstable sands. Progress was slow. Eventually I met a tree that presented an obstacle that I did not wish to tackle. I saw an abandoned fishing pole with full gear below the path leading upward. I left the gear behind as I climbed toward the path above. Signs warned of alligators but I did not encounter any. It was the first warm seventy degree day after a week of freezing evening temperatures. I Think the reptiles need a little more time to warm up.
I hiked out for thirty five minutes and then returned along the same trail. It was the only option. If you went out you came back the same way. I encountered one mass of twisted branches that looked impassable. After studying it more carefully I found that a series of ducks and twists allowed me to pass through the mess unscathed. On the way back I scraped my shin on a hidden branch. It was a mere scratch through the thick pant leg. No blood.
The total time of the hike was one hour ten minutes. I don’t think I went very far. Towards the end of the hike I encountered six Pileated Woodpeckers. I stopped to watch them and attempted to get some photos. A squirrel chided me from a tree while I stood silently following the birds. The squirrel did not help my cause.
There are many more things to see and do in the Lake City area. I will add to the blog as I go.