BY STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
A portion of the North Florida Land Trust’s Smith Lake Preserve is now part of the Florida National Scenic Trail and a ribbon-cutting ceremony took place on Dec. 1 to commemorate the milestone.
The Florida Trail Association, the U.S. Forest Service, and the North Florida Land Trust were on hand to discuss the 2-mile portion of the trail, taking time to also celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1,500-mile Florida National Scenic Trail. The trail is in southwest Clay County near Keystone Heights.
“We are proud to now be a part of the Florida Trail and invite everyone to come take a walk on the trail and experience nature’s beauty for yourself,” said Allison DeFoor, president of North Florida Land Trust, in a news release. “We acquired Smith Lake Preserve in 2019 and have been working alongside the Florida Trail Association to reroute the trail away from roadway medians and through our preserve. We thank our partners for helping us be a part of one of Florida’s great assets. This is why we do what we do because it is now or never.”
The 463-acre Smith Lake Preserve was acquired in 2019 and is part of the Ocala to Osceola Wildlife Corridor, a 1.6-million-acre network of public and private lands that connects the Ocala and Osceola National Forests. It is considered a critical link within the Florida Wildlife Corridor. It consists of significant areas of long-leaf pine sandhills, flatwoods and scrub habitats. These characteristics provide habitats for wildlife species, including the gopher tortoise, wild turkey, southern fox squirrel and Eastern indigo snake.
A benefit for hikers is the new portion of trail runs through Smith Lake Preserve and eliminates the need for hikers to walk along the road. There is not a trailhead at Smith Lake Preserve. Hikers can park at Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park and walk along the trail to enjoy this new portion.
“The Florida Trail Association is pleased to have these two miles of roadwalk replaced with a scenic sandhill landscape,” said Royce Gibson, executive director of the Florida Trail Association, in a news release. “This new route will provide a high-quality outdoor recreation experience and we look forward to working with the North Florida Land Trust and other partners on similar endeavors as we close more gaps in the Florida National Scenic Trail.”
“I am excited for NFLT (North Florida Land Trust) to host this new section of the Florida Trail and open an additional conservation land for the community to enjoy,” said Rianna Elliott, NFLT’s director of land stewardship, in a news release. “It will allow the public to experience what a beautiful preserve Smith Lake is while providing additional safety to hikers by moving this section off a roadway. This project really speaks to the mission of the North Florida Land Trust.”
About North Florida Land Trust
North Florida Land Trust is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the quality of life by protecting North Florida’s irreplaceable natural environment. Founded in 1999, NFLT has preserved tens of thousands of acres of land through the donation or purchase of land as well as conservation easements. NFLT is funded largely by private and corporate contributions and works closely with willing landowners and public agencies at all levels of government, not-for-profit partners, and foundations. For more information, visit nflt.org.
About the Florida Trail Association
The Florida Trail Association develops, maintains, protects, and promotes the Florida National Scenic Trail, better known simply as the Florida Trail. With the Forest Service as its primary partner and administrator, the association provides opportunities for the public to hike, engage in outdoor recreation, participate in environmental education, and contribute to meaningful volunteer work. More information can be found at floridatrail.org.