Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail In Gainesville Florida

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I finally made it to the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail on 5-20-14. I was very excited to get here because I had planned this trip back in 2013, but things kept interrupting me. Specifically a surgery and longer than expected healing. But I was here. This is three very different trails in one. That I will explain later. I have visited many paved trails since my first one (Legacy Trail in Sarasota) on 3-23-11. And always in my excitement to bike the trails, I usually run out of time to visit all the trailheads.

So on top of my list here was documenting all four trailheads. However I was informed by a local there are only three. Hawthorne, Rochelle, and Boulware Springs Park. There is not one on Depot Avenue (just off South Main Street). My research had one listed. So a downtown trailhead doesn't exist. Darn. Also I didn't realize there was a connector called Waldo Road Greenway-Depot Avenue Rail Trail that goes southeast on Depot Avenue and along 7th to Waldo Road and ends at the Gainesville Regional Airport on northeast 47th Avenue.

So I started my ride on 5-21-14 at the Hawthorne Trailhead located at 21821 SE 71st Street (actually it's SE 218th Terrace). This location can be a little tricky to find. Locate 71st Avenue off Highway 301. Turn west and go to Hawthorne Road. Turn beside Azalea Health Family Medical on 71st Avenue. Just up ahead on the right a brown sign will direct you to the left on SE 218th Terrace. The road ends at the trailhead.

I first arrived at Hawthorne on a Tuesday afternoon on Highway 301 from Ocala. Hawthorne is a very, very small town. Not much to see. And not many businesses or places for food. A train runs north and south through here on the west side of Highway 301. It's pretty cool to hear that.

My landmark to find the trailhead was the Hawthorne Historical Museum, just a short distance from the street to get to the trailhead. I always have maps drawn to make it easy for me to find new trailheads. Even though there were goods signs pointing the way on 71st Avenue, I drove past the trailhead twice before seeing it. A huge sign just before the parking lot shows you've arrived. So as is my MO (modus operandi) I have to get photos of it before I go another inch. Now the trailhead is a long loop with about 30 spots. And not very well maintained. Lots of weeds and ankle high grass on this day. And since there were not any other vehicles here I wondered how safe it was. All of a sudden a rider came up for a short break. A local. He informed me this was a safe trailhead but Boulware Springs Trailhead had seen some car break ins in the past. I was tired after driving from Sarasota and needed to check in to my hotel. So I would be back here the next morning.

Arriving back to the Hawthorne trailhead on Wednesday morning (5-21) I found two other vehicles here that were obviously riders. Also a truck with two workers starting their day were here. So I definitely felt a more comfortable leaving my car (with many valuables) to start my ride. I could feel it was going to be a warm day. Sunny with no clouds. My goal was to get to the Rochelle trailhead. I could tell this trail section was going to be rural. Water and a kiosk shelter is at the beginning. I start out passing a high school on the right. There are oak trees, pine trees, and thick foliage as far as the eye can see. Not far down you will arrive at the first bridge, the Lochloosa Creek Bridge. A fairly good size wooden structure.

It is very quiet and peaceful along here, and many birds singing loudly are everywhere. I enjoyed hearing. Soon you arrive at another wooden structure. The Little Lochloosa Bridge. Before long you come upon the Phifer Flatwoods Preserve on your right. There is a nice shelter/bench combo just off the trail yet visible in the clearing. You'll see two hiking trails also here. About 50% of my ride so far is canopy which is very nice. And mostly flat, but occasionally it will slightly drop and climb. Soon I arrive at Rochelle Trailhead. Here is a primitive area with lots of parking along Highway 2032. CR 234 intersects here also. Here you will find Prairie Creek Preserve. An informative kiosk and a bench under large moss draped oak trees cannot be missed. A great place to take a pause. And just before Rochelle there is a free standing large portable restroom. Distance is 8.5 miles here.


My visit to the Boulware Springs Trailhead was on 5-22-14. There are actually two trailheads that are connected with a short access path. One looks directly towards the trail and has a kiosk, and the other is beside Boulware Springs Historic Water Works building. I stopped here around 7:30am to get photos before the sun rose too high. There were no other cars here. While I was on the trail a friendly lady came up walking her dog, and I asked her about the safety factor of this trailhead. She confidently assured me the area was completely safe. However a day earlier in Hawthorne I remembered a local cyclist telling me about vehicle break ins here periodically. So I finished my photo session, and went to get breakfast.

I arrived back around 9:45am. With a full belly and a perfectly beautiful day I was ready to bike. Turning into the lot I felt better because there was now one car. But also a young guy was sitting in a camping chair next to a big dirt bike. He looked like he was on guard duty over the trailhead. I went over to him to say hello and talk for a few since he was probably a local. I forgot the specifics, but he was in college and doing a survey with hikers in the area. He informed me he'd be at the trailhead 2-2.5 hours. Music to my ears. That meant I could bike until 12:00 or so with piece of mind my car would be OK. Onward.

I finally made my way on the trail. Now it's about 6.5 miles or so back to Rochelle. So that is the way I decide to go. Plus this is how to get to the hills and curves. That will be new for me. So a left turn it is. Now I'm blown away by the thick solid canopy along here. It's just amazing. The trail is still very rural. Huge oak trees on both sides and but on the left a pretty run down neighborhood. My thoughts always go to fending off a mean dog or two when I see certain kind of areas. However no barking was a good sign. Everything is so alive and green along this section. Soon I arrive at Payne's Prairie State Preserve Boundary. A sign says Sweetwater Overlook with an access off the trail. So I need to see what is down there. But hopefully it doesn't take too long. I came to bike the big trail not small paths. A 30 second pedal here reveals a small loop and a fence line looking out over the marsh and swamp. Nice but nothing special.

OK back on the main trail and soon I arrive at a short sign announcing: 'Caution hills curves stop ahead'. Now the canopy in this spot is so full and fantastic, a new visitor cannot help but stop and soak in the ambience. The trees are full of Spanish moss just blowing in the wind. So I continue my ride and come upon another access to Payne's Prairie Preserve. This is called the La Chua Trail. Another information kiosk is here. Entry fee in the preserve is $2 per person self pay. A paved path takes you out to an elevated boardwalk. The hike to the observation tower is 1.5 miles. This is a great place to observe wildlife including lots of alligators, bison, wild horses, and cattle.

Leaving the preserves north entrance, the trail will lose most of the canopy and become open. And hotter. Now the curves and hills are starting. Be very careful and stay to your extreme right all along here. Other riders could be flying towards you at very high speeds. If you are into slow peddling, you will have a lot of trouble making it up the hills along here. They are definitely steep by Florida terrain standards. Also the trail will split a little further up along here with access to the Alachua Overlook. If you are not in a hurry I would recommend visiting. This section only takes about 10 minutes and ends at an info kiosk and wooden deck. A very shady spot complete with benches. A perfect place to rest.

I continue back on the trail and notice areas that have had controlled burns. That is burning the thick scrub around the pine trees. Soon you will see a long thin shelter and bench. Here is where I had to end my ride. Roughly 3 miles to here. I wanted to get to the bigger bridge a few miles ahead but knew I needed to head back to Boulware Springs. My stamina was low. Plus I needed to get back before the young man watching over my car left. Next time I'm in the area I will park at Rochelle and cover the area I missed here.

Also keep in mind from Boulware Springs heading north (turning right) towards downtown Gainesville the trail runs beside a low income neighborhood when you cross SE 21st Avenue. Locals advise people they should either avoid this section or be very cautious and ride with others. I noticed this section on my first day. So I'm passing the info on. Now continuing north from Boulware when you cross SE Williston Road (Hwy 331) the trail looks to be running behind a lot of businesses. Then the trail will end at SE Depot Avenue, but there is no trailhead here. Here you can pick up Waldo Road Greenway-Depot Avenue Rail-Trail. In closing, what I rode and saw, the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail is a really good one. A top ten trail for sure. Beautiful yet challenging. I'm a big fan of rural trails. And specifically North Florida trails. More canopy and more shade. Don't miss biking here. But slowing down to enjoy all the scenic areas is what I would highly recommend. Stay safe.

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