Today was my third visit to Sunnyhill Restoration Area, more than 4,400 acres managed by St. Johns Water Management District, and finally, I found the right entrance for a pleasant hike. The problem is, there are too many entrances to this vast preserve!
On my first visit, scoping it out for the first edition of “50 Hikes in Central Florida,” my boyfriend and I entered through the walk-through near Big Scrub Road on what’s now the Red Trail. Discovering it to be tilled up as a firebreak and not the most pleasant of habitats, we exited quickly. The second try was with a group of geocachers attending Lou & Rachael Augspurg’s famed New Years Eve party at Doe Lake. This walk was via the Yellow Trail. The landscape was planted pines restoring a former pasture, and wasn’t all that interesting.
Finally, the jackpot. My friend Jena and I went out a-wandering this morning and parked at the trailhead at the Blue House, off SR 42 near Nelson’s Fish Camp. While the placement of the kiosk tried to tempt us down yet another trail under the grand live oaks, our goal was to see the Ocklawaha River, and that we did.
The Levee Trail starts on the far, far side of the parking area from the Blue House, just where you’d expect the river to be. It’s name gives the first clue. It’s a levee. Grassy, broad, and high up above everything around it. The channel of the Ocklawaha is on the left, the vast marshes that are the original floodplain of the river on your right. We headed out to a landmark on the trail, a shelter providing a breezy overlook over the marshes – and virtually the only shade along the trail. It make a fine stopping point. It’s possible, with two cars, to walk all the way from the SR 42 entrance to Moss Bluff, but that wasn’t today’s goal.
Along the out and back journey, we encountered numerous boaters and some equestrians, a yellow rat snake and an alligator cruising in the distance – I’m sure there were many more we didn’t see. There were raptors of several sorts, wading birds galore – including a glistening-like-a-peacock purple gallinule – and even a turtle on the levee. Blissfully, a cool breeze was in our faces on the return trip. A morning well-enjoyed.