Cycling Florida's Suwannee River
There is probably no better example of the sweet partnership between the Suwannee River Water Management District and Suwannee Bicycle Association than the Gar Pond Trail. Over six miles of looping single- and double-track wind through land purchased with funds from the Save Our Rivers program. The single-track is tight with nary a straight line in it. It's a fun trail to ride at a quick clip, but its difficulty increases geometrically as you increase speed.
The wildlife and landscape seemed to blur into the background as I took advantage of Gar Pond's smooth track. I stopped at the pond and saw, to my slight surprise, no gars. Or gators. But I'm sure they were both there, watching me as I made my way along the bank. I scared a great blue heron from its perch on a downed cypress where the single-track turns away from the pond. But other than that, the only other living thing I saw was a tiny black snake whose tail I accidentally clipped, causing it to writhe like it lay on a hot rock.
General location: Gar Pond is located off US 41, southeast (barely) of White Springs.
Elevation change: In places the land rolls, making for fun, quick descents.
Season: Some areas become flooded during periods of heavy rain.
Services: White Springs has many of the basics. A wider selection can be found in Lake City, but you may have to go all the way to Tallahassee.
Hazards: Short stumps of saplings can catch a pedal or turn a tire unexpectedly. The trail has an overall smooth track, but the obstacles require caution, especially the first few times you ride the course.
Rescue index: If you need a rescue, this is a good place to receive one quickly, especially on the weekend.
Land status: This land is managed by the Suwannee River Water Management District and open for public use.
Maps: An enlarged map is posted at the information station at the trailhead. You can also request the complete packet of off-road biking sites from the Suwannee Bicycle Association or just get the map for Gar Pond (Suwannee Valley Conservation Area).
Finding the trail: Exit Interstate 75 onto County Road 136, heading east toward White Springs. Turn right on US 41 (at the flashing light) and go approximately two miles to cross the river. Look to the right for Miss Lilly's Package Store. The information station is found 20 yards south of the parking lot.
Notes on the trail: Begin riding on the double-track heading south. After about a quarter mile, look for the white blazes that signal the beginning of the single-track on the right. The gatorbacks on the trail will keep you alert, as will the tight turns and occasional sections of loose sand. I arrived at the small sink left from the days when the excavation for the bridge embankment took place and wondered if I had come to Gar Pond (I had left my map in the car). But Gar Pond lies to the east, and the single-track hugs its north shore before diving back into the thick understory. As the single-track gets closer to the river, the trail gets rollier and rootier, with some great spots to work on short descents. It was so inviting that I forgot my promise to go slow and take notes. The last mile or so comes close to US 41, where the white noise of traffic filters down from above.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication