Ocala National Forest: You can hear the trees

Joan Hobson, 76, Minneola's "hiking grandmother," has walked the 1,400-mile Florida National Scenic Trail twice. Two years ago, she was well on her way to completing her third trek when she fell and broke an arm. While she's contemplating another try, you'll find her on the 26-mile Florida Trail segment between state roads 40 and 42 in the Ocala National Forest. It's groomed by the Florida Trail Association's Highlanders chapter, to which she belongs. One of the delights of this segment is its undulating terrain. There's even a babbling brook to cross -- something Joan Hobson says is rare on a Florida trail. Familiarity with the path makes the huge forest more intimate to Hobson. She loves being among its smells and sights, striding through longleaf pine forests and stands of scrub oak. "It's just a pretty place to walk," she says. "For one thing, it's quiet. You can hear the trees creaking, animals making noises, the breeze blowing through the trees. The forest floor smells of pine needles. I love the smells of the forest." Along the trail she enjoys seeing the birds, too, from scrub jays and hawks to sandhill cranes. "It also goes through an area that's heavily frequented by Florida black bears," she says. "If it's early enough in the morning, you're more likely to see one." But don't get your hopes too high. "I've been lucky enough to see maybe three in the 15 years I've been on the trail." There are many places to access the path, such as the trailhead on U.S. Highway 19 north of Altoona, or via a 3-mile spur from Salt Springs. From Alexander Springs on County Road 445, it's a half-mile walk to the trail, or access it from the Clearwater Lake campground off S.R. 42. -- Lisa Roberts, Orlando Sentinel For more information, call 352-669-3153 or go to www.fs.fed.us/r8/florida/recreation/index-oca.shtml For information on the Florida Trail, call 1-877-445-3352 or go to floridatrail.org
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