On one of my recent trips heading home from visiting family, I came to the entrance to Trout Lake Nature Center in Eustis and decided to stop. Every backroads journey to Ocala I make leads right past this gate along the CR 44 Eustis bypass, and I’ve only stopped once before, ever so briefly, to pick up a brochure. Usually it’s too late in the day or I’m in a hurry to get home or get to Ocala.
I’m very glad I stopped. I’ve had Trout Lake Nature Center on my radar for many years. I even had it on the short list of hikes to consider for Five Star Trails Orlando, only it fell a little ways out of the range for the book. The parking lot was pretty full, since there was a special event going on in the educational center, so I popped into the nature center to pick up a map and use the restroom. Talking to the gal in charge there, they stay quite busy with school groups. Next to her desk, I heard the familiar scritch-scritch-scritch of a box turtle trying to climb out of a cardboard box. It was a sound I grew up with, since Dad would always stop and pick up turtles crossing the road, bringing some home to live with us. It was a sound that made me smile.
I only had an hour to explore the trail system, so I headed towards the main feature of this preserve, Trout Lake. One nature trail heads straight there, but I opted for the twisting, winding path that followed a series of bog bridges to get you up close to a very large oak that had fallen over and kept growing.
The boardwalk was much longer than I expected, leading from the pine forest out through a rim of floodplain forest to the open waters of the lake itself. The cypresses along the shore were full of dark birds. At first I thought they were vultures, but as I watched the buzz of activity on the far side of the lake, I realized they were cormorants, more cormorants than I’d ever seen in one place in my life!
I wandered back along another trail through the floodplain forest to collect notes to eventually add a hike at Trout Lake to this website. It was getting close to closing time, so I stopped short of doing the loop trail closest to the park entrance. There are slightly more than a mile’s worth of trails marked on their maps, but I also saw a trail not on the map (perhaps too new?) so another exploration is in order.
Before I left, I stopped in the educational center to ask about the cormorant population. Here, I met Lavon Silvernell and asked her to put me on the mailing list. Turns out that Trout Lake, established by the Oklawaha Valley Audubon Society in 1988, hosts a lot of public events, especially talks on a variety of subjects.
Finding out that one of the upcoming events was a presentation on the bog people of Windover – an amazing 1980s archaeological find that occurred barely a mile from John’s home at the time – John and I headed out there for the talk a couple of weeks later. It was well done, and worth the drive. Best of all, the place was packed!
To keep up with the many events held at and sponsored by Trout Lake Nature Center, check their online calendar often! You can also call them at 352-357-7536 and ask to be added to the mailing list.