After leaving Ruth’s and John’s little piece of paradise, we drove to Juniper Prairie Wilderness for our last hike for “Five Star Trails Gainesville and Ocala.” Once we walked out to Hidden Pond and back, we took the loop on the Yearling Trail.
I’ve noticed the sign along SR 19 about the Yearling Trail many times, but never stopped to see what it was about. Shortly after turning off the main trail we came to an old cistern, which is now not more than a concrete lined depression behind a board fence. It was the site of Reuben and Sara Jane Long’s homestead when there was a village here in 1876.
We were walking along an old stagecoach road through the hills under the pines. There’s not much left except the dirt path, until you come to a side trail to the Long Cemetery. There, on the hill, we saw the graves of Reuben and Sara Jane and members of their family.
The Long’s son Calvin hosted Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings at his homestead here in the 1930s. She got her ideas for The Yearling from their children’s adventures. Pat’s Island is the name of the island of longleaf pines in the Big Scrub on which their family, and several others, lived and farmed. We saw a marker for the site where Patrick Smith, the postmaster, settled in the 1840s; the island is named for him.
The trail goes by a deep sinkhole where the families once got water, collected from dripping limestone in the bottom of the sinkhole. If it was dry they would use their rainwater cisterns, or had to go to Silver Glen Springs, two miles east, to get water.
As we walked along the loop, we saw a very unusual looking earthstar fungi and then a teeny tiny gopher tortoise making its way across our path. Fire had destroyed many trees along the loop. First from a prescribed burn that went wrong, and then from careless campers. The fires claimed thousands of acres, which altered the landscape, and it will be like this for several generations. I’m not sure who I’m more upset with, the careless campers, or the Forest Service folks who have a policy against fighting fires in the wilderness area no matter how they started.
The Yearling Trail loop rejoins Florida Trail. You exit to the Pat’s Island trailhead, which is a two miles drive along a single-lane forest road. Earlier, we saw someone had pulled up into an open spot to camp in their van. A future spot for Primrose?
Heading home after four days on the road, this trip ended our hikes for the next book.