Thursday, April 7, 2016

Florida Trail: Keystone Heights to Lake Butler - 44 Miles

On this adventure, we car camped at Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park and shuttled ourselves around for long day hikes.

Day 1 - 19 miles

We arrived at the State Park shortly after they opened and since our campsite was empty, they allowed us to check in early.  We had already dropped a vehicle off at the Santa Fe Swamp Wildlife Area in Keystone Heights at our end point.  After parking at the campsite, we walked through some trees to join the Florida Trail.  The hike through the State Park was around 3 miles and very scenic.  It passed over Gold Head Branch, past incredible oak and pine trees, and past a deep ravine before reaching the park entrance.  We continued another mile or so before crossing SR 21 into Camp Blanding.  The trail follows an old road for a bit before turning off into the woods.  It later joins up with other old roads on the military base.  Finally, after some hilly miles we reached Magnolia Lake, which was gorgeous.  The trail follows the north side of the lake for almost 3 miles before going through the remains of Magnolia Lake State Park, which has been abandoned since the 1970s. We passed some old outhouse buildings with the following signs on them:

My research has told me that Magnolia Lake State Park was built in 1957 and provided segregated recreational facilities to African Americans.  It consisted of picnic facilities, a boat dock and ramp, bathhouse, swimming area, and 3,000 feet of lakefront.  The nearby Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park was only open to whites at the time. Once state parks were integrated in 1964, there was not a need for a separate facility and it was closed in the 1970s and the land was given back to Camp Blanding.

Abandoned Bathhouse

In 2005, President Bush signed The President's Malaria Initiative as a 5 year $1.2 billion program to reduce malaria deaths in African countries. As part of this initiative in 2012, this area of Camp Blanding was used to test various insecticides since the conditions are considered similar to sub-saharan Africa based on climate, location, and vegetation.  The wooden latrines were built to replicate huts that would be found in Africa and were placed in open, grassy areas that were near moderately dense woods.  Panels of different materials treated with insecticides were placed inside each latrine.  Some of the panels were sent back to the CDC after 2 weeks, 1 month, 4 months, and 6 months.  The study was to test how long the insecticide would stay applied to the various materials and whether or not different chemicals could be added to improve longevity.  Currently, there is no insecticide testing going on at Camp Blanding.

Magnolia Lake

Old Utility Shed

 After eating our lunch in the old picnic shelter, we continued on the last mile through Camp Blanding.  We then had a 4+ mile road walk ahead of us.  Most of it was through a scenic neighborhood, but it was hot walking in the open.  After 17 or so miles, we arrived at a convenience store where we purchased popsicles and large cans of soda.  These made the last couple of miles bearable.  Shortly before exiting the trail, we passed the gorgeous new campsite installed by the North Florida Trail Blazers chapter of the FTA.  We finally arrived back at the car and headed back to our campsite.  After setting up our tents and showering, we enjoyed some beers while we cooked dinner.

Day 2 - 16 miles

Auz realized she had left our bagels on the counter, so we drove into town and had a large breakfast at the Keystone Inn.  On the drive out of the park, we saw many rabbits and deer along the road.  One car was dropped off at the intersection of CR 235 and the Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail which the Florida Trail joins with for awhile.  We started our day back at the Santa Fe Swamp and walked the 0.8 mi to rejoin the Florida Trail.  Our legs were a bit sore, but the pain dissipated one we started hiking again.  After 5 or so miles, we took a break at a ball park just outside Hampton.  Shortly afterwards we saw a fox way up ahead on the trail.  Today's hike was linear and flat.  There was a short section that  went through a beautiful cypress swamp. 

Sadly, the beauty was wrecked a few yards later by lots of trash dumped on the side of the trail.  This trash was obviously from locals since it included televisions and other large items.  Because we were tired from the first day, the last 3 or so miles felt like they took forever.  There was also a lot of granite rocks on the trail which slowed us down slightly.  After getting back to our campsite, we showered, ate dinner, and went to bed early.

Trailhead at CR235

Day 3 - 9 miles

Our alarms went off at 5:30 AM to ensure we had time to pack up camp and eat breakfast.  We headed up through Starke to Lake Butler and dropped a car off at the Union Depot trailhead, then drove back down to CR 235 where it intersects with the Florida Trail.  The day started with a 5 mile road walk in order to cross over a river since the bridge is out on the actual trail.  Unfortunately, we ran into quite a few dogs on this leg.  2 were aggressive and 1 just wanted to join us.  When we rejoined the trail, it was with a paved bicycle path that led back to town.  This was scenic and easy hiking.  After reaching the car around noon, we picked up Publix subs on our way back to Auz's house.  That evening we went to the spa for pedicures which were definitely earned!