The Wakulla State Forest. I had passed the sign dozens of times along Highway 267 near the entrance of Wakulla Springs State Park and had never stopped. Most of the 4,219-acre tract was acquired by the state from the St. Joe Corporation between 2001 and 2003, mainly as a protective buffer for below-ground conduits that lead to Wakulla Springs.
On a recent Saturday afternoon after a thunderstorm had subsided, I finally decided to check out one of our newest state forests. I pulled into the gravel parking lot and found it empty. My first thought was, "cool, I have the place all to myself!" My second thought was, "why do I have the place all to myself?"
I paid my $2 fee at an iron ranger, glanced at a trail map, and took off riding my mountain bike down Double Springs Road. The road, closed to vehicles, was open and dry, making for easy riding. If the entire 4.5 mile Double Springs Loop Trail was like this, I thought about riding it twice. A spotted fawn jumped out in front of me and bounded away. That was an unexpected surprise. And I spotted bobwhite quail, too.
Double Springs was my first stop and I stopped to admire the reflections and wilderness character of this watery oasis. Not surprisingly, the place had a healthy population of mosquitoes. The swamp angels harassed me until I took off riding again down the road. That's one advantage of a mountain bike-you can out-run most any flying insect.
I became a little confused as to where the Double Springs Loop continued to my left since Double Springs Road eventually veered right and off the map. So, I studied my trail map, backtracked, and decided to take another forest road that met up with the loop trail-Forest Road 211. That was a huge mistake. I barely made it through the first dump truck-sized puddle, but I bogged down in the next and fell over in knee-deep water. That's when I realized you can't outrun mosquitoes while trying to ride through water. Muddy and wet, I pushed onward through more puddles and waist-high ragweed. In the fall, this would be a hayfever sufferer's gauntlet!
Not all outdoor adventures are worthy of glowing accounts, but I did begin to laugh aloud at my predicament. I had reached the point of no return, meaning it was just as far to go back as it was to go forward.
I finally re-connected with the loop trail and found it to be just as wet and nearly as overgrown. My conclusion upon reaching the parking lot: the Wakulla State Forest is best done in cool, dry weather. And except for the scenic swamps, the uplands are a work-in-progress as the Florida Forest Service has begun the long process of converting a former slash pine plantation to a more natural pine forest. It will be interesting to follow the restoration progress-in the winter months!
For more information about the Wakulla State Forest, log onto http://www.floridaforestservice.com/state_forests/wakulla.html.