For nearly 20 years, Spring Hammock Preserve has been one of our favorite hiking destinations in the Orlando metro. When we revisited the trails in December 2017 to research for our third edition of 50 Hikes in Central Florida, we discovered radical changes since 2013 that needed answers. The fine folks at Seminole County Natural Lands responded and let us know what’s in store for this popular preserve.
As mentioned above, the trail system has changed quite a bit at Spring Hammock Preserve since we first hiked here. From 1999 through 2013, the compelling reason to hike here was to visit the ancient cypresses found throughout the floodplain. The trail system at that time guided you to them.
But as the extensive boardwalks through the swamp aged and disintegrated, instead of being repaired, we increasingly found them blocked off or abandoned. The Loop Boardwalk by the Robin Trail was one of the first to vanish. We were last able to access the Cypress Tree Boardwalk in 2013, but it was full of holes and in need of repair.
We made a loop down the Limpkin Trail past the hollow cypress and found the Lake Jesup Boardwalk boarded over and inaccessible. The last time we’d walked out along it was 2011, when it was flooded and was missing many boards. In 2013, we could no longer access it.
Access to the Cypress Tree Boardwalk was boarded over at the Osprey Trail on our December 2017 visit.
The biggest surprise during our December 2017 hike was the total elimination of the Limpkin Trail, which followed the edge of Soldier Creek into beautiful cypress swamps with towering bald cypress, including a hollow one that made for good photos.
We reached out to Seminole County to find out what happened to it. Division Manager Richard Durr at the Leisure Services Department shared that the county had restored a portion of the trail in 2014, only to have it swept away by the next two seasonal floods. Soldier Creek was channelized the first time we visited the preserve. As it reclaims its original floodplain, it is taking a more meandering route, which overflowed and erased enough of the Limpkin Trail that it was not worth restoring again.
Our hikes on the Magnolia Trail loop and the Hydric Hammock Loop were in December 2013. During our December 2017 visit, we found the Hydric Hammock Loop blocked off, and the Magnolia Trail impossible to follow, except for the first tenth of a mile.
Both had previously had gorgeous boardwalks through the hydric hammock. We asked Mr. Durr about what happened to these trails. He said that the boardwalks had been built by the School Board for use by the Environmental Studies Center. They were in need of repair, and the School Board decided they no longer needed the trails. So they removed the entries to the Magnolia Trail and and the Hydric Hammock Loop as a safety measure. However, as part of their analysis for trail restoration, the Natural Lands Program will look into whether it’s worth re-establishing these trails.
Mr. Durr also shared an update on upcoming improvements planned at Spring Hammock Preserve, which we’ve incorporated into the updated hike description on our Spring Hammock Preserve page. You can take a look at their Fact Sheet below.
More than $745,000 dollars has been budgeted for improvements and repairs in 2018, with a new boardwalk to Lake Jesup planned in a location farther away from Soldier Creek. A portion of the Cypress Boardwalk will be rebuilt to showcase the old growth cypress along it. A new rain shelter and replacement of a pavilion are also in the works, as well as wayfinding signage.
One final note: Spring Hammock Preserve has always needed a “Friends of” citizen group of volunteers to work with the county to look after its extensive trails. It would be nice to see someone from the local area get involved with the Seminole County Adopt A Park program to put such a support crew together.