Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Mission: Trail Running

My posse, Kanapaha Park, Gainesville, FL. September 2012.
At the suggestion of my outdoorsy brother, Allen, I’m going to try some trail running to see if it helps my annoying foot pain.  (And FYI for those not in the know, I have 3 brothers, all younger than me). 

Allen says he switched to off-road soft-surface type running several years ago since its easier on the joints.  Makes sense. Sign me up!

Frankly, it’s kind of silly that I haven’t tried trail running before now, because I LOVE to be outdoors.  I LOVE to hike. Once upon a time, the kids and I would go hiking almost every weekend – or at least once a month. That was actually a goal of mine a few years ago: for our little family to have at least one adventure per month; something outside the usual routine.  Clearly, I need to revive this practice.

I have to admit, even when we were doing all that hiking, I don't think I ever broke into a trot. Looking back, its a shame. There were plenty of lovely places I could have run in the woods. Probably would have been way cooler than running on the roads, too!

The hiking we did as a family was primarily in city-type nature parks, but it was still hiking. And we all loved it! But then we moved from land-of-nature-parks Gainesville, Florida to suburban St. Johns County, Florida, where decent parks are few and far between. And life happens, and I got into a routine doing the usual weekend stuff:  running in the neighborhood, hitting the pool or the beach, chores, laundry, life.

Just a portion of the trail brochures
about 15 feet from my office.  
So do you want to know the ironic thing?  I work at the St. Johns River Water Management District.  We are an agency of the State of Florida, and among our primary missions is LAND MANAGEMENT.  Meaning conservation areas.  Natural areas.  All of which provide public access (since the lands we own are “public lands”).  So I’m kind of embarrassed that I haven’t taken my posse to any of the local conservation areas to hike. Not only that, but my office is on the floor with the Land Management Group. They’re basically my work neighbors. I walk past the trail brochures every day on my way to the kitchenette.

And just to plug the recreational opportunities for anyone who lives or visits my neck-of-the-woods:

So, back to me.  That’s what this blog is about, after all, ME, ME, ME!  (Um, just in case it wasn't clear, I'm joking.  It's a joke.  Even I'm not that self-centered. I think.)

In the interest of figuring out where to go / what to do, I strolled down the hall to talk to one of my Land Management besties.  Karen knows where I live and suggested some possibilities close to home.  So (drum roll) here they are – my preliminary list of places I want to either (a) take the kids hiking or (b) consider for trail running. Note: I’m going to briefly list and describe these here, and then assuming I visit them, I’ll do a more in-depth description (with photos!).  I'll also note that our properties aren't set up primarily for recreation or scenery - it's conservation of our State's water resources.  So that said, I'm not sure how scenic any of these are.  My bro now lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, it's wicked pretty out there.  We don't have that here.  That said, these are the sites I plan to explore in the very near future, either running or hiking . . .

Bayard Conservation Area – probably the closest to my house, this one is only about 10 minutes away and I drive past it every day on my commute.  It’s in Green Cove Springs, the town right on the other side of the St. Johns River from where I live.  Depending on the loops you take, you can hike over 10 miles in this bad-boy, and it appears that there’s at least one “landing” area on the St. Johns, which sounds pretty.  Hunting is allowed in here, though, so I’ll need to time visits here to avoid getting shot, which would be a real bummer.

Gourd Island Conservation Area – This one is about 20 minutes away from my house, and I’m not sure why it’s named Gourd Island because it isn’t an island.  Looks like easy access from the Interstate (I-95) and has 4.1 miles of trail, total.  Downside?  It’s one big loop, so if you go in and decide to bail or the weather turns on you? You’re screwed and will need to complete the loop to get back to your car.  Might be a good trail run option, though.  Seems like it would be hard to get lost on. 

Aside: Since I’m a trail running newbie, I’m not sure if I’m likely to get lost or not.  I think I have a good sense of direction, and none of these areas I’m looking at are in the middle of nowhere, so I’m thinking I should have adequate GPS coverage.  This isn’t backcountry hiking, after all.

Julington-Durbin Preserve – This preserve really threw me for a loop because I had no idea it was there.  I know this area (about 25 minutes from my house, easy access from I-95) and just didn’t know it was up there.  Doesn’t seem like it would be very scenic (other than trees), but it does provide over 6 miles of trail.  Definite running possibility.

Stokes Landing Conservation Area – This one was highly recommended by Karen.  She’s been there and says there’s a picnic area and observation tower overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway (this is the waterway that separates the mainland from the barrier islands – and it’s always pretty).

Twelve-Mile Swamp Conservation Area – Seems like a swamp. I’ll give it a “possible” rating, but doesn’t seem like it’d be scenic and only has 2.8 miles of trail.  Might be good for the kids, though, since it isn’t too long.  And it is really close to my house – maybe 15 minutes?

Moses Creek Conservation Area – Has over 5 miles of trail, but this is another “swamp” type area.  There is a supposed “observation point”, but I can’t tell if its anything cool.  Think this would be one for me to try on my own before bringing the posse with.

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So.  Goal for this weekend?  Depending on my motivation level on Saturday morning, I think I’m going to give Gourd Island a shot. And, weather permitting, take the kids to Stokes Landing for some recreational hiking. 

With that, I'll leave you with photos of some of our hiking, back in the day . . .

John Mahon Nature Park, Gainesville, FL. November 2013.

Cofrin Nature Park, November 2012.

Hiking with Grandpa Pogue, Loblolly Woods Nature Park, Gainesville, FL.May 2013.

Horsing around, Loblolly Woods Nature Park, May 2013.

Kids with their dad, Cofrin Nature Park, Gainesville, FL, February 2013.
Kanapaha Park, Gainesville, FL. April 2013.