With a surprising diversity of oak species for Central Florida, Perry Oldenburg WEA protects a prime piece of sandhill habitat where gopher tortoises thrive.
Length: 1.5 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.614771, -82.331909
Address: 13489 Government Rd, Brooksville
Land Manager: Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Open daily from dawn to dusk. Day use only, no camping. As this is a wildlife preserve, no hunting or dogs are permitted, and the trails are only open to hikers. No bicycles or equestrians are permitted.
Keep alert while you’re hiking, as many gopher tortoise burrows are right along the trail and you don’t want to step in one. If you walk softly, you will likely see the tortoises out grazing in the grasses and gopher apple.
The loop trail is blazed blue, and the Florida Trail – which crosses the preserve and links to Withlacoochee State Forest to the southeast – is blazed orange.
From Brooksville, follow US 41 north for 5 miles, passing Snow Hill Road. Turn right on Deer Run Rd. Follow it for 1.3 miles to where it makes a 90* left turn and becomes Government Road. Don’t make the turn. The trailhead is straight ahead down a narrow track. There are two parallel tracks: take the one on the right, which is marked by a sign for the preserve.
From the parking lot, walk over to the kiosk through the gap in the fence. Walk up the trail to the right, which joins an old two-track. Starting off in the open, the trail meanders through a small hammock of live oak, where masses of deer moss carpet the leaves like seafoam. An open meadow stretches off to the left. The trail reaches the boundary fence, then takes a sharp left into the shade. Tall goldenaster sways above the white sand.
As the trail jogs to the right, you’ll start seeing the sand post oak, with its distinctive scalloped, thick, leathery leaves. These oaks only thrive in poor sandy soils, such as those of the Brooksville Ridge. A more common oak is the water oak, with its fat wedge-shaped leaves. It lives as comfortably on the sandhills as it does in the swamp hammocks. Within a few feet are some turkey oaks, another resident of sandhills and coastal hammocks. Turkey oak rarely grows taller than thirty feet. The ends of the deeply lobed leaves look like a turkey’s foot. Young longleaf pines compete for space with the oaks.
The open understory beneath the oaks hosts greenbrier, American beautyberry, and beargrass. A spiky relative of the yucca plant, beargrass is another species with a preference for the dry sandhill habitat. Where you see a disturbance of sand – white and beige mixed together – expect to find a gopher tortoise burrow.
Emerging from a long corridor of turkey oak, you walk under a power line after 0.5 mile of hiking. A blur of white announces the departure of a white-tailed deer, most likely to be seen either in the power line corridor or in the meadow. Follow the trail into a dense oak forest with a grassy, open understory. Watch for the blazes on the oaks and pines; it’s easy to lose the trail if you don’t pay attention.
A cluster of oaks stands guard next to a huge gopher hole. Joining a large, spreading sand post oak and a turkey oak is a pin oak, with long, sharp-toothed leaves.
Reaching another jeep trail at 0.8 mile, turn left down a corridor lined with live oaks, turkey oaks, and young longleaf pines. Sandhills yield to pine flatwoods. Where the longleaf pines dominate the forest, notice the change in the understory. Blueberries take root in the acidic soil, as do winged sumac. Just beyond a young southern magnolia tree, a massive longleaf pine rises from the forest. It’s more than one hundred feet tall, and at least four feet in girth.
As the elevation drops slightly, saw palmettos crowd under spreading live oaks with long branches that dip and twirl and form corkscrew patterns. Bright patches of red blanket lichen – in red, pink, and shades in between – liven up the dark, furrowed trunks. The trail opens back up into the power line crossing at 1.1 miles, jogging slightly left. Red blazes lead back into the dense oak hammock, where leaves crumble underfoot and puffs of deer moss decorate the forest floor.
At 1.3 miles, follow the trail under grand old live oaks. Mind the sharply pointed leaves of the American holly trees on the left. Passing through a thicket of muscadine grapes, the trail emerges out into an open, grassy meadow. Turn right. The trail keeps to the boundary of forest and meadow, following it in a sweeping curve to the left. The loop ends after 1.5 miles, within sight of the trailhead.