Nature Walks – Welaka Forest
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Sorry to disappoint but there were no animal sightings today save the flitting of tiny birds. I heard crows, woodpeckers, an eagle and an owl, all at a distance or out of sight. However, it was a very peaceful day spent in a State Forest on the edge of the St. John River.
The St. John River system penetrates far south of its beginnings at Jacksonville. Nearby Crescent Lake is connected to the greater water system by Dunn Creek. More on that later.
Today I felt a need to walk, so I did both the 3-mile loop in the southern part of the forest, taking in John’s Landing and Orange Point, as well as the 1.75 mile loop to Mud Spring. The forest was quiet. The only folks that I saw were two forest rangers out in their 4 x 4 checking on roads and campsites. There are two primitive campsites located in this forest, one at John’s Landing and the other at Orange Point. You can access the forest from the St. John River from either place… if you can locate them from the water.
Mud Spring Trail head is located across from the forest headquarters just south of the tiny community of Welaka. This trail criss-crosses a series of forest maintenance roads and ends up at the pretty Mud Springs. The spring pumps out a massive amount of water into a 1/2 mile run (or creek) that goes out to the St. John River. A shallow-draft boat, canoe or kayak could access the dock near the springs. No alligator sightings, either, but they’re around. The fresh water springs isn’t muddy at all, just a beautiful blue color and very clear. There is a picnic pavilion, restrooms and a bench or two located in this area, one of the most popular destinations in this particular forest.
After I completed these two walks, I drove towards Welaka and turned onto County Road 308A, which connects CR 309 with State Route 17. Then I turned northward on a chunk of SR 17 that I have never driven before and near the community of Sisco, promptly found a trailhead for part of Dunn Creek State Park. Apparently this is a fairly new state park as it isn’t referenced in my volume of “Florida State Parks”, one of my hiking references. I’ll do this 2 mile trail to Blue Pond in combination with a couple of other shorter hikes a bit later. My feet had had enough for one day!
After reaching SR 100, I looked for another park, this time a Flagler County Park, Shell Point Bluff. Found it and checked out both road accesses. The western road takes one to a boat launch area directly on the glimmering waters of Crescent Lake. The eastern road takes you to a picnic area located on the banks of a forest pond. There is another short nature trail which I will be testing out later.
All in all today was very satisfying with a bit of exercise and explorations. And I intend to do more over the Christmas weekend. The weather was perfect today, a bright crisp blue sky overhead and comfortable temperatures in the mid-60’s. I even wore a jacket this morning starting out with temperatures in the upper 40’s.
Last year at this time, I was visiting Hilton Head Island. The weather there and in Georgia was grimly foggy. For a couple of days this week, we had clouds and fog here, but today was perfect. I’m grateful to be able to get out and enjoy the first full day of winter with sunny skies.
So much has changed this year for me. I retired and moved to the East Coast. I’ve been living in Palm Coast. The New Year promises to hold more change for all of us, myself included.
Meanwhile, I send Christmas and holiday greetings to all. And may the New Year find your highest dreams manifesting throughout your daily life.
© All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com
Photo Credits: Welaka State Forest; Shell Point Bluff County Park