On New Years Eve day, I had the pleasure of leading 32 hikers through a trail system that none of them had ever explored before: Carney Island Park. One of Marion County’s finest parks, it preserves a peninsula jutting out into Lake Weir near Ocklawaha. I’ve been there several times before, rambling the trails both to write about them and to lead hikes for much smaller groups, and have always enjoyed the massive, ancient live oak trees casting deep shade along much of the trail system.
Our group was large enough that the broad trails were perfect for them to socialize as we walked. When we got to the far end of the 3.2-mile loop, a stretch of waterfront had been cleared since my last visit and provided a sweeping view of sparkling waters. I could see a spit of beach arcing out in the distance and thought, “hmm, can we get there?”
Turns out we could. It’s called Lemon Point, and unless you’re in the know or adventuresome, you’d probably miss the access point, a narrow trail in the woods that starts near a covered bench. With everyone down to single file, it cheered them up to be on a footpath instead of a broad forest road. And sure enough, we emerged on the beach.
The sweep of white sand was so inviting some folks took their shoes off and waded out into the lake – it was warm that afternoon. An angler was casting in the shallows, and a boat was beached at the end of the spit. From the boat, strains of “Margaritaville” filled the air.
“Sorry the margaritas didn’t make it,” I said, to some laughs. A seaplane took off in front of us. An osprey cruised by. Everyone relaxed. Nothing like a beach along a hike, especially a surprise beach. Serenaded by Jimmy Buffet. “Thanks for the Buffet!” I yelled out to the boater. He waved and nodded.
On the hike back, lots of cheer. “We have to come here again!” they said. And that’s the fun of introducing people to a new place to hike. You never know what about it will touch their hearts.