I followed Google Maps north on US 441 turned east on CR 246 (NW Lassie Black Street) to it’s end and turned north on US 41 into White Springs, Florida. I decided to check out the cafe that I had been told about when I had visited The Stephen Foster Park. I peered through the cafe window. It was a gutted space cluttered with paint and other remodeling materials inside. Not open for business. My next option for coffee was at the nearby I-75 exit McDonalds. I can’t say it was worth the drive but I got a cup of coffee out of it.
I drove back to White Springs while sipping my morning java. I turned south on US 41 through the city until I saw the large brown park sign pointing to turn left for Big Shoals Sate Park. I followed along CR 135 (Woodpecker Route) for a mile. There was a road for Little Shoals. I found the entrance confusing. No one was at the park. There was a box with envelopes where you could choose a payment option of dropping cash in the envelope, or going on line to pay. The envelope had a coded tag for the rearview mirror. I looked over the small site. There was a paved trail heading into the woods. I decided that this was not where I wanted to be.
I returned to CR 135. After a mile and a quarter I reached the Big Shoal entrance, SE 94th Street (Old Godwin Bridge Road). It was one and a quarter miles of slick sandy mud. I decided I needed to keep moving and stay to the center of the crowned road. I drove slowly, and purposefully while my low clearance Honda Fit swayed from time to time. I let off the gas to allow it to straighten but never allowed the car to stop moving for fear it would get stuck. I was fortunate not to encounter anyone heading the other direction.
I was relieved to find pavement at the park entrance. It was a very small circle with parking spaces around the outside of the ring. A restroom facility in the middle of the circle also had an occupied volunteer RV site. I retrieved an envelope, dropped in four bucks, and parked. The Suwannee River banks were just below the circle. Two trails followed along the river banks in opposite directions. The yellow trail (Big Shoals Trail) headed south toward the rapids. It was a straight line that required a retracing return hike. The Blue Trail (Long Beach Trail) was a loop. It seemed far more interesting than just walking the banks south and back.
The blue trail was far more challenging than I thought it would be. It was only a two mile loop along the low level wooded area parallel to the Suwannee River. Along the way I encountered heavy storm debris left by the previous weeks ice storm. There were downed trees, heavy branches and some unexpected streams that tested my nimble jumping skills. The trail was marked with blue paint on the trees, blue paint on ground markers, and blue paint on the occasional rustic rail. At times the trail was obscured by a mass of storm rubble. I had to scout past the mangled limbs to find the next trail marker. At one point a trail cut in from the left that could have been a hairpin turn. It did not seem right. Straight ahead was completely blocked by what looked like thick underbrush. I discovered the underbrush was dense debris. The path opened up on the other side and a blue marker could be seen on a tree twenty yards ahead. Had I taken the left turn I think I would have ended up walking in circles within the looping trail.
The blue trail started along the Suwannee at a cement canoe launch. The launch gave an excellent view of the river basin. To the left the sandy banks curved away to a distant point then arced away in the opposite direction as the river passed to the right. The trail dropped down quickly from the parking lot into the river basin. It followed closely to the river meandering inland, crossing several small wooden footbridges made slick by wet pine needles and leaves. After walking for a seemingly long time the trail turned to the left. I assumed I had reached the distal end of the trail but soon I was walking along the banks of the Suwannee again. I wondered what had gone wrong. Was I even on the trail yet? Did I go in a circle? I was still seeing blue markings. I decided to set some broken branches as trail markers in case I had gotten into a loop within the loop. After another ten minutes the trail finally broke off and took a true turn back towards the parking lot. I encountered a marker that had “1 Mile” marked on it. I was at the halfway point. I was not in a race but if I had only walked one mile, I was making poor time.
The lowlands opened up into wide areas with sparse undergrowth. The trail markers were not always easy to see. I would stop and scan the area for anything blue and managed to pick my way along the trail. When I reached the parking lot, I was not aware that I had been so close until I saw the pavement ahead. I stopped and spoke with a Ranger, Teri. She told me that the ice storm had been so severe that it sounded like explosions happening everywhere as tree limbs and trees fell all around. The clean up would be going on for months. She asked if I had seen anything besides the the storm damage. I had seen the white rear of a deer as it ran into the thick palmetto underbrush. That’s all I could report. No bears. No alligators. We talked about birding. She recommended that I check out Alligator Lake in Lake City. I liked the idea and added it to my hiking list.
Fortune stayed with me while I exited the park on the mud road. I encountered a truck near the end that pulled over and allowed me to pass. I turned left onto CR 135 away from White Springs. After five miles I remembered that I needed gas. I turned on Google Maps and requested a gas station. Google directed me another two miles on the road before advising me to make a U-turn back to White Springs. “Alright Google, we’re done.” I shut it off. I paid $2.49/ gallon at the Shell station in White Springs. That was four cents more than in Lake City. I would have saved thirty five cents total had I filled up in Lake City but was running too low to risk it.
I finished the day with a trip to Publix grocery and spent the evening catching up on finances, and other fun necessities.