Showing posts with label North Florida. Show all posts
Showing posts with label North Florida. Show all posts

March 9, 2022

Newly Unveiled Howard Bishop Recreation Area in Gainesville (Alachua)

On the northeast side of Gainesville city, there is a newly renovated recreation area open to the public called the Howard W. Bishop Recreation Area. This renovation took over $250,000 in funding to complete and was a joint effort by Alachua county and Alachua county schools.

Howard W. Bishop is the shared name given to the middle school adjoined to the rec area, named after the former superintendent of Alachua County Schools who served from 1941 to 1952.

While there has been a track and large grassy field in this area for years that the local public already uses, the new features are going to be a nice addition for the public. These include two brand new basketball courts, four tennis courts, new asphalt and lines painted on the quarter-mile racetrack, fresh grass on the field, two brand new soccer goals, and the brush has been cleared with new fencing installed around the perimeter.

Here are a few photos I snapped of the rec area:

Definitely check out the Howard Bishop Recreation Area if you’re looking for a neighborhood-friendly place to get some exercise or play a game with your kids. Many families use this area and it has good lighting around the field and racetrack area so you can exercise safely until dusk.

Parking is just across the street, about 100 feet, in the elementary school visitor lot. This recreation area does not have any water fountains or bathroom facilities, and accessing the area is not ADA compliant - so hopefully they add a compliant access route soon (and I may write the county myself to ask why ADA compliance was not included!).

Rec Area signage indicates that the school has first priority during school hours, but is otherwise open to the public from dusk to dawn. The full street address is 1901 NE 9th Street (Gainesville).

January 25, 2022

Hiking at Owen Illinois Park (Gainesville/Alachua)

There are several Alachua county parks surrounding the 5,800-acre Newnan’s Lake (just outside of Gainesville). One of those parks, Owen Illinois Park, is located off the East side of the lake on Highway 234, in between Highway 20 and Highway 26, about 15 minutes east of Gainesville in North Florida. This park is very secluded from the city and features a great 3.4 mile round loop trail through the old-growth, lakefront forest.

Several beautiful old trees live in the park - this is an Oak that is over a hundred years old.

Owen Illinois Park is one of two parks that provide public boating access to Newnan’s Lake. Newnan’s Lake has been popular for years with Gainesville area residents for kayaking, fishing, and spending time at the lakefront. This sprawling park provides access to well-maintained, almost-new bathrooms, a playground, a pavilion, several picnic tables with elevated grills, and dual concrete boat ramps that are split by a metal floating dock. There are several parking spaces for boat trailers (and birthday parties!) under huge, shady trees.

Owen Illinois Park is a little further out from the city of Gainesville and is surrounded by several forests, so the sounds of traffic are far away and it’s even quieter when you get on the trail. The trail is mostly flat in elevation, looping through low-lands of cypress by the lake and into pine habitat. When we went hiking, a few sections of the trail were submerged in water. Half of the trail is a little bit more rocky, like a horse trail, but is still easy to hike.

This trail is not accessible for all people, but the rest of the park’s facilities have been built with all people in mind. There are sidewalks leading to the restroom facilities, playground, and to the Pavilion. There's also not a great lake view while you were on the trail: it's a couple hundred feet away when you are in the cypress low-lands section.

One of the fun activities on the trail I always enjoy is tracking animals and looking for signs of their activity. This park is full of recent animal activity - there’s lots of deer tracks and we tracked several pairs of does and fawns across the park’s trail. Remember that in North Florida, there’s wildlife like bears in our woods, and Owen Illinois Park would be a prime spot to see a larger predator: Always keep your eyes out for snakes, alligators, and the other animals you might encounter while hiking in the wild.

The nicest overall feature of the park is the peaceful lakefront grounds and the sun filtering through the Cypress swamp. If you happen to visit the park in the late afternoon, because you were on the east side of the lake you can watch the sunset over the water to the West through the cypress trees as you end your visit.

Definitely include Owen Illinois Park on your bucket list for North Florida - it’s a true gem of natural Florida.

Check out photos of the 3.4-mile trail and lakefront park:

The trail map at the trailhead shows the related parks and forests surrounding Newnan’s Lake.

This little guy greeted us at the trailhead. What kind of spider is this?

Most of the Northside of the trail is like this - broad, even, and well-maintained.

Fields of these little lichens were scattered in the damp areas of the forest.

This plant was so vibrant - not sure what this is - do you know?

A feather was found on the trail.

A deer track! We found several tracks that day that were very fresh.

A flooded section of the trail.

A small creek where we had to jump the bank to cross.

The peaceful lakefront grounds where you can picnic or just relax.

The well-maintained playground area and pavilion under the shady Oaks.

The boat ramp has good concrete and a gentle slope.

The sun setting over the water was so pretty!

January 3, 2022

Hiking at Alfred A. Ring Park of Gainesville

If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, or simply a beautiful natural place to hike, then you have to visit Alfred A. Ring Park of Gainesville. This 21-acre park was Gainesville‘s very first nature preserve and the land was given to the city in memory of Alfred Ring. In addition to the excellent hiking trail that meanders along a creek in a densely forested ravine, there is also a children’s playground, clean restroom facilities, and a mid-size pavilion with several picnic tables. Ring park features a series of boardwalks that elevate you over the ravine and makes the entire hiking trail accessible for most people. There is also a beautiful wildflower garden dedicated to Emily Ring, Alfred’s wife, with butterfly plants, a fish pond, and several places to sit and reflect quietly in the woods.

Gainesville has many natural areas to explore when compared to other cities. It’s clear that when you visit this special city that there was extra planning put into protecting the green spaces. The primary watershed flowing from North to South through the city is called Hogtown Creek. The creek flows through Ring park above and below ground in some places and is mostly untouched - allowing animals to flourish right in the heart of the city. Hogtown creek ends in Paynes Prairie, a huge park that provides habitat and filters water to the aquifer, just as the Everglades does.

Parking for Ring Park is just off of the Elks Lodge facility located on 16th Street, on the north side of the preserve. There is no parking at the south trailhead, but there is pedestrian access. The first thing you see when you enter Ring park from the North entrance is a bridge over the crystal-clear waters of Glen Springs creek. Looking down from the bridge, there are tons of huge elephant ear plants and other beautiful plants living in a little microclimate that almost looks tropical. The trails throughout the entire park are very well-maintained. Many times we have hiked the park a day or two after a bad storm (to see the elevated water levels) and the park caretakers have already been out to chainsaw fallen trees and repair any damage to the trails.

The entire hiking trail is an out-and-back trail at a little over two miles in length and it does include some steep areas and elevation changes. The view of Hogtown Creek flowing through the park is really unmatched: it’s so peaceful just to be there, breathe the fresh air, and clear your mind with the white noise of the flowing creek. The only downside of the park is the inevitable trash that flows into the river from the surrounding city – cups, bottles, plastics: even this beautiful environment is littered with garbage just like the rest of our planet. One of the neat aspects of this waterway is the clear in-flow of Glen Springs merging with the dark-tannic Hogtown water, which you can view the contrast at an elevated platform located towards the North start of the trail.

We frequently see deer in the park which roam freely throughout the Hogtown Creek Greenway (and through the entire city from North to South). Gainesville is also known for its really cool mushrooms – and if you go hiking at Alfred Ring park while it’s a little damp in the forest, you will see more species of mushrooms than you ever knew existed in so many colors and shapes. There are also lots of little creatures to spy like amphibians and fish. Many times we will also hear owls hooting in the distance through the dense forest (during the day) and see other large birds nesting high in the tree canopy.

Thoughts of the city are quickly drowned out once you’re by the peaceful Hogtown Creek waters. This gem of a park along Hogtown Creek should definitely be a stop on your hiking list if you’re in the North Florida area. You won’t be disappointed by this hike.

September 21, 2021

Hiking at Turkey Creek (Gainesville/Alachua)

Nestled between the Gainesville-Alachua area, the Turkey Creek trail system is a little gem of North Florida. Horse riders, bikers, hikers, and dog walkers are all welcome on these trails. The main trail we traveled through the woods on was 2.5 miles long and had an elevation change of over 85 feet. Rated as “easy” due to the broad, even surfaces on the main trails; the elevation change did make this trail a little more challenging than easy.

Peeking from under a mushroom.

The day we went hiking it had been raining off and on over the last month and the trails were still a little damp. One section of the main trail Turkey Creek actually passes over the roadway so we had to hop over the water. The trail has adequate shade for the majority of the hike.

This is really one of the best trail systems in the Gainesville area. Pick a day to visit when it hasn’t rained too much in the previous week and make sure to wear bug spray - there are definitely a lot of swarming mosquitoes and horseflies as you get into boggier (lower elevation) areas.

This is the bug spray I use:

Buy OFF! Deep Woods Bug Spray (2-pack)


Along the trail there are several sinkholes and deep washes where water has cut through the terrain. Since Gainesville has had quite a bit of rain over the summer there were also many different kinds of mushrooms growing everywhere in the damp ground.

White, wavy mushrooms cover this fallen log.
Another huge mushroom.
We even saw a family of four deer while we were there: a small buck, a doe, and two fawns hiding just off the road. The buck and doe stood just breathing and looking at us about 10 feet from our vehicle - they were small deer, but truly beautiful to see wildlife so close. Other reviewers have noted seeing turkeys, deer, snakes, alligators, and even bobcat while hiking Turkey Creek.

Two deer by the side of the road: a small buck and a doe.

In addition to the main broad, easy trail; there are many side trails and cut-throughs that are not as well-maintained, but still passable if you are on horseback or mountain bike. There’s even a fitness course that cuts through the middle of the park with fitness equipment installed along the route. We will definitely be coming back with our mountain bikes so that we can take some of the side trails more easily and cover more ground to get to some of the back trails.

You might want to bring a hiking stick with you when on foot at Turkey Creek. A hiking stick would come in handy in some of the higher grass areas or if you ran into some of those poisonous snakes that are advertised everywhere. I almost always carry a hiking stick for snakes or wild animal protection as dangerous situations can arise quickly when you’re out in the wild.

This is the hiking stick I recommend:

Buy Hickory Wood Hiking Stick

I also bring a fanny pack with my phone, keys, and water. A fanny pack doesn’t hold heat against your body like a backpack does, it provides plenty of caring space, and you’re still hands-free.

This is the exact fanny pack I carry (blue/yellow camo):

Buy Blue/Yellow Camo Fanny Pack

Here's a red/grey camo version:

Buy Red/Grey Camo Fanny Pack


If you haven’t hiked this really neat trail in the Gainesville area yet, then I highly encourage you to make a trip. It’s so quiet and rural while you’re on the trails that you don’t hear any traffic. It’s a peaceful slice of Florida that you have to visit!

A large tree had fallen across the main trail.

A green Florida anole.
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