On a walk back in time along this interpretive loop off the Florida Trail on the Cross Florida Greenway, discover the folly of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal and its predecessor, the Ship Canal.
Spanning nearly a century, these two Federal government projects almost cut the peninsula in two. The idea was along the lines of the Panama Canal – this was no minor project that was planned – but implementing it would have had dire effects on the Floridan Aquifer and the springs of Marion County.
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Length: 1 mile round-trip and loop
Trailhead: 29.1051, -82.0912
Address: 3260 SE 80th St, Ocala
Land manager: Cross Florida Greenway
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed dogs permitted. Limited parking at the Santos Sheriff Station. The nearest restrooms are at the Santos Trailhead of the Cross Florida Greenway, a little farther east along SE 80th St.
From Belleview, follow US 27/301/441 north to Santos. This trail sits between the nortbound and southbound highway lanes, so when you reach where the road splits, get into the left lane.
Make a left onto SE 80th St. Make an immediate left into the Santos Sheriff Station complex. Park on the side of the building closest to the southbound lanes of the highway unless signs direct you elsewhere.
A “Historic Ship Canal Trail” calls your attention to the wooded area in the median south of the sheriff station. Walk across the grassy expanse to an opening in the woods close to the northbound lanes of the highway.
A trail register sits here, as the Florida Trail also crosses this median in both directions, a tricky feat for hikers to cross the with the high-speed traffic in all four lanes.
The broad path deposits you in front of the first of a series of poured concrete stantions. These were placed here in the 1930s as part of a massive WPA project to dig a canal across Florida. They would have supported the highway that now surrounds this space.
The Ship Canal, revived years later as the Barge Canal, brought many changes to Santos. Much of a historically African-American community to the east of this spot was razed to make way for Camp Roosevelt, where the workers on the project were stationed.
Exploring the trail with Dr. Bob Busha – who leads interpretive walks on “The Island” and takes care of the trail, we discovered something new.
Although we’d walked the trail many times, Dr. Bob showed us that in addition to leading you past the concrete piers, it has been turned into a loop. Watch for the blazing near the south end of the trail that loops you back along the west side of “The Island.”
Growing on karst features, this forest has become quite dense over the years. The leafy trees help blot out the noise, but you can still hear the echoes of traffic.
Our slideshow of the Historic Ship Canal Trail
More places to explore near the Historic Ship Canal Trail
Between the Land Bridge Trailhead and Santos, the 7-mile linear section of the Florida Trail winds its way around horse farms to meander through stands of oaks and pines.
Official Map (PDF) Official Website