One of the delights of the Florida Trail is that it passes through Christmas, Florida, a beloved stop for postmarks during this holiday season and cheery all year round, with pine trees decorated in Christmas cheer and chainsaw carvings of old St. Nick.
It’s been more than a decade since I hiked the FT through Christmas, and I was drawn here this week by a brand-new section of trail, so shiny new that the campsite fire rings haven’t even been scorched yet – the Florida Trail between Seminole Ranch at Wheeler Road and Chuluota Wilderness. When I did this section in 2001, it was entirely a roadwalk on Fort Christmas Road. As of April 2011, no more.
The magic of this corridor is palatable. It rises from palm hammocks in the St. Johns River floodplain through palmetto prairies, across drainages deeply shaded by hickories and finally into Florida’s desert, the scrub. Hiking along it, we found myriads of small wonders: hand-painted signs at campsites and creeks crafted by caring trail maintainers; tall terrestrial orchids dripping with blooms; a bounty of pitcher plants in a pinewoods bog; a Florida box turtle sitting along the trail.
The greatest delight, however, was finding a long bench with a nice view of a tannic, strongly flowing creek. “That’ll make a good water source,” I said, and promptly set a GPS data point. After relaxing long enough to hydrate, we went to cross the bridge and – lo and behold, this oasis is Christmas Creek. What a perfect find at Christmastime!
Merry Christmas, everyone! And a debt of gratitude to the trail builders and maintainers who made this almost 13-mile-stretch of NEW Florida Trail such an outstanding delight.